The Giant Tetris Game On Third Avenue

Last week, I was walking up Third Avenue near 22nd Street when I noticed something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in New York…


…an enormous, 21-story highrise that appears to have been built to accommodate a diminutive, three-story townhouse below. What bizarre parallel universe had I stumbled into?!


Here’s a view from straight on. The more I stared at it, the more it started to look like a giant game of Tetris was being played on Third Avenue.


As far as I can tell, this is the most extreme example of a cantilever building currently in New York (though there are more on the way). Apparently, the developers of 160 East 22nd Street were not able to purchase the adjacent 274 Third Avenue, which currently seems to be largely vacant save for a fortuneteller. The solution? Extend the new building 25 feet overhead…


…though if you look straight up, I swear they went over a tad. Perhaps the neighbors can ask nicely for the building to remove a foot or two?


Amazingly, this is a scaled back version of the original plan, which was to completely encase the two remaining townhouses:


I really, really hope this isn’t a glimpse into the future of new building construction in New York. While it’s kind of interesting as an oddity, the end result feels extremely claustrophobic, like the little building below is being suffocated, an annoying afterthought.


Sadly, something tells me New York developers are going to become quite good at putting together jigsaw puzzles in the coming years.


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  1. Makes me think of Virginia Lee Burton’s _The Little House_.

  2. Not the only building to have air rights and use them. There are a few. One I can think of off-hand is on 85th and second. When you live on a 3×10 mile rock, every bit counts.

  3. Great example, but surely the Citicorp building has to win the most extreme cantilever award, no?

  4. I walk past one of these a lot in Williamsburg, although that one is a smaller scale (6-story cantilevered over a 2-story)… google map street view link:,-73.949571,3a,89.9y,345.35h,106.99t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sVSlveUU0XD6YceHtCu1L1g!2e0

  5. On a sidenote, it seems like the buildings that cantilever over other ones like this are always Hideous Gray Monstrosities. Maybe because, by the time they’re willing to warp their building in such a strange way to gain a few extra rooms, they don’t care about aesthetics?

  6. I used to live caddy-corner (kitty-corner?) from there.

    Their land acquisition took a LONG time, mainly because of those two holdouts. Eventually they demolished and cleared the rest of the lots and they sat vacant for a few years. Then they released that monstrosity of a rendering where the two buildings were entirely enclosed. It was believed that all of this was just a tactic to get the remaining landlord(s) to sell. Everyone was SHOCKED when this building actually started going up.

    There is hope for the future, though, because from a profit perspective this is not how you want to develop a building. It took too long to assemble the parels they did get, it cost too much to build, and there is far less square footage then they intended overall. At the end of the day someone must have made the call that it would be better to just build what they could and recoup as much as they could. But this is not a strategy that any sane developer would follow.

    Of course, the one thing I don’t know is the pricing for acquisition. Did the developer make fair offers? Lowball offers because he thought he could strong-arm them out? Was the landlord insisting on an insane price? Or is he just a stubborn New Yorker who refuse to be bulldozed by “progress” at any price?

  7. If memory serves, I’m pretty sure the Citicorp building was built with its famous stilts in the center rather than corners to accommodate a church that didn’t want to move. They were willing to give up the air rights in exchange for a major renovation/reconstruction. So the Citicorp building is like a giant Tetris piece in that regard.

  8. I’m surprised they were able to get away with this. In Indianapolis, we have zoning that protects smaller buildings from having other buildings looming over them.

  9. There is also one on 9tgh Ave, on the east side of the avenue, btwn 53/54

  10. Coincidentally, there’s another example of this just a few blocks up, on 24th & 3rd. Not quite as extreme.

  11. I’m going to be in the minority here but I don’t mind this even if I don’t think the solution was very elegant. One of things that I appreciate about DC and Melbourne is the way they both of inserted new taller buildings into the streetscape while preserving the smaller scale buildings which economically and ecologically aren’t all that sustainable to begin. Those small building are placeholder buildings into something could come along that suite the value of the land. Remember the point of a building is to make the land pay.

    In DC, they do facadism which architects hate but visually it works quite well. In Melbourne, they have built buildings in the center of blocks while maintaing the street buildings. (Sort of a modified facadism. But one that preserves the older buildings and cheaper commercial spaces.)

  12. There is really *NO WAY* they could build over these buildings without paying for the right to do so.

  13. Surely you’ve left out one of the most notorious, that being a Bar at the conner of Sixth Ave and 49th or 50th Street. At one time, and maybe now – I haven’t been by the site in 15 or 29 years – the bar was called Hurley’s and it gained notoriety as Johnny Carson accused his announcer, Ed McMahon, of spending too much time there. It was also alleged that there was a NBC telephone extension at the bar so as to make it easier to reach NBC employees, some of whom worked for NBC News.

  14. If you take a look at streetview you can see them building the place.