Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Massive Erections

As we flew into the New York's La Guardia airport, I couldn't believe my good luck at the perfect skyline view from our window. The massive erections of the NYC skyline gave me a... big happy.

Actual shot of lower Manhattan from our plane


From that high up, all the monuments and towers looked like toys, like a play model. It was a freaky feeling to realize it was all very real, and enormous.


It's official: I have a new obsession. I love tall buildings and skylines.

It all started with a trip to Chicago last year for a work conference. As I walked around downtown Chicago, amid all the cool tall buildings, I fell in love.

I loved the art, the energy, the parks, the activity. All the sights and sounds. But what really won my heart were all the tall buildings.

Since then, I have visited Chicago dozens of times. And when I drive into town, every time I see that skyline rise up through my windshield, a feeling of raw excitement grips me.

Approximate view of skyline as you come from the south on I-57/90-94.

By the time I pass the river on Lake Shore Drive (especially at night) I'm about to pee myself with excitement.

View from Lake Shore Drive crossing the river.


So it was with this burgeoning love of skyscrapers that I visited New York over spring break. And all it did was feed my obsession.

New York doesn't have the tallest buildings in the country. In fact, the five tallest buildings in Chicago are taller than New York's top five. (Chicago has four of the tallest six buildings in the U.S.) However, New York has more than twice as many skyscrapers (over 150m tall) as Chicago, and they're stuffed into a smaller area (Manhattan), so the skyline is just crammed with structures.

Here's a photo tour* of our New York trip, with some random facts & observations about skyscrapers thrown in.

*abbreviated tour. We came back with 300+ pics, but this is mostly just the buildings. The longer tour is on my FB page.

First, a little nature. We visited a big rock up against a pond in Central Park.

Of course, even in Central Park, the skyscrapers are not far away.

Then we visited lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center is.

Did you know they're building a new tower there? When it's done, it will be the new tallest building in America, 1,776 feet high. (That number, 1776, is no accident.) I had no idea they were building a new tower, but it was way cool to see it under construction. It's already taller than the other buildings in lower Manhattan, with more height to come.

What a glorious structure. I love that they're building a new skyscraper where the twin towers fell. Human beings are like ants-- you may come and stomp all over our anthill, but we're just going to rebuild. You can't keep us down.

They're building four new buildings at the WTC site. Here's two smaller ones getting started.

Then we took the Staten Island Ferry, which takes commuters from NYC to Staten Island. It's free public transit, and it gives you a great view of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Lower Manhattan skyline. Note the new WTC building rising up over all the other buildings. It's already taller than everything else, and it's not done yet.

The photographers

Mount Rushmore, or something like that.

The further away you get, the more the tall buildings stand out. That's one great thing about skyscrapers and skylines. There are virtually an infinite number of angles and perspectives to view them from. A building right in front of you might overshadow taller ones that are further away. But that perspective changes with each step in a different direction.

The Statue of Liberty Bell (or something like that) in front of the Jersey City skyline. Yes, Jersey has a skyline, too. It's like a satellite of the Manhattan skyline. How cute.

Three skylines: Jersey City, Manhattan, Brooklyn
I like this picture because it looks like the skyline is in a cage, like at the Skyline Zoo.

Back on land, we could view the buildings up close again.

This picture shows a small (by comparison) church wedged between two behemoth buildings. The thing that fascinates me about a skyline is how it's a mosaic of so many different architects, time periods, materials, and styles. Each new building adds to the overall picture, and that picture is constantly in flux. The skyline is a living, evolving thing.

At one point this church was the tallest thing in Manhattan. Now it's not even in the top 200. I like seeing the construction of the new WTC buildings behind it. Also, because of the angle, the smaller church looks bigger than the WTC buildings. Notice the tallest building in lower Manhattan is smaller than the other two structures from this angle. It's all about perspective.

Next we went to the Skyscraper Museum, which had awesome models like this one. It shows lower Manhattan, with the proposed new WTC buildings in transparent/white.

At the museum we learned about the different ways you can measure the height of a skyscraper. There are three methods:
  1. The total height of the entire structure, including spires or antennae or any pointy things on top-- which I don't think should count because you can always just add a new one of those.
  2. The "architectural height" which sometimes includes the pointy things on top and sometimes doesn't, depending on whether it's structural or not. This is something that's impossible to tell from looking at a building. For example, the Sears Tower looks taller than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, but the latter is considered taller for some stupid structural reason. (See image below.)
  3. The highest floor occupied. (Sears Tower beats P.T. on that count.)
Sears Tower next to Petronas Towers. Which one looks taller? Well, you're wrong.

