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New York 1898-1908 – Tall Buildings

The Scientific American “New York” issue uses the word “skyscraper” but, like I have here, only in quotes. Tall buildings and loft buildings are the terms used again and again in the article, perhaps because “skyscraper” was considered to be slang. The article, appropriately for this publication, focuses on technical issues – for example, fireproofing, wind pressure, foundations – rather than on architecture.

The photos and discussion, unsurprisingly, include the Singer Building (tallest in the world in 1908) and the Met Life Tower (about to become the tallest in the world in 1909). Photos of the Singer Building inevitably include the adjacent City Investing Building, which was a very tall building for the era in its own right, if mostly ignored today. Similarly, the photo of Met Life shows the original 11-story Met Life building – considered to be quite tall when constructed in 1893 – next door.

It’s not entirely clear what criteria were used in selecting other buildings for the photos. The St. Paul, Times, and Flatiron buildings were all tall for the era, but the Park Row Building was taller; St. Paul and Flatiron were barely newer than Park Row. I would not be amazed to hear that the definitive criterion was which buildings looked most impressive in vertically-oriented photos. Flatiron generally wins this race, as seen in the photo used: the narrow triangular plan makes the building’s mass disappear from some angles, leaving it looking like a free-standing wall.

In a way, this article is the least interesting of those in the issue. The topic is inherently interesting, but it is well known, unlike some of the others, and so it feels like old news.