This is an architectural development that has been driven, of course, by money. Buildings this tall and narrow do present some engineering challenges to deal with swaying in wind forces, and certain improvements in technology of construction since the 1990s help enable nearly doubling the maximum height of residential building. (In the late 1980s, 750 feet was considered tall.) And the legal basis for these acromegalic, as-of-right towers has been in place for decades: developers can transfer the air rights of lower adjacent properties and pile the FAR onto their attenuated towers. But it is a vast influx of wealth, much of it from abroad, pouring into New York that is creating a demand for trophy properties stuffed with amenities, for prices that are edging past the twin landmarks of $100 million and $10,000 a square foot. (The same thing is happening, on a smaller scale, in Miami, where much hand-wringing has been occasioned by apartments' selling for the previously unheard-of price of $1,000 a foot.)
This is not a phenomenon unique to our time, of course. New York has seen a succession of gilded ages, beginning with the one in the 19th century, when millionaires (as billionaires used to be called) distilled the wealth of a continent into showy block-wide mansions lining Fifth Avenue. There was another in the 1980s, when an earlier wave of foreign buyers—often Arabs and Japanese then, versus an influx of Russians and South Asians now—colonized the likes of the Trump Tower and CitySpire, sharing elevators with professional athletes and pop stars. Much of the conceptual groundwork for the current wave of projects was laid then, including the novel idea of marketing the buildings with high-profile architecture—Der Scutt's bronze-glass curtain wall for Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue (1983), Helmut Jahn's domed top for CitySpire (1987) overlooking Central Park. Olympic Tower (1976), arguably the first important Midtown luxury condominium, was a black-glass-walled box designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. But at least since 2002, when Richard Meier designed a pair of striking transparent-glass high-rises floating at the edge of the Hudson River, a name architect has been required for marketing a new building of any pretension at all. Robert A.M. Stern's elegant, sophisticated, but hardly cutting-edge design for 15 Central Park West defines one end of the spectrum of acceptability; at the other, perhaps, is the 90-story One 57, down the block from the future SHoP building, with a rippling glass curtain wall in variegated blues by "Pritzker Prize-winning architect Christian de Portzamparc," as the website announces almost as soon as you enter it. The first of the supertalls to be completed, it set a price record last year when a penthouse apartment sold for just over $100 million. "It's interesting for architects," muses SHoP partner Vishaan Chakrabarti. "For decades we've complained in New York that no one cares about architecture, but just in the last 10 or 15 years, there's been a proven market value associated with design."