Anyway, I think we can all agree that these buildings are pretty damn impressive, so let's not quibble over who's "bigger."

Next we moved on to Midtown, where there are even more random tall buildings:

teal building

Empire State Building in the distance

Chrysler Building

Buildings lit up at night are just as awesome, if not more so, than during the day.

We went up into the Empire State Building on Friday night. Since the twin towers fell on 9/11, it has been the tallest building in NYC. That surprises me, because it was built in 1931. It's old. How can it be the tallest? Skyscrapers are not like trees-- they don't keep growing. And I assume that skyscraper technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since it was built. Still, none of these youngin'-type buildings have been able to overtake the ole' Empire State.

Looking up at the Empire State building: Soon I will be inside you!

Although it was cold as frick up there (we would also visit the Frick House museum, but not that night), being at the top of the Empire State Building was the highlight of the entire trip. Seeing the New York skyline at night was a religious experience for me.

Fifth Avenue, looking North.

Buildings huddled around the lights of Times Square.

Lower Manhattan. That really tall tower is the new WTC building. Even though it's under construction, it's already lit up.
By this time my girlfriend (and traveling companion) was already sick to death of my obsession with skyscrapers, so we did other touristy stuff.

On our last day we saw Rockefeller Center.

Here's one of the buildings they show on 30 Rock. It's actually 45 Rock. (45 Rockefeller Center.) You may hum the 30 Rock theme song now.

30 Rock

This cool building has trees growing on it! When we got closer we noticed that it said, "Trump Tower." It's one of the many buildings in NYC that have that sleezebag's name on it. My first thought was that it's annoying how an ego-maniacal idiot like that has to put his name on everything, but then I remembered something that occurred to me when I was looking at the view from the Empire State Building.

I have liberal values and believe in a more equitable distribution of income, but I have to admit: it wasn't liberals who built these huge massive testaments to human ingenuity and strength. It was hardcore capitalists. The beautiful skylines of the world have the abject human need for money and power to thank for their existence. Without them, we might be living in a more sustainable, peaceful world, but it wouldn't be nearly as awesome from a skyscraper point of view.

Actually, one of the reasons why there haven't been more erections taller than the Empire State Building in the past 80 years is that it's no longer economically feasible to build such a huge structure. They simply don't make money, and it's always about money.

As if to answer my thoughts, while I was working on this blog post, the local co-op posted this story on Facebook: Skyscraper Farming: An urban solution soon to be tested

It's a "plantscraper:" a huge towering orb that grows stuff in an urban environment. This one's in Sweden (of course.) I suppose it's kinda neat, but not nearly as impressive as the NYC Skyline.

Two last buildings from our NYC trip:

This was an old newspaper tower. A hundred years ago, all the big buildings in NYC were built by newspapers. Huh.

As we rushed to the subway to get back to our hotel so we could get to the airport, I saw this awesome, two-tower building. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to get a picture from a better angle. My girlfriend/traveling companion was already fed up with my skyscraper obsession, and wasn't willing to risk missing our plane for it. (To her credit, many of these great shots of skyscrapers were taken by her with her superior camera.)


A funny thing has happened since this skyscraper obsession erected itself in me. I've started looking up more.

Now, even as I drive around my small city of Champaign-Urbana, I look at the view around me. Instead of looking at my feet when I walk, or stressing about the traffic around me when I drive, I look up and notice structures on the horizon.

It turns out that Champaign has a skyline of its own. Granted, it's only three buildings, but it's something. When I return from my trips to Chicago, the first thing I see of Champaign from Interstate 57 are those three buildings peaking out above the cornfields. They're tiny, but visible.

To prove my nerdiness, I drove around town and investigated these three buildings-- counting the stories and guesstimating their relative height. Interestingly, two of the three are newish-- they weren't here 10 years ago. When I got home, I googled "champaign skyline" and confirmed that my estimates were right. The three buildings are of 24, 20, and 18 stories, respectively, but the 18-story tower is taller than the 20-story one. (Not quite the 110-story majesty of the Sears Tower.)

The Champaign skyline: I drove all around to get a good shot of these three towers that did not have other trees, buildings, poles, etc, in front of it. The tallest one is actually in the middle (just above the van), but because of the angle, #2 looks bigger. The circular tower is #3. The whole thing looks kinda puny in this picture. But trust me, if you stand under one of these structures, they're sorta kinda impressive.

No comments: