More Freshness

by Don Friedman on February 22, 2018

To continue yesterday’s train of thought, here’s the Chrysler Building in 1930, roughly a year after completion. Again, if you want a very high-resolution copy, click here.

We’re looking northwest to the Chrysler, at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. The tall, vertically-striped building on the right is the Daily News building at 42nd and Second; the tall building on the left is the Chanin Building at 42nd and Lexington; and the New York Central building is just visible past Chrysler on its right. All of those buildings are still there, basically unchanged. The two-winged building left of Chrysler, with the tall chimney, is the Commodore Hotel, altered in the late 70s with a glass curtain wall.

The vast majority of other buildings in this photo are gone. They are rowhouses and tenements on side streets in the east 30s and 40s, an area that gradually turned into an extension of the midtown office district. Some are still there, and some were replaced by more modern apartments, but most were replaced by tall office buildings. The low-rise gothic building just west (left) of Daily News is the old PS 27, which has since been replaced by a hotel built in 1980. Obviously, as a neighborhood changes from residential to commercial, buildings that house functions related to residential use – like schools and churches – tend to change use or be replaced.

But the main point, as I discussed yesterday, is how foreign Chrysler, Daily News, and Chanin are relative to the older built environment of the city. Chrysler is sui generis and would look alien in almost any context, but it’s hard to place as a piece of the same city as those tenements in the foreground. In 1930, after forty years of steel-skeleton skyscrapers, they still looked like a foreign intrusion in the city. It was only when the context of the older city was replaced by more skyscrapers that the extreme contrast seen above faded away.

Looking With Fresh Eyes

February 21, 2018

That’s the Singer Tower as seen from Liberty Street, just east of Nassau Street, in 1910. If you’d like to download a ridiculously high-resolution copy, click here and wait a while. This picture emphasizes something that’s easy to forget in 2018, and that’s how alien the early skyscrapers were compared to the cityscape around them. […]

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The Details of a Technological System

February 20, 2018

This is an underside view of the heel connection of a heavy timber truss. The piece of wood at the top of the picture is the bottom chord, roughly 12 inches by 12 inches in section, and you can’t see the top chord above it. The bolt ties the two chords together, but the real […]

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Before “Presidents Day”

February 19, 2018
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Another Branch of Engineering

February 18, 2018

An absolutely fantastic piece in the New Yorker: Why Paper Jams Persist. I’m no more familiar with the mechanical engineering analysis and design of printers than any other person who’s had to clear a paper jam, but I still hung on every word. Design is all about balancing different constraints. Those we deal with are […]

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An Old-Fashioned Name

February 17, 2018

To an American, that’s just a picturesque streetscape in central London. But what’s that store in the center?

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Less-Ambivalent Ambivalence

February 16, 2018

If you’re looking for a good long article on some of the difficulties in landscape preservation, you won’t do better than this, from Urban Omnibus: Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass. Central and western Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest set-piece battle of the […]

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Someone’s Got To Build It

February 15, 2018

I was fairly surprised to see this article saying that the number of construction workers in the city decreased in 2016. Construction in the city has been at high levels for years, which means construction workers have steady gigs, which traditionally has meant an increase in the number of people in the field. The article […]

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A Clever Oldy-Timey Detail

February 14, 2018

That mess is the edge of a stoop. It’s shored, so obviously it’s got problems, but ignoring that issue for a second, the first question we should be asking is “How did this thing ever stand up?” It’s brownstone, which is to say weak stone with a tendency to come apart from weathering. Each step […]

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A Permanent Short-Term Fix

February 13, 2018

When Hurricane Sandy submerged a chunk of lower Manhattan, our office was on Broadway, on the ridge at the center of the area. A little over a year ago, we moved to the corner of Broad and Stone Streets, in a lower area where a lot of neighboring buildings flooded to some extent. Various large-scale […]

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