Why Does New York Have so Many Skyscrapers?
There are so many skyscrapers in New York because these enormous buildings are able to accommodate hundreds of people on their many storeys while taking up only a relatively small amount of land-and New York is short of land. The skyscrapers are found in the heart of New York City, the centre of its business, financial and entertainment activities, which are all packed into an area of 10 square miles on the lower half of Manhattan Island, between the Hudson and East Rivers.
The lack of space makes the value of land tremendously high and therefore the building of tall structures has become a necessity. Manhattan is shaped rather like a tongue and is made of solid granite. New York is the world’s ultimate skyscraper city. Already at the end of the 19th century, the limited space on Manhattan caused developers to build ever taller towers. During the course of the 20th century, no less than 8 different skyscrapers in New York held the title of the world’s tallest building. Such a long domination resulted in large number of truly historical buildings, with a great variety in architectural styles.
The skyscrapers are grouped in two great clusters, the lower group standing at the southern tip of the island, looking down across Upper New York Bay towards the Atlantic and making up the famous New York skyline which greets visitors by ship to America.
This group includes the Woolworth building (792 feet) and the Bank of Manhattan (900 feet). The upper cluster of buildings is about halfway up the island, in what is known as the “midtown” section. Here the enormous Empire State building rises to a height of 102 storeys (1,472 feet) and often has its peak wreathed in cloud. Nearby is the Chrysler building (1,046 feet). Below you find a small selection of the city’s most interesting skyscrapers.
40 Wall Street: Built in 1929 as the headquarters of the Bank of Manhattan, this was intended to be the world’s tallest building. The Chrysler Building however, which was being built at around the same time, eventually became taller than originally announced, taking the title of world’s tallest instead.
70 Pine Street: Lower Manhattan’s tallest building – an elegant 67 story art deco structure – was completed just before the Great Depression, at the height of New York’s skyscraper- building frenzy.
American Radiator Building: This conspicuous black building with a gilded crown is one of Raymond Hood’s New York masterpieces. The 22 story building, located at Bryant Park, was built in 1924 as an office tower for the American Radiator Company. In 2001 it reopened as the Bryant Park Hotel.
Chanin Building: The construction of the Grand Central Terminal created a boost of economic activity in the area, fertile ground for tall skyscrapers. The first of several iconic skyscrapers built around the station was the 1929 Chanin Building, named after its developer Irwin S. Chanin.
Chrysler Building: The Chrysler Building’s elegant spire – modeled after a radiator grille – not only made the building taller than its competitor (the Bank of Manhattan Building) in the race for the world’s tallest building, but it also made the Chrysler Building New York’s most beloved skyscraper.
Citigroup Center: One of New York’s most successful modern skyscrapers rests on large columns, opening up space for the St. Peter’s Church, a public plaza and a subway station. The tower’s angled roof line was a welcome diversion from the flat rooftop lines of contemporary buildings.
Daily News Building: With the construction of this 37 story building, Raymond Hood departed from the gothic designs he used in previous skyscrapers like the American Radiator Building and the Tribune Tower in Chicago. The top of the building is unornamented, a first for skyscrapers in New York.
Empire State Building: The most famous of all skyscrapers, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest for 41 years. Its sheer size caught people’s imagination when it was completed in 1931 after just one year of construction. Today New York’s tallest skyscraper is still one of city’s most visited attractions.
Equitable Building: When this 39 story building was completed in 1915 it caused a public outcry as the building cast large shadows, leaving nearby streets in the Financial District without any sunlight. This led to the new zoning regulations one year later resulting in skyscrapers with setbacks prevalent during the 1920s and early 30s.
Flatiron Building: When the Fuller Building was completed in 1902, locals soon dubbed the 21 story skyscraper ‘Flatiron Building’ for its triangular shape. Even though it was never the tallest building in New York, the Flatiron became one of the city’s most photographed buildings.
GE Building: The centerpiece of Rockefeller Center, an enormous complex built during the Great Depression as ‘Radio City’, is still one of New York’s tallest buildings. Recently the roof terrace of this 70 story Art Deco building reopened offering visitors some of the city’s greatest views over midtown and Central Park.
Hearst Tower: In 1928 a six-story base was built as the headquarters of William Hearst’s publishing empire. Another 12 stories were planned, but they were never realised. 78 Years later a postmodern glass tower was constructed on top of the Art Deco base.
Lever House: It may now look like an ordinary glass building, but when the Lever House opened in 1952 it was a revolutionary skyscraper, the first glass tower in a forest of brick and limestone buildings. The Lever House would become a blueprint for internationalist skyscrapers prevalent in the following decades.
