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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 The Future of the City
The Regulation Debate
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The Future of the City
The Regulation Debate
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This is the Trinity and U.S. Realty Company Buildings, Gothic-style skyscrapers that were built in 1906 to 1907 on Broadway immediately north of Trinity Church's cemetery. They flank Thames Street, which was actually moved to allow construction. Thames Street is extremely narrow and these two buildings were built right on the edge of their lots—that is, they take up 100 percent of their lot area. Thames Street was placed in the dark for, I would say, 23 hours and 50 minutes a day. For maybe 10 minutes at about noon, when the sun is overhead, Thames Street got some sunlight. The huge bulk of these buildings caused a tremendous amount of controversy when they were completed. This led to an increased debate—in which the "King's Dream of New York" played as part—as to what was appropriate for office building construction in New York.

In 1907, the year that the Trinity and U.S. Realty Buildings were completed, Puck magazine, a humor magazine, published a cartoon called "The Future of Trinity Church," and you can see Trinity Church with its spire sticking up into a skyscraper. Not only is the church under a skyscraper, but the cemetery is now gone and clearly Puck was opposed to the bulk and vastness of the skyscrapers that were being built. So there is increasing debate as to what was appropriate for New York. Some architects like Francis Kimball, the architect of the Trinity and U.S. Realty Buildings, argued that there should be absolutely no regulations for skyscrapers. He argued that the free-enterprise system should just allow skyscrapers to be built with no regulation whatsoever except maybe on the safety of the structure. However, architects like Carrère & Hastings and other prominent New York architects were actually in favor of some sort of regulation. But once you decided that maybe the skyscraper should be regulated, you needed to think about how the skyscraper should be regulated. Should there be a cap on the height of skyscrapers? Well, New Yorkers actually liked tall buildings, and the idea of having the world's tallest buildings. So others argued no, maybe you should regulate them in a different way but not cap the height.

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