Manhattan grew a skyline before writers found a word for it. The earliest skyscrapers, office buildings of ten stories, rose near City Hall Park in 1874, but it was not until two decades later that a burst of towers of twenty stories, 300 feet or taller, truly transformed the city’s image. During this talk, Carol Willis, Founder and Director of the highly acclaimed Skyscraper Museum in Lower Manhattan, will take us through an architectural renaissance with the construction of breathtaking towers through which, ever-rising, New York City’s skyline continues to delineate its verticality.The overarching story of Manhattan’s high-rise growth is an evolution from small to tall, then taller. Cycles of boom and bust created the crowded clusters of Downtown and Midtown and today energize new geographies such as Hudson Yards and a new typology of supertall, slender towers. Willis will share how market formulas produced characteristic forms in New York City that resulted from local land-use patterns, municipal codes and zoning. She cautions that the city must be understood as a complex commercial environment, where buildings are themselves businesses, space is a commodity and location and image have value.
Willis, an architectural and urban historian, is the author of Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago, which received an AIA book award. She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Columbia University, where since 1989 she has taught the program, The Shape of Two Cities: New York and Paris, at The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.