Invisible Tools: Shaping New York City's Skyscrapers 49 DIETRICH NEUMANN
Author: Dietrich Neumann
Affiliation: Brown University
As Tirana is experiencing probably the biggest building boom in its history, including the planning and building of a number of high-rise buildings, it seems fitting to find out which lessons can be learned from the city where the building type of the skyscraper originated. New York City hosted the buildings that claimed to be the world’s tallest for 66 consecutive years. It began with the Singer Building, followed by the Metropolitan Life, the Woolworth Building and then, of course, after brief interludes from 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building held the title for 40 years, followed by the World Trade Center. Then the title went to Chicago for 25 years with the Sears (now Willis) Tower, on to Kuala Lumpur with the Petronas Towers and Taipei with Taipei 101 and finally, as we all know, to Dubai. New York City is also the place where a unique and comprehensive, ever changing legal framework has shaped skyscrapers’ forms and urban positions since 1916. That is the year when the Setback Law was introduced as part of the city’s Zoning plan. It mandated that floors step back from the cornice height upwards under a certain angle, determined by the width of the street and the particular area of the city, its zone. Imaginary “sky exposure planes” would limit upwards growth,
which Hugh Ferriss beautifully illustrated in a sequence of drawings in 1922, as a natural force at work.