The building form most closely associated with New York City is the skyscraper, which has 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 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.
As part of the 13 British colonies on the east coast of North America, New York City first received British architectural influences. The oldest church in Manhattan, St. Paul’s Chapel (1766) is an example of English style with a single spire that rises today in the middle of skyscrapers.
After the war of independence, the Georgian style continues to be used (St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, 1799), but is soon relayed by the Greek Revival style north of Washington. Square Park and in the Federal Hall.
Neo-Gothic architecture (19th century)
The neo-Gothic style appears and will be used until the twentieth century, including for skyscrapers. Richard Upjohn (1802 – 1878) specializes in rural churches in the northeast, but his major work remains Trinity Church in New York. Its red sandstone architecture refers to the 14th century European.
Neo-Gothic facade of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Always in New York, it is to James Renwick Jr. that one owes the cathedral Saint-Patrick, elegant synthesis of the cathedrals of Reims and Cologne. The project was entrusted to him in 1858, but completely completed by the elevation of the two arrows in front in 1888. The use of materials lighter than stone makes it possible to do without buttresses and external buttresses.
The Woolworth Building, designed by the architect Cass Gilbert (1913) 1, with its 60 floors, then passed the Metropolitan Life Tower. The first three levels are adorned with a beautiful limestone replaced on the following levels by terracotta. The Neo-Gothic trend led the architect to add false buttresses and gargoyles. Given the gigantism of the building, the decorative elements were oversized to be seen from the street. In 1924, Raymond Hood took care of the American Radiator Building in New York, which he dressed in colors and had a golden terracotta decoration, illuminated at night. The architecture then begins to serve as an advertising medium.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, New York experienced profound upheavals: its population increases sharply. The industrial revolution brings new materials and new techniques, the business bourgeoisie is developing.
The Cast-iron Buildings
In the middle of the nineteenth century, new methods for the direct manufacture of steel appeared (Sidney Gilchrist Thomas process, Bessemer ovens and Siemens-Martin). These discoveries allow mass production of “quality” steel at a reduced cost. Cast iron manufacturers emphasize the qualities of metal in architecture: standardized parts reduce the cost of construction. The risk of fire is reduced by the fireproofing process of the frame. James Bogardus (1800 – 1874) is one of those entrepreneurs who advertises this mode of construction related to the industrial revolution and called cast-iron building.
Several factories and stores use this technique in New York, such as the Haper Building, built in 1854, which mimics the facade of a Renaissance palace. Daniel Badger (1806 – 1884) makes the metal elements that decorate the facade of the EV Haughwout Building at SoHo, whose plans are due to John P. Gaynor. It is equipped with the first Otis steam lift serving the five floors. The windows are framed by Corinthian columns and the whole is surmounted by a carefully decorated cornice.
The SoHo district is home to the largest concentration of cast-iron buildings in New York. These buildings generally comprise five to six storeys. Their facades are characterized by large windows and the presence of external stairs added in the early twentieth century. The elements of decoration are numerous and borrowed from the European classical architecture of Renaissance or Second Empire styles: columns, arcades, cornice, balustrades, friezes, etc. Today, many of these old warehouses or factories are converted into lofts, offices, art galleries or shops. They have been restored since the 1970s.
A skyscraper is a building of very great height. There is no official definition or minimum height from which one could qualify a skyscraper building, the concept of skyscrapers being essentially relative: what is perceived as skyscrapers can vary greatly depending on the time or place. However, the company Emporis which lists the skyscrapers of the planet uses the lower limit of 100 meters to characterize a skyscraper. This height does not correspond to the maximum height of the building, but corresponds to its height “structural” that is to say that does not take into account the antennas added later (hence the different figures to estimate the height of a skyscraper).
The beginnings (1875)
The construction and use of skyscrapers were made possible by the invention of the elevator and the progress of the steel industry. The checkered plan and land speculation in central New York are not foreign to the success of this mode of construction. Finally, the regrouping of companies and capitalist competition encourage the vertical rise of buildings.
It is hard to say what was the first skyscraper in history, some architects say it is the Chicago Home Insurance Building (1885), others think it is New York Tribune Building (New York), designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1875 (79 meters).
Reflections on skyscrapers
Quickly, several American architects (including Louis Sullivan…) criticize this new vertical architecture. The vertiginous rise of the buildings prevents the light from reaching the ground. The orthogonal plane causes congestion of the traffic. Finally, new security problems emerge, particularly in the area of fire. As early as 1916, in response to these difficulties, a zoning law (Zoning Law) was adopted in New York. The regulation requires architects to adjust the height of buildings to the width of the streets. It remained in force until 1961. This led to the construction of pyramidal buildings, or set back from the street, such as the Seagram Building (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, 1958), which 28 meters from Park Avenue.
The Brooklyn Bridge (1867-1883)
The Brooklyn Bridge is emblematic of this period and the city of New York. It gives the positive image of progress in progress and it can be compared to the Eiffel Tower, because it is the work of an engineer, John Augustus Roebling, and because it has been criticized by some of the contemporaries. The arched arches recall the historicist trend, but the steel cables and the technical performance (480 meters range, one of the tallest buildings in the city at the end of the nineteenth century) make it a resolutely modern building.
