Skyscrapers are a staple of the New York City skyline. Iconic buildings such as the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building continue to define the standard for New York Buildings. While these buildings were revolutionary when they were completed, the building techniques employed are no longer groundbreaking. As a result, many contemporary skyscrapers suffer from a lack of novelty. New buildings continue to spring up in New York City at a high rate, however these buildings are not distinct when compared to the buildings of old.
The latest skyscraper designed by Rafael Viñoly, 432 Park Avenue, does not suffer from this problem. Although at face value, the high rise appears to be like many others before (albeit much thinner), its inspiration is unlike any other skyscraper before it. Rafael Viñoly explains that his design incorporated elements from a high-end trash can designed by Josef Hoffmann in 1905. Harry Macklowe—a co-developer of 432 Park Avenue—states that “If you look at very carefully you see a rhythm, you see a pattern, you see what we call push-pull between negative and positive. So that was very inspirational to Rafael Viñoly and I.” While Viñoly may be excited about his new project, not everyone shares his enthusiasm about the design.
Skeptics of the building believe that Viñoly overreached in his attempt to distinguish this building from other skyscrapers. For doubters of the form, this project is vindication that the current skyscraper form is slowly becoming obsolete and another, more modern design building technique needs to fill its place. However, some of the most iconic skyscrapers in New York City started as unusual in form. Perhaps the perfect example of this phenomenon is the Flatiron Building.
Much like 432 Park Avenue, the Flatiron building towered over its surroundings, and its design was poorly received in the beginning. In fact, “Flatiron Building” was initially a nickname meant to mock its triangle shape. At the time, steel construction had recently become a viable construction technique in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. It was around this time that skyscrapers became popular as steel unlocked new possibilities for building forms. The Flatiron Building is a demonstration of the potential of steel as it was not only the tallest building in the area, it was also an unusual shape for the time.
While residents mocked the building in the beginning, the general perception of the design shifted from “laughable” to “unique.” The Flatiron Building managed to stand out from other structures built in this time with its distinctive design—a major factor in its longevity. The skyscraper has become ubiquitous, regularly appearing in movies and television shows. It is clear that the trademark flatiron shape made it well-equipped for this transformation. While 432 Park Avenue’s form is not particularly revolutionary, it towers over the surrounding buildings at 1,396 feet, and its thin shape separates it from the urban fabric. Although it is impossible to predict if the Park Avenue structure will experience a similar transformation, the parallel between the two buildings are difficult to ignore.
Are there any unusual buildings in your area? Do they have a similar cultural impact? Are skyscrapers no longer an original building form? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Quinn Harding. Data and images linked to sources