Today is the 100th anniversary of Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building, one of New York’s most beautiful structures, and at the time of its opening, the world’s tallest skyscraper.
On this day in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House, igniting 80,000 incandescent bulbs in the new, 792-foot Gothic tower.
So how does the New York City skyline compare to that of other world cities, a century after the Woolworth opened?
Using Yoni Alter’s “Shapes of Cities” design series (above) as a starting point, I put the question to a number of architects and experts, some with an obvious New York bias, a couple who’ve worked abroad and have substantial international experience:
Carol Willis, Founder and Director of The Skyscraper Museum: “The skyscraper is an American invention and now it’s an American export. Hong Kong is visually the most stunning, because it’s the most exaggerated in terms of density of construction and the dramatic contrast with the landscape. [But] I’m partial to New York. Looking at the Empire State Building gives me the most joy of any structure in the city. The Empire State Building still stands for the 20th century triumph of New York. The capital of capital.”
Rick Bell, Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects NY: ”New York’s profile has evolved over time, an eclectic mix of structures that are recognizable, resilient and robust. In architectural terms the excitement generated by our skyline here in NYC results from diversity of form, iconographic silhouette and sustainable aspiration. The product is the most loved skyline in the world, heralded by cinema and evoked by writers to symbolize hope and progress.”
Hisham Youssef, Principal at RTKL Shanghai and Co-founder of the Architectural Association of UAE: “I know one thing for sure, the view coming into Manhattan from JFK as I cross the Triboro bridge is un-matchable anywhere in the world. Dubai has its Burj Khalifa, but it does not quite have the same skyline…..yet. Shanghai (Pudong) has a very impressive skyline, and so does Hong Kong. And Asia knows how to play it up with all the LED, and lights on buildings. Hong Kong and Shanghai are among the best in the world, but do not share the same romance as Manhattan……until they have made many movies and built up this appeal, I think.”
Erik M. Ghenoiu, Graduate Architecture and Urban Design School, Pratt Institute: “A glance at [Yoni] Alter’s images suffices to show that in the New York of the last 100 years, [the urge to exploit high rental values] has consistently beaten out monumentality. It’s why even something like the Freedom Tower will turn out to be so regrettably boring…
“No city currently leads the world as the new architectural hotbed. Dubai, Shanghai, and Shenzhen no longer excite as much interest in the design fields as they did ten or even three years ago, and European favorites like Berlin and Barcelona have more or less wrapped up construction for the moment, and they didn’t accomplish as much in architectural terms as we had all hoped.”
Check out the Skyscraper Museum’s exhibition “The Woolworth Building @100”