When it was completed, the aerodynamic profile of the bridge had not yet been put to the test. At that time, no wind tunnel was used to perform model tests. The designer chose to be particularly cautious and built reinforcements six times stronger than those he thought necessary. He was able to continue his work when he found that the cables delivered by a subcontractor were less solid than expected.
From the 1920s, the Beaux-Arts style was rivaled by the Art Deco trend. However, the great New York institutions continue to be built according to the standards of the Beaux-Arts and using classical elements.
Art Deco skyscrapers (1920-1930)
From the 1920s, the influence of Art Deco is felt in New York architecture. The emphasis on geometric simplification, stylization and the use of luxurious materials is exemplified in the skyscrapers of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Chanin Building, the Daily News Building and the McGraw-Hill Building. But the Rockefeller Center marks the idea of building a city in the city at a time of doubts linked to the economic crisis. The speed with which the Empire State Building was erected reflects the rationalization of construction techniques: one of the seven wonders of the modern world required a job that lasted less than two years.
International style (1930-1970)
The headquarters of the United Nations, 1951.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, the International Style and the influence of the Bauhaus School are visible in the New York metropolis: the International Style presents itself as a resolutely modernist trend and strives for a sober decoration. The UN headquarters is the most outstanding illustration of the international style after 1945. It was built along the East River on land acquired through a donation of John Davison Rockefeller Junior. It was inaugurated on January 9, 1951 and becomes the symbol of internationalism and progress. It applies the design of separate buildings according to their function. The skyscraper housing the United Nations Secretariat stands at 164 meters and presents itself on two sides as a curtain wall of glass and aluminum, while the other sides are covered with marble slabs.
The German Walter Gropius teaches architecture at Harvard and builds with Pietro Belluschi the controversial building of Pan Am in New York (1963). He trains the great architects of the next generation. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe arrived in the United States in 1937 and applied his conceptions of modernist classicism in the Seagram Building (1958).
The research of a postmodernism
The 1970s marked a turning point in American architecture: the oil shock and the country’s heritage were the new deal for architects. We then witness criticism of the international style and its tendency towards minimalism and austerity. Many architects choose to rehabilitate the Beaux-Arts, Art Deco style and do not hesitate to mix styles. The major works of postmodernism are the Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera (New York, 1962-1966). The American Telephone and Telegraph Company designed by Philip Johnson has a monumental 8-level entrance arch and an unfinished pediment-shaped top; he has been widely criticized.
The Guggenheim Museum, designed by Wright.
Finally, museums need an architectural renewal during this period. We think first of all at the Guggenheim Museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has new wings entrusted to John Dinkeloo and Kevin Roche who use large windows (Sackler wing for example).
The attacks of September 11, 2001 caused the commitment of a reflection on the skyscrapers. Ecological requirements (green architecture), the use of computers have upset the way of understanding construction. Increased diversity thanks to new materials (stretched steel, membrane structures). The projects involve large areas, sometimes entire neighborhoods: the Rockefeller Center was a forerunner in the 1940s. The reflection is also focused on the rehabilitation of American city centers: renovation of the Harlem district by Roberta Wash. One of the most fashionable architects in the early 2000s is the Italian Renzo Piano who works on several projects: the Pierpont Morgan Library (completed in April 2006), the New York Times Tower on 8th Avenue, the expansion of the Whitney Museum, and the new Columbia University campus.
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 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 third tallest building in the city, the first being One World Trade Center, and second belonging to 432 Park Avenue. 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 Comcast 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
The 15 tallest standard structures, which include those with the 10 highest antennae or radio towers (pinnacles)
1 One World Trade Center, West Street & Vesey Street
2 Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue & West 34th Street
2 432 Park Avenue, Park Avenue & East 57th Street (Manhattan)
3 Bank of America Tower, Sixth Avenue between 42nd & 43rd Sts
4 Chrysler Building, Lexington Avenue & 42nd Street
5 New York Times Building, Eighth Avenue between 41st & 42nd Sts
6 One57, West 57th Street between 6th & 7th Aves 75
7 American International Bldg, Pine, Cedar and Pearl Streets
8 40 Wall Street, Wall Street between Nassau & William Sts
9 Citigroup Center, 53rd Street between Lexington & 3rd Aves
10 Trump World Tower, First Avenue between 47th & 48th Streets
11 Comcast Building (ex-RCA Building and ex-GE Building), 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 6th Ave, 49th & 50th Sts
12 CitySpire Center, West 56th Street between 6th & 7th Aves 75
13 One Chase Manhattan Plaza, between Pine, Liberty, Nassau & William Sts
14 Condé Nast Building, Broadway between 42nd & 43rd Streets
15 MetLife Building (ex Pan Am), 200 Park Avenue at East 45th Street
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 the 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.
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