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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Upstarts of Mid-Manhattan

How they dare they build skyscrapers in New York!

To hear the two sides in the skyscraper war tell it, never has so much been at stake.

The owners of the Empire State Building and their supporters say their tower’s international status and New York City’s skyline are in mortal danger of an assault from a “monstrosity.”


What irks the former is that the latter would rise to be 1,216 feet, almost as tall as the Empire State Building, and would be just 900 feet away, a little too close for a building that has stood apart in the skyline for its entire 79-year life.

“The question here is: How close is too close to one of New York’s iconic landmarks,” Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick said Monday, after a hearing in which the owners of both properties made their cases, in advance of a City Council vote on Wednesday.

If Plato had been right, and there was indeed a world of forms, then all skyscrapers would be but imperfect reflections of the Empire State Building. Its magnificence is undeniable. But to build it Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, the legendary architectural firm hired for the task, had to demolish the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. 

Had today's network of zoning and historical regulations been in place in 1930, there is not a chance in hell the Empire State Building would have been built on that site, and probably not anywhere near it. Perhaps it would have been built somewhere else, and we would have it and the grand old Waldorf-Astoria. Perhaps not. 

Location is everything in real estate. In preserving the great old buildings of the present, or even just preventing their lines of sight from being blocked, we run the risk of preventing the great new buildings of tomorrow from rising. New York is not a museum, and it did not become New York by preserving everything from its past, otherwise it would never have been anything other than a small Dutch settlement. Nowhere more than New York City is Schumpeter's phrase "creative destruction" so vividly displayed. It is a creativity imperilled.

Posted by Richard Anderson on September 1, 2010 | Permalink


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