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,

More Freshness

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; […]

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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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A Good Old Article on Good Old Buildings

February 8, 2018

It’s not often I recommend an article that’s five and a half years old, but Disappearing Histories: A Conversation with Christopher Payne is absolutely worth the time. Payne is a gifted photographer but, more important to the context of this blog, several of his on-going projects concern endangered or slowly-dying buildings. My only concern is that […]

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Name That Material

February 7, 2018

That fuzzy thing that takes up most of the center of the photo? It’s one side of an old wet wall in this abandoned building. It’s a gypsum block partition, about halfway to reverting to being raw gypsum from its processed block state. Beautiful, in a morbid kind of way.

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If You Must

February 4, 2018

I like some Brutalist architecture, but not all. That statement shouldn’t be controversial, but then again we live in a world where people apparently want Brutalist wallpaper, so I just don’t know.

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A Cell in an Abandoned Jail

February 3, 2018

The scars on the far wall, below the graffiti, are where a sink and toilet were once mounted. The bed was on the right. The entire cell is roughly 3 feet by 7 feet. Not all historic structures need to be remembered fondly.

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The Hardest Thing In Preservation

February 2, 2018

Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building has been significantly altered despite the fact that it’s calendared to be reviewed for designation as a landmark. The designation being considered is, like most New York designations, for the exterior facade only; the current work has demolished a piece of the interior lobby. There is an interesting debate about preservation […]

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Rowhouses and The Problem of Categorization

January 29, 2018

A fascinating article by Neil Freeman at the Urban Omnibus on rowhouses: How Many Rowhouses Are There in New York City? The short answer is 217,000 if you agree with the author’s selection criteria. As Mr. Freeman points out, that’s more than a quarter of the residential buildings in the city but only about 12 percent […]

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Relative Time

January 27, 2018

I was fooling around with the OldNYC index to the NYPL Digital Collections when I stumbled over the attached photos and caption. The intersection of Kissena Boulevard and Sanford Avenue is right in the heart of downtown Flushing, and a place I must have walked by 8 or 9000 times in the seventeen years I […]

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