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The building form most closely associated with New York City is the skyscraper, which has controversially shifted many commercial and residential districts from low-rise to high-rise. Surrounded mostly by water, the city has amassed one of the largest and most varied collection of skyscrapers in the world.
New York has architecturally significant buildings in a wide range of styles spanning distinct historical and cultural periods. These include the Woolworth Building (1913), an early Gothic revival skyscraper with large-scale gothic architectural detail. The 1916 Zoning Resolution required setback in new buildings, and restricted towers to a percentage of the lot size, to allow sunlight to reach the streets below. The Art Deco design of the Chrysler Building (1930) and Empire State Building (1931), with their tapered tops and steel spires, reflected the zoning requirements. The Chrysler building is considered by many historians and architects to be one of New York’s finest, with its distinctive ornamentation such as V-shaped lighting inserts capped by a steel spire at the tower’s crown. An early influential example of the international style in the United States is the Seagram Building (1957), distinctive for its facade using visible bronze-toned I-beams to evoke the building’s structure. The Condé Nast Building (2000) is an important example of green design in American skyscrapers.
The character of New York’s large residential districts is often defined by the elegant brownstone rowhouses, townhouses, and shabby tenements that were built during a period of rapid expansion from 1870 to 1930. In contrast, New York City also has neighborhoods that are less densely populated and feature free-standing dwellings. In the outer boroughs, large single-family homes are common in various architectural styles such as Tudor Revival and Victorian. Split two-family homes are also widely available across the outer boroughs, especially in the Flushing area.
Stone and brick became the city’s building materials of choice after the construction of wood-frame houses was limited in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1835. Unlike Paris, which for centuries was built from its own limestone bedrock, New York has always drawn its building stone from a far-flung network of quarries and its stone buildings have a variety of textures and hues. A distinctive feature of many of the city’s buildings is the presence of wooden roof-mounted water towers. In the 19th century, the city required their installation on buildings higher than six stories to prevent the need for excessively high water pressures at lower elevations, which could burst municipal water pipes. Garden apartments became popular during the 1920s in outlying areas, including Jackson Heights in Queens, which became more accessible with expansion of the subway.
Concentrations of buildings
New York has two main concentrations of high-rise buildings: Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan, each with its own uniquely recognizable skyline. Midtown Manhattan, the largest central business district in the world, is home to such notable buildings as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Citigroup Center and Rockefeller Center. Lower Manhattan comprises the third largest central business district in the United States (after Midtown and Chicago’s Loop). Lower Manhattan was characterized by the omnipresence of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center from its completion in 1973 until its destruction in the September 11 attacks, 2001.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Lower Manhattan saw rapid reconstruction to include the new One World Trade Center. The Downtown skyline received new designs from such architects as Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry. Goldman Sachs is building a 225-metre-tall (738 ft), 43-floor building across the street from the World Trade Center site.
New York City has a long history of tall buildings. It has been home to 10 buildings that have held the world’s tallest fully habitable building title at some point in history, although half have since been demolished. The first building to bring the world’s tallest title to New York was the New York World Building, in 1890. Later, New York City was home to the world’s tallest building for 75 continuous years, starting with the Park Row Building in 1899 and ending with 1 World Trade Center upon completion of the Sears Tower in 1974. One of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, still standing in the city, is the Park Row Building, built in 1899.
The high-rise buildings of Brooklyn constitute a third, much smaller skyline. The high-rise buildings in downtown Brooklyn are centered around a major NYC subway hub. Downtown Brooklyn is also experiencing an extensive building boom, with new high rise luxury residential towers, commercial space and a new arena in the planning stages. The building boom in Brooklyn has had a great deal of opposition from local civic and environmental groups which contend that Brooklyn needs to maintain its human scale. The borough of Queens has also been developing its own skyline in recent years with a Citigroup office building (which is currently the tallest building in NYC outside Manhattan), and the Queens West development of several residential towers along the East River waterfront.
The 1916 Zoning Resolution required setback in new buildings, and restricted towers to a percentage of the lot size, to allow sunlight to reach the streets below.
