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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Skyscraper City New Models for Skyscrapers
World Financial Center
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New Models for Skyscrapers
World Financial Center
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A few years after the World Trade Center buildings were completed, on the landfill that was created with the excavation of the World Trade Center, construction of the World Financial Center began. The World Financial Center was an effort by the architect Cesar Pelli both to put the World Trade Center into a scale within the city and also to create what he claimed would be a late-twentieth-century version of Rockefeller Center. It would be a complex of office buildings centered around a great public space, and the great public space was to be the Winter Garden, this great, domed glass space. Pelli looked at the old skyscrapers of New York and what it was about them that captured the romantic imagination of people. Why did people love the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, or both? Of course because of their soaring silhouettes, but also because of their unusually shaped tops. So each building at the World Financial Center was given a different-shaped top so that each building would have its own identity. But these were not going to be old buildings. They were going to be modern buildings so, at least on the tops of the buildings, they are all glass. And they are incredibly bulky buildings, because with the advent of air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting, it no longer mattered whether you had windows or not. You could have artificial lighting and have artificial air, so you could be as far as necessary from a window, whereas in the earlier years, as at the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building, you needed to open up the windows, and you needed to get natural light inside because incandescent light was not quite as strong or shadowproof as fluorescent lighting is. Also, with the advent of computers, there was a demand for large floor spaces so you could have all the technological equipment on a floor. So you get these buildings with a massive bulk. And although they turn back in one sense, to the architecture of the past with their different tops, they have the large floor plates and bulky massing, which is what is in demand in the late-twentieth and the early–twenty-first century. In an effort to dissolve the bulk, or at least to attempt to dissolve it, they start as stone on the bottom and as they go up there is more and more glass. So there is an effort to create transparency, but of course the glass is really not transparent at all, so you read these as huge bulks. And although the zoning did not require it, there are setbacks here, so it looks a little bit like the older buildings in New York. So buildings are very new and modern and yet hark back to the tradition of the New York skyscraper.

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