Lipstick Building: Philip Johnson’s elliptic-shaped skyscraper contrasts with all the surrounding rectangular buildings on Third Avenue. Unlike his other famous building in New York, the former AT&T Building, the Lipstick building is void of any ornaments. Its oval shape and setbacks make it look like a gigantic lipstick, hence the unusual name.
Metlife Building (formerly PanAm): This behemoth scores consistently high on ‘ugliest building’ charts. Its sheer size, blocking the view of the 1929 Helmsley Building on Park Avenue caused a public outcry. This quintessential big-city building is probably more disliked for its awkward location rather than its aesthetics (or lack thereof).
Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower: This classical tower, modeled after the 16th century Campanile in Venice, was the world’s tallest building between 1909 and 1913. Some New Yorkers, at the time not yet comfortable with skyscrapers even feared the tower would collapse like its orinigal did in 1902.
Muncipal Building: In order to house the growing number of civil services the City of New York commissioned this gigantic building in 1908. Completed in 1913, the Municipal Building features many classical elements such as the Corinthian colonnade at the base and the cylindrical colonnaded drum at its top.
Park Row Building: This Beaux-Arts skyscrapers are one of many New York buildings with the honor of having held the title of ‘world’s tallest’. At 391ft or 119m, this was indeed the tallest building in the world in 1899. Now dwarfed by many, the buildings still holds its own thanks to its unique silhouette and its location near City Hall Park.
Seagram Building: Mies van der Rohe’s New York legacy became a prototype for the skyscrapers of the 1960s and 1970s: tall functional glass and steel towers void of any ornamentation combined with a large plaza. Built in 1958, this arrangement was in line with New York’s 1961 zoning regulations which emphasized the use of open space.
Time Warner Center: The modern twin towers of the Time Warner Center loom over Columbus Circle, a roundabout at a corner of Central Park. Built in 2004 as the headquarters for the Time Warner corporation, this is one of the more successful modern skyscrapers in New York.
Trump Tower: The epitome of the 1980s building boom, the black granite Trump Tower is a popular destination for the many tourists on Fifth Avenue. It is however not so popular with architecture critics.
UN Secretariat: Designed by a committee of international architects, the New York Headquarters of the United Nations features the Secretariat building: a giant slab in international style with a green glass ‘curtain’, the first such building in New York in 1950.
Waldorf Astoria: The Waldorf-Astoria hotel, one of the city’s ritziest hotels, was the tallest and largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1931. It replaced the first Waldorf-Astoria which made way for the construction of the Empire State Building.
Williamsburgh Savings Bank: One of only a handful of interesting skyscrapers outside Manhattan, this Brooklyn building is the most eye-catching thanks to its height and beautiful Art Deco architecture. Towering over Brooklyn, the building featured an observation deck with great 360 degree views but it closed in the 1990s.
Woolworth Building: Dubbed the ‘Cathedral of Commerce’ for its Gothic ornamentation, the Woolworth Building was constructed between 1910 and 1913 as the headquarters of the Woolworth Company. At 794ft or 242m this was the world’s tallest building for 17 years.
A skyscraper is a tall, continuously habitable building having multiple floors. When the term was originally used in the 1880s it described a building of 10 to 20 floors but now describes one of at least 40 to 50 floors. Mostly designed for office, commercial and residential uses, a skyscraper can also be called a high-rise, but the term “skyscraper” is often used for buildings higher than 100 m (328 ft). For buildings above a height of 300 m (984 ft), the term “supertall” can be used, while skyscrapers reaching beyond 600 m (1,969 ft) are classified as “megatall”.
One common feature of skyscrapers is having a steel framework that supports curtain walls. These curtain walls either bear on the framework below or are suspended from the framework above, rather than resting on load-bearing walls of conventional construction. Some early skyscrapers have a steel frame that enables the construction of load-bearing walls taller than of those made of reinforced concrete.
Modern skyscrapers’ walls are not load-bearing, and most skyscrapers are characterized by large surface areas of windows made possible by steel frames and curtain walls. However, skyscrapers can have curtain walls that mimic conventional walls with a small surface area of windows. Modern skyscrapers often have a tubular structure, and are designed to act like a hollow cylinder to resist wind, seismic, and other lateral loads. To appear more slender, allow less wind exposure, and transmit more daylight to the ground, many skyscrapers have a design with setbacks, which are sometimes also structurally required.