The Empire State Building, a 102-story contemporary Art Deco style building, was designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon and finished in 1931. It was the world’s tallest building for a record 42 years. The tower takes its name from the nickname of New York State and is currently the second tallest building in the city, the first being the World Trade Center 1. It was the first building to go beyond the 100+ story mark, and has one of the world’s most visited observation decks, which over 110 million have visited since its completion. The building was built in a record 14 months.
Completed in 1930, the Chrysler Building is a distinctive symbol of New York, standing 1,048 feet (319 m) high on the east side of Manhattan. Originally built for the Chrysler Corporation, the building is presently co-owned by TMW Real Estate (75%) and Tishman Speyer Properties (25%). The Chrysler Building was the first structure in the world to surpass the 1,000 foot threshold.
The GE Building is a slim Art Deco skyscraper and the focal point of Rockefeller Center. At 850 ft (259 m) with 70 floors, it is the seventh tallest building in New York and the 30th tallest in the United States. Built in 1933 and originally called the RCA Building, it is one of the most famous and recognized skyscrapers in New York. The frieze above the main entrance was executed by Lee Lawrie and depicts Wisdom, along with a phrase from scripture that reads “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times”, originally found in the Book of Isaiah, 33:6.
The International Style was a groundbreaking exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that completely changed the face of architecture in New York and the world. Mies Van Der Rohe, a focus of the show, later built the Seagram Building on Park Ave at 53rd Street. One of the most important buildings for modern architecture, the Seagram Building transformed its midtown site, the development of tall buildings, and the history of architecture. Other architects replicated details from Seagram within New York and around the world for decades following its completion in the late 1950s. The bronze extrusions attached to the mullions are exemplary of this trend in tall building design and can be seen in many cities.
The MetLife Building, formerly the Pan Am Building, was the largest commercial office building in the world when it opened on 7 March 1963. It is an important part of the Manhattan skyline and one of the fifty tallest buildings in the USA.
The World Trade Center’s twin towers were the city’s tallest buildings from 1973 until their destruction in the September 11 attacks. The towers rose 1,368 feet (417 m) and 1,362 feet (415 m) respectively, both 110 Floors. The North Tower’s 360 foot antenna housed most of the city’s communications, while the South Tower was home to a popular observation deck. They were the tallest buildings in the world until Chicago’s 1,454-foot Sears Tower was completed in 1974.
Citigroup Center is 59-story office tower located at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It is considered one of the most important post-war skyscrapers to be in erected in New York City. The striking design of the steeply slanted roof, the sleek aluminum-clad façade, and its base on four stilts over a church also on the site made the skyscraper an instant architectural icon. The sloping roof houses the building’s mechanical and ventilation systems. The designers settled on an aluminum-clad façade to reduce the weight load on the building’s foundation and support structures, since its entire weight would be supported by stilts. However, this did not come without a price; when the building was erected in 1977 it was discovered that the light-weight façade made the building vulnerable to swaying under high wind conditions. Concerned that the building might tip over in very high winds the building’s engineers installed a “Tuned mass damper” in the roof which acts as a counterbalance to the building’s swaying.
Time Warner Center is a mixed-use skyscraper at Columbus Circle on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It has attracted much attention as the first major building to be completed since the September 11th terrorist attacks and has become known to many New Yorkers as the “new twin towers.” Additional publicity was generated in 2003 when David Martinez paid $45 million for a penthouse condominium, a record for New York residential sales.
The Condé Nast Building, officially Four Times Square, is a modern skyscraper in Times Square in Midtown Manhattan and one of the most important examples of green design in skyscrapers in the United States. Environmentally friendly gas-fired absorption chillers, along with a high-performing insulating and shading curtain wall, ensure that the building does not need to be heated or cooled for the majority of the year. Office furniture is made with biodegradable and non-toxic materials. The air-delivery system provides 50% more fresh air than is required by New York City Building Code, and a number of recycling chutes serve the entire building. Being the first project of its size to undertake these features in construction, the building has received an award from the American Institute of Architects, as well as AIA New York State.
