"One thing we have learned from 9/11 is that the everyday architecture we take for granted is really something to treasure. The Twin Towers were giants the likes of which we will not see again. But contrary to the questions posed by so many journalists and writers in the months after the tragedy, it is clear that New York is going to keep building towers."
- from the introduction
Edited by Eric P. Nash (Princeton Architectural Press - 2010)
Review by Sean Ruthen, re:place magazine
For the third time now, Princeton Architectural Press has delivered up Manhattan Skyscrapers
, a formidable monograph on the New York high-rise tower featuring an astonishing ninety-three buildings - with eight new ones added for this third edition. Thanking the city’s Skyscraper Museum
in his acknowledgements, editor Eric P. Nash has assembled over one hundred new colour photographs of each of New York’s finest - here taken by photographer Norman McGrath - with descriptions of each of these 20th century titans that have stood as exemplars for the technology and styles that have made these magnificent edifices possible.
First published in 1999, the book originally featured 85 buildings and included New York’s earliest skyscraper, the American Tract Society Building
built in 1896. It has since become an invaluable resource on New York’s heritage skyline as well as a comprehensive survey of its more modern glass box iterations. With the imminent completion of new towers by Jean Nouvel
, Zaha Hadid
, and Frank Gehry
was the only one completed at the time of the book’s publishing), a fourth edition will most certainly be needed. However, this third edition has included many of the new towers built around Times Square, along with the new New York Times Building
(2007) by Renzo Piano
, and the Hearst Tower
(2006) by Norman Foster
As might be expected, the book is also a memoriam for the collapsed World Trade Center
towers, as a history of their construction, along with random trivia such as the architect Minoru Yamasaki
’s fear of heights, make up the last essay in the book. It is indisputably the 7 World Trade Center
whose inclusion in the book signals a recovery at long last of the city to rebuild at Ground Zero. The last few pages of the book uneasily juxtapose the years that have passed since the tragic event, with an image of the new Freedom Tower
rising at Ground Zero followed by an archival image of the original World Trade Center.
With the first edition of the book having featured the iconic Chrysler Building
on its cover, it is not without a certain sense of irony that this edition has opted instead for the General Motors Building
, as it, like the aforementioned Chrysler Building, was built by one of the now bankrupt automobile giants. Moreover, perhaps more than any other building in the city, the General Motors Building represents the corporate hubris that has brought down many a giant over the last two years.
The format of the book is straightforward - a full page photograph of each tower is placed next to a comprehensive essay that gives rich histories of such tenured treasures as the Flatiron Building
by Daniel Burnham
(1902), the majestic Woolworth Building
by Cass Gilbert
(1913), and of course, the Empire State Building
(1931), which the editor points out in the book's foreword was meant to have flying airships docking at its upper mast, rising upward at the time to an unthinkable 102 storeys.
The book itself is broken into two camps, where the heavier stone clad buildings with their punch windows of the early twentieth century shifts to the ephemeral glass boxes of the International Style
. This shift occurs roughly around the mid-1960’s, as Gordon Bunshaft
’s beautifully executed curtain wall enveloping the Lever House
(1952) is shortly thereafter joined across the street by Mies van der Rohe
’s distinctive black box Seagram Building
(1958), both of which would pioneer the aesthetic and technical blueprint for future towers for the city.
A number of postmodern towers make an appearance here as well, including Philip Johnson
inspired AT&T Building
(1984) and Cesar Pelli
’s World Financial Center
, originally built in 1984, and here photographed following its complete $50 million reconstitution in 2004, necessary due to its proximity to the devastation of the collapsed towers, and all overseen by the original architect. Other undisputed treasures featured in the book include the Rockerfeller Center
and UN Building
, with some standout new entries, including the Standard Hotel
(2008) by the Polshek Patrenship
- a new emblem for the quickly developing Chelsea neighbourhood in the city - and neighbour to Frank Gehry’s sail-inspired IAC Building
that sits nearby among new condominiums by Richard Meier
and Bernard Tschumi, all connected by the city’s new elevated park – the High Line
The book’s chronological organization, with half the book before the Lever House and the other half after, is an excellent representation of the city’s tall building stock, both new and old alike. An introduction by co-editor Carol Lewis is immediately followed by two breathtaking, full-page panoramic shots – one at dawn and the other dusk - taken from the Empire State Building and looking across the island of Manhattan. In her introduction she points out how many buildings have been lost to the city over time, referencing the book Lost New York
(1967) that mourns the loss of much of Manhattan’s nineteenth-century building fabric. She likewise gives a brief but revelatory summation of the tall building’s history in the city, as well as the need for this new edition to include the eight new entrants.
In closing, she echos what has been said over and over again since 9/11 - that despite what would seem an insurmountable tragedy, there has been no slowdown in the will to build more towers, though it is perhaps equally as tragic to think that while an act of terrorism could not thwart the desire to build them, the current recession has done the most damage, as seen in the abandoned towers barely begun in city's the world over (with the Spire
by Santiago Calatrava
in Chicago being the most recent casualty). Despite all this, there will surely be the need for a fourth edition, as the editors here point out, certainly as we continue to cast our gaze skywards in anticipation of the next addition to New York's archetypal skyline.
Sean Ruthen is a Vancouver-based architect, writer, and musician.