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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
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New Models for Skyscrapers
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Unfortunately, the late 1950s and the 1960s were a period when a lot of mediocre architecture was built in New York. The builders began forgetting that architecture was a good marketing tool—something that was clearly understood earlier in the twentieth century when the skyscraper really flowered. So you get a lot of very poor-quality buildings in New York. But by the 1970s it was realized again that if you spent a little bit of money on building good architecture, you could get a larger return on your investment; that people really wanted to be in beautiful buildings; that tenants wanted to be in beautiful buildings because it reflected well on them (when clients came, they would come through a great lobby and think very positively of a tenant); and that if a company's name was going to be on the building, it was better if the building was a beautiful one.

The first building that tried to return to the notion of architecture as an important visible symbol on the skyline was the Citicorp Center, which was begun in 1974 during a period of economic downturn in New York. It was really a statement by Citibank and Citicorp that they had faith in the future of New York. They purchased a very large site on Lexington Avenue and commissioned a Boston architect, Hugh Stubbins, to design a new building. It would not be a building with a flat roof, like most of the buildings of the 1950s and 1960s, but, like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, it would have an unusual shape that would be highly visible on the city's skyline. Now I personally do not think this building is a great aesthetic success, but I think it marks a change in the notion of architecture. Now architecture was again going to play an important role in the streetscape of New York. It was also going to be the first major building in New York to have an interior mall with a shopping arcade and restaurants. And it was going to be a building that would display the drama of its structure. So it stands on these stilts at the base so when you walk by, you are in awe of its structure. This is something that the architects of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were very aware of, that structure was important, and now again in Citicorp there is an effort to really dramatize the structure of the building.


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