Coming City of Set-Back Skyscrapers

A 1923 New York Times Magazine article predicted “The reign of the skyscraper is just setting in,” which proved accurate. It also quoted an expert who predicted two-level streets throughout NYC, which didn’t come to pass.

This is the picture as forward-looking architects see it. According to them, the reign of the skyscraper is just setting in. In the past half century it has transformed [New York City], concentrating large groups of people into small spaces, etching out a jagged skyline like none other in the world. During the next fifty years will come changes even more sweeping.

The article then primarily quotes Arnold Brunner, at the time the former President of the Architectural League of New York. Some of his predictions proved accurate:

“As to the height of the buildings that are to come it seems to me certain that they will continue high, though perhaps not extravagantly so. I see no reason why an occasional towering structure, like the Woolworth Building, for instance, will spoil the arrangement, the beauty, or the effectiveness of the whole picture that the city will make.”

At 792 feet, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world in 1923. Other buildings as tall or taller were indeed built in NYC for decades to come, including 40 Wall Street (a.k.a. the Trump Building), the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and the Freedom Tower.

NYC last claimed the world’s tallest building in 1973.

Some of Brunner’s other predictions proved inaccurate:

“Today New York is a city of two levels — one on the surface and one under ground. The day will come when we will have three — one under ground, one on the surface, and one above the surface. Problems of traffic and transit are so difficult that this seems the ultimate solution.

“The underground level will continue to be used for subways, tubes, and tunnels. The street level will be used for trucks and other heavy traffic. Above the street there will be roads for light motors and pedestrians.”

And while this wasn’t a prediction, per se, another of Brunner’s hypotheticals didn’t come to pass… although it would have been awesome if it had:

“For all we know, in twenty-five years each of us may be driving his own little plane to work every morning and need a landing station on the roof.”

Well, we can always watch The Jetsons.

Coming City of Set-Back Skyscrapers

Published: Sunday, April 29, 1923

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