Hearst Tower, located in Midtown Manhattan at 300 West 57th Street, is another example of the new breed of green design skyscrapers in New York City. Hearst Tower is a glass and steel construction skyscraper which rests on the base of the original 1920s Hearst Corporation Building. Hearst Tower is easily identified by the dramatic interlocking triangular glass panels designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster. Hearst Tower is also the first skyscraper in New York City to be awarded the coveted Gold LEED Certified rating by the United States Green Building Council.
As New York City grew, it spread outward from where it originally began at the southern-tip of Manhattan Island into surrounding areas. In order to house the burgeoning population, farm land and open space in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island were developed into neighborhoods of brownstones, apartment buildings, multi-family and single-family homes. The density of this new construction generally depended on the area’s proximity and accessibility to Manhattan.
The development of these areas was often spurred by the opening of bridges and the connection of boroughs via public transportation. For example, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 and connects Brooklyn and Manhattan across the East River. Brooklyn Heights, a nabe on the Brooklyn waterfront, is often credited as the United States’ first suburb. The bridge allowed an easier commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan and spurred rapid construction, development, and redevelopment. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, completed in 1964, opened up many areas of Staten Island to residential and commercial development, especially in the central and southern parts of the borough, which had previously been largely undeveloped. Staten Island’s population doubled from about 221,000 in 1960 to about 443,000 in 2000.
By 1870, stone and brick had become firmly established as the building materials of choice, as the construction of wood-frame houses had been greatly limited in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1835. Unlike Paris, which for centuries was built from its own limestone bedrock, New York has always drawn its building stone from a network of quarries, sometimes quite distant, which is evident in the variety of textures and hues of stone seen in the city’s buildings. In the days before rail, stones were floated down the Hudson River or along the Atlantic Seaboard from pits in New England. While trains brought marble from Vermont and granite from Minnesota, it was Connecticut brownstone that was so popular in the construction of New York’s row homes in late 19th century that the term brownstone became synonymous with row house.
Beginning in the 1950s, public housing projects dramatically changed the city’s appearance. New, large scale (frequently high-rise) residential complexes replaced older communities at times removing artifacts and landmarks that would now be considered of historic value. During this period, many of these new projects were built in an effort towards urban renewal championed by the famed urban planner Robert Moses. The resulting housing projects have suffered from inconsistent funding, poor maintenance, and high crime, prompting many to consider these projects a failure.
A distinctive feature of residential (and many commercial) buildings in New York City is the presence of wooden roof-mounted water towers, which were required on all buildings higher than six stories by city ordinance in the 19th century because the municipal water pipes could not withstand the extraordinarily high pressure necessary to deliver water to the top stories of high-rise buildings.
Bridges and tunnels
New York City is located on one of the world’s largest natural harbors. The boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island are their own islands, while Queens and Brooklyn are located at the west-end of the larger Long Island. This precipitates a need for an extensive infrastructure of bridges and tunnels. Nearly all of the city’s major bridges and several of its tunnels, have broken or set records. For example, the Holland Tunnel was the world’s first vehicular tunnel when it opened in 1927.
The Queensboro Bridge is an important piece of cantilever architecture. The towers of the Brooklyn Bridge are built of limestone, granite, and Rosendale cement. Their architectural style is neo-Gothic, with characteristic pointed arches above the passageways through the stone towers. This bridge was also the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening until 1903, and the first steel-wire suspension bridge. The Manhattan Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, Triborough Bridge, and Verrazano Bridge are all examples of Structural Expressionism.
Formulated in the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, New York adopted a visionary proposal to develop Manhattan north of 14th Street with a regular street grid. The economic logic underlying the plan, which called for twelve numbered avenues running north and south, and 155 orthogonal cross streets, was that the grid’s regularity would provide an efficient means to develop new real estate property. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, disapproved.
New Yorkers commonly give addresses by the street and avenue number, as in “34th & 5th” for the Empire State Building.
One of the city’s most famous thoroughfares, Broadway, is one of the longest urban streets in the world. Other famous streets include Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue. 42nd Street is the capital of American theater. The Grand Concourse, modeled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, is the most notable street in the Bronx. The City Beautiful movement inspired similar boulevards in Brooklyn, known as parkways.