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Supertall towers 'damage the city fabric,’ says Elizabeth Diller

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The Diller Scofidio + Renfro principal provides an insight into New York’s development boom—and it's not all positive

For New Yorkers, the grind of construction work has always been an aspect of daily life; but the last few years have unleashed a torrent of new development, from the towers of Billionaires Row’ to rising megaprojects like Pacific Park and Hudson Yards. And in an interview with Dezeen, Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (the driving force behind the High Line, along with developments like the MoMA expansion, Columbia University’s new medical building, and the Shed at Hudson Yards) addresses some of her issues with unbridled development–specifically, the rise of supertall towers—in New York City.


I believe in planning logics where you have neighborhoods, and you don't just do one building at a time. We need more planning vision in the city than there is now, where there's no thinking of the effect of tall buildings. Every property owner is in it for themselves, building into outer space. I think [the towers] are pretty weird and interesting from a structural standpoint. I wouldn't mind having one single floor plate to myself with four views, but they damage the city fabric.


With her firm located on Manhattan’s far west side, Diller is all too familiar with the impact of the past decade or so of development. Since its opening in 2009, the area surrounding Diller Scofidio + Renfro has gone from an "open sea of parking lots," in her words, to some of the most sought-after real estate in the city. While this development of vacant land is a net positive, Diller points out that there must be a "defense of public space" from architects. "Before we know it, everything is going to be consumed by the dollar," she told Dezeen.

Diller uses Hudson Yards as an example of more thoughtful skyscraper construction, thanks to its master plan that clusters the high-rises in one area, which in her view limits damage to the city fabric. "It was planned, with its logic. What you don't have is singular buildings independently," she says. Of course, Diller may have a slight bias—DSR is designing two upcoming buildings at the megaproject.

And while her defense of master planning and maintaining the city fabric is commendable, it’s worth noting that the firm is a driving force behind the demolition of the American Folk Art Museum and the continued ad-hoc expansions of MoMa—a project that hasn’t been safe from criticism as it has progressed.