Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lower Manhattan Skyscraper Evolution

Architectural Modernism as a secular religion was somewhere near its peak of influence when I took a yearlong course in architectural design as an undergraduate. It roughly had something to do with "honesty to building materials" along with a shunning of ornamentation. As a result, tall office buildings (and many other structures) looked like products from a Bauhaus/van der Rohe 3-D printer (if you will pardon the anachronistic metaphor).

Time does march on, though architectural styles are more prone to crawling. The present post looks at skyscraper architecture in the form of six office building projectss located in Lower Manhattan. Five of the projects were the tallest in New York City when they were built.


Singer Building
The Singer Building, 186.57 m (612.1 ft) was completed in 1908, the tallest office building in the world at the time. It was demolished 60 years later, but not before I had plenty of chances to view it. It had an odd shape, being slightly bulged at the top of the tower. Dark red brick cladding (if I remember correctly) coupled with the ornamentation gave it a distinctly old-fashioned appearance. It seems that some architects were still trying to figure out what a skyscraper should look like.

Woolworth Building
Still standing is the Woolworth Building, completed in 1913 and the world's tallest at 241.4 m (792 ft) for 17 years. Gothic cathedrals were vertically oriented, so became a useful inspiration for skyscraper style. The Woolworth Building is dignified, and of-a-piece, unlike the awkward Singer Building. The silhouette of the Singer can be seen near the left of the photo.

40 Wall Street
40 Wall Street, completed 1930, reigned as the world's tallest (at its peak, 927 ft, 283 m) for less than two months, when it was surpassed by the spire atop the Chrysler Building. It has passed through a number of hands and was given several names, starting with Bank of Manhattan Building and currently as the Trump Building. Architecturally, it is a nice composition topped by an attractive pyramidal form. While it's not necessarily my absolute favorite skyscraper design, I think it's the best of the group shown here.

One Chase Manhattan Plaza
One Chase Manhattan Plaza was never a "tallest," (813 ft, 248 m when completed in 1961), but it was massive, disrupting the ensemble of tall, lean towers elsewhere in New York City's financial district. It is in the International Style that was at the height of its influence when it was designed and built. The New York Times image above shows it as a simple slab, chopped off at the top with only a slight transition offered by by cladding over the utility zone. The rest is basically fenestration and some vertical structural accents. I would not shed tears if it suffered the Singer Building's fate.

World Trade Center Twin Towers
This Wikipedia entry covers the World Trade Center Twin Towers destroyed in 2001. The Twin Towers where the tallest in the world at 1,368 ft (417.0 m) when Tower 1 was completed near the end of 1970. Tower 2 was about six feet (two meters) shorter at the roofline. Again, the structures are simple with minimal adornment (mostly near ground level). Not very interesting as a pair, but a single such tower would have been even more sleep-provoking visually. The 1975 New York Daily News image above includes the Woolworth Building towards the left side and 40 Wall at the extreme right.

One World Trade Center
This is the replacement for the twin towers. Not the tallest in the world, but the tallest in the USA at the time of its recent completion (roof: 1,368 ft, 417.0 m) -- the same as Tower 1. Styling is in line with current postmodern practice whereby an office or apartment tower is treated as a kind of sculpture whose interest lies in its overall shape and perhaps its surface texture. This is more interesting than the simple forms seen on the original towers and Chase, but still too sterile for my taste.

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