Freshness Elsewhere

by Don Friedman on February 23, 2018


The change in both perception and physical reality caused by skyscrapers (that I’ve been talking about) was, of course, not limited to any one location. The picture above (high-resolution here) is Court Square in Memphis in 1906. The square appears to be a pleasant small park, surrounded by buildings with a fairly consistent four- and five-story cornice line.

And, a couple of blocks away, are three skyscrapers, looming over the past. In fine New York style, the plain brick walls of the side lot-line facades are just as visible as the ornate front facades. By 1906, skyscrapers were spreading from the handful of cities where they were prominent in the 1890s to smaller and less overtly modern cities like Memphis, recreating the same debates about acceptable height and density that had already started – and in some cases finished – in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.

I don’t know how Memphians saw those early skyscrapers. (I guess I could research that question, but that seems like an excessive amount of work for a 200-word blog post.) I do know that those buildings are as foreign for their context as New York’s were for its context, and maybe more so. New York had two decades of proto-skyscrapers and pre-skeleton-frame skyscrapers before the real race on height began; while Memphis was suddenly thrust, via technology transfer, from low-rise to high-rise,

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