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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Birth of the Skyscraper Why Skyscrapers?
Early Styles
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Why Skyscrapers?
Early Styles
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In New York, as tall buildings begin to be built in ever-larger numbers—in the 1880s especially—New York architects had no interest whatsoever in developing a new style of architecture for the new tall buildings. In Chicago there were architects who saw this as a new building type that needed a new aesthetic. But that was not something in which New York architects had an interest.

In about 1880, there was a flurry of tall buildings being built. There had been a hiatus in tall-building construction after the Tribune Building was built. The Tribune Building was begun in 1873, the year of a financial panic, so there was an economic depression during this period. In about 1880, when larger numbers of tall buildings began to appear, New York architects designed them in the traditional styles that they used for houses, apartment buildings, religious buildings, and for all other kinds of buildings, so you find tall buildings like the Potter Building on Park Row. This was located just about a block south of where the Tribune Building stood. The Tribune Building, unfortunately, was demolished in the 1960s. The Potter Building was a Queen Anne-style structure. This was a very popular residential style, using red brick and red terra-cotta with a very dynamic roofline and a wonderful sense of plasticity on the design, which creates an odd use of classical and Renaissance ornamental form. This was a very popular style, now being adopted for a tall building, but still built largely out of traditional construction.

Probably the most popular style in the 1880s in New York was Romanesque Revival, a style with massive stone blocks and heavy round arches used for houses, factories, and especially churches. Here you can see it being used in an early skyscraper called the Lincoln Building on 14th Street and Union Square West, designed by a very prominent architect named R. H. Robertson in 1887. This building, too, has load-bearing walls, although it uses more iron. Iron begins to be incorporated more and more into helping to support the walls of buildings. But it still does not have a metal frame. In fact, this was one of the last skyscrapers in New York that was built without a steel-skeleton frame.


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