Between 1874 and 1900, Manhattan went from zero skyscrapers to over 250. The Skyscraper Museum’s online interactive for their current exhibition Ten & Taller: 1874-1900 visualizes this 19th-century boom through a map, timeline, and photographic grid.
The online and physical exhibition developed out of a web project by engineer and historian Donald Freidman, who mined data available on early structural systems. Innovations like steel frames, and the elevator, enabled Gilded Age architecture to rise above previous sites such as Trinity Church on Wall Street and Broadway, which was the highest structure in the city until 1890. Ten & Taller begins with early 10-story skyscrapers including the 1874 Tribune Building by Richard Morris Hunt with its brick-bearing walls and the 1875 Western Union building by George Post with cast-iron columns, and culminates with massive edifices like the 28-floor 1899 Park Row Building by R. H. Robertson, which soared 321 feet with a steel-frame skeleton.
The most user-friendly of the Ten & Taller virtual components is the interactive map, where you can see Manhattan gradually populate with offices, hotels, and apartments that went beyond 10 stories, concentrated around commercial hubs like Broadway. Each is color-coded by type, and clicking these areas pops up information on building construction and historic photographs.
It’s striking that many of these incredible architecture projects are already gone. The colossal 1880s “castles in the air” of the Spanish Flats apartment complex by José Francisco de Navarro were razed in the 1920s; the 1890 domed New York World Building commissioned by Joseph Pulitzer was demolished in 1950 to make way for a ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. New York City’s Landmarks Law was only signed in 1965, finally offering better protection for this urban heritage.
Of course, this capacity to build ever higher was not all positive progress, and concerns about the quality of existence down in their shadows for the city’s growing population led to New York’s Zoning Resolution of 1916 . Along with Ten & Taller, the Skyscraper Museum also has a digital project called New York’s Super-Slenders on the 50 to 90-story luxury high rises now pricking the city like a pin cushion. Manhattan has presumably yet to see its tallest tower, and looking to the past and the impact of this incredible growth can inform our considerations about the future of life in and below these great heights.
Ten & Taller: 1874-1900 continues through April 2017 at the Skycraper Museum (39 Battery Place, Battery Park, Manhattan).
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