kottke.org posts about skyscrapers
You may have previously read about the Citicorp Center. Joe Morgenstern wrote about the Manhattan skyscraper in a classic New Yorker piece from 1995. The building was built incorrectly and might have blown over in a stiff wind if not for a timely intervention on the part of a mystery architecture student and the head structural engineer on the project.
Tells about designer William J. LeMessurier, who was structural consultant to the architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr. They set their 59-story tower on four massive nine-story-high stilts and used an unusual, chevron-shaped system of wind braces. LeMessurier had established the strength of those braces in perpendicular winds. Now, in the spirit of intellectual play, in his Harvard class, he wanted to see if they were just as strong in winds hitting from 45 degrees. He discovered the design flaw and during wind tunnel tests in Ontario learned the weakest joint was at the building's 30th floor.
The whole piece is here and well worth a read. Last month, the excellent 99% Invisible did a radio show about Citicorp Center and added a new bit of information to the story: the identity of the mystery student who prodded LeMessurier to think more deeply about the structural integrity of his building. (via @bdeskin, who apparently factchecked Morgenstern's piece back in the day)
That's the iconic "Lunch atop a Skyscraper" photo taken in 1932 during the construction of the RCA Building (aka 30 Rock) in NYC. Eleven construction workers eating lunch on a steel girder 840 feet in the air. The shot was a PR stunt to drum up excitement around the near completion of the new skyscraper...no one even knows for sure who took the photo because it was likely a multiple photographer situation. On the same day the lunch photo was taken, some of the same men were photographed taking a nap on the same girder:
What would the world's tallest building look like in NYC? Probably something like this.
Wow. (thx, ethan)
Update: And here are some images from Google Earth on what the Manhattan views from Burj Dubai would look like. The Top of the Rock one is crazy.
Nobody knows how tall Burj Dubai is going to be when completed later this year, only that it will be the world's tallest building by a comfortable margin. Of the mystery height, the builder has only this to say:
If you put the Empire State Building on top of the Sears Tower then it's reasonable to say you'll be in the neighbourhood.
SkyscraperPage.com says it'll top out around 2650 feet...that's 550 feet shorter than the ESB + Sears but still more than half a mile. (via things magazine)
The Metropolitan Life Tower is located on the east side of Madison Square Park at 1 Madison Avenue. It has quietly become one of my favorite buildings in the city; I find myself peering up at it whenever I'm in the area. (I took a photo of the building while in line at the Shake Shack last spring...it's a lovely color in the late afternoon light.) Inspired by a photo posted recently to Shorpy that shows the tower under construction -- and before the addition of the building's iconic clock -- I did some research and discovered three things.
One. Modeled after the bell tower of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, the Metropolitan Life Tower was completed in 1909 and at 700 feet, it was the tallest building in the world until the Woolworth Building was completed four years later.
Two. The NY Times ran a story in December 1907 about the eventual completion of the structure and how it would take over as the world's tallest building, surpassing another then-unfinished building, the Singer Tower. In the era before widely available air travel, the building's vantage point was remarkable.
The view from the top was of a new New York. No other skyscrapers obstructed the vista in either direction. Passing the green roof of the Flatiron Building, the gaze literally spanned the Jersey City Heights and rested on Newark and towns on the Orange Mountains, fifteen miles away.
To the southward the skyscrapers bulked like a range of hills in steel and mortar, the Singer tower rising in the midst, a solitary watch tower on a peak. This hid the harbor, but to the left beyond the bridges, reduced at this height to gray cobwebs, the eye caught the sunlight on the sea -- a long strip of shimmering silver beyond Coney Island and the Rockaways.
Three. Star architect Daniel Libeskind is allegedly working on an addition to the Metropolitan Life Building, an addition that by some accounts would reach 70 stories. You can guess how I feel about the prospect of one of those residential glass monstrosities literally and emotionally dwarfing the existing 50-story clock tower, Libeskind or no. Of course, the Metropolitan Life Tower may never have become so iconic had Metropolitan Life's plans for a 100-story tower one block north not been scrapped because of the Great Depression. They only finished 32 floors of that building, which today houses the celebrated restaurant, Eleven Madison Park.
The stunning Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire is due to be completed in 2011 and will, ahem, tower over the Sears Tower by more than 500 feet. Check out the view from the 140th floor.
Is Taipei 101, the world's tallest building, causing earthquakes? "The considerable stress might be transferred into the upper crust due to the extremely soft sedimentary rocks beneath the Taipei basin. Deeper down this may have reopened an old earthquake fault". (thx, malatron)
When you read up on Hong Kong prior to visiting, most guides make mention of the different levels of the city. Physical levels, that is. The city proper is built on a hill and there are so many tall buildings that you quickly lose interest in counting all of them; imagine Nob Hill in San Francisco, except with skyscrapers. The famous escalator cuts through the city up the hill; the change in elevation over its short span is impressive, especially when you get to the top and realize you're actually only a few horizontal blocks from where you started.
Much of the HK's retail and dining is vertically oriented; there's just not enough storefront real estate to contain it all. You'll typically find restaurants on the 3rd or 4th floor of buildings and 3- to 6-level malls jammed with retail stores are everywhere; the Muji we went to was on level 7 of Langham Place. Skyways connect buildings together -- as do subways -- so much of the foot traffic in some areas isn't even on the street level. Cars and buses (with two levels) zoom on highways passing over city streets and other highways, past the midlevels of buildings just a block or two away and down the hill. As a pedestrian, you can find yourself staring up at a 50-story building in front of you and then turning slightly to peer into the 15th floor of a building 2-3 blocks away. It's a disorienting sensation, being on the ground level and the 15th floor at the same time, as if the fabric of space had folded back onto itself. Many people aren't used to negotiating cities so intensively 3-D, particularly when all the maps reinforce the Flatlandness of the city grid.
 Well, not entirely physical. There are economic levels for one; the woman selling eggs on the street for a couple of HK$ each while tourists shop for Prada and Burberry only blocks away. You've got British culture over Chinese culture...and then Chinese culture layering back over that since the handover in 1997. You've got different levels of authenticity, from the fake electronics & handbags to the real Chanel cosmetics & Swarovski crystal, from the more touristy, mediated experiences to the hidden corners of real Hong Kong.