Reflector

“I thought I found the connector – it’s just a reflektor”

-Arcade Fire

Reflection - Bryant Park

Reflection – Bryant Park

“Hey there, where to?”

“505 W. 37.”

“How’d your you day go?”

“Long.”

“Sorry to hear that. At least it’s over now.”

“Thank God!”

I have something closely resembling this conversation 5 times every week, for nearly every week since I started my current occupation. It’s never enjoyable to feel like that life has been reduced to a routine straight out of Groundhog Day but for the late-night cabbie, that turns out the be the case more often than not. *Twice* on Monday alone did I have someone come into my cab and utter nearly the same words:

“Didn’t I have you before?”

Sure enough, both of those people did.

One of them was a restaurant owner that I had to take to his establishment in the West Village. A month or two ago, I took him and his S.O. home to Jackson Heights in Queens, right over the Willy B. and onto the BQE before briefly becoming reacquainted with Northern Boulevard. The other fare was one of my many late-night wait-in-line types, which happens outside of a Midtown box housing professional office drones or a club housing those fortunate enough to have money and time to blow on bottles service on a weeknight. Cruising the streets has its advantages since many of my most interesting fares were found in the middle of nothing during a time where nothing seemed possible. It can also be extremely hypnotic once the familiar pattern of hitting the proverbial and actual cruise control kick in and the City become reduced to a museum best viewed at 30 M.P.H.

The real issue comes in finding people, and I mean people in the sense that they are personalities and not clones of the ones that I picked up earlier in the night, or the week, or even previously past that. I always want to push the edge of what I know, what I learn, what I experience, and what challenges me to the point where I have to re-evaluate my intellectual hierarchy and update it with what I’ve recently taken on. Many of my best fares have been interesting enough to where I completely kept quiet and just let them talk – endlessly, incessantly, and with abandon. One I feel like I’ve already heard what they have to say, they’ve lost me, even if I’m not lost in a physical or metaphorical sense.

Recent census estimates have put the population of the Big Apple at 8.4 million people and according to “The Naked City”, everyone in New York had a story. That quote was famous during a time where New York had not quite yet become the world’s Capital and could actually claim to have grit, toughness, and a setting made for any film noir that wanted to set itself there. This was reflected in the built environment in the cornices, alleys, Belgian block streets, and abodes leftover from pre-consolidation New York could still be found. The world’s tallest building could easily be found in New York but so could Hell’s Kitchen, waterfront piers dominated by Teamsters, and clotheslines behind every tenement that covered the edges of the gilded center of Gotham. There was contrast, clash, and class divides that allowed for anyone and everyone to take part in the land that epitomized the siren emanating from Emma Lazarus’ poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Over the years, that changed. The zoning revisions of 1961 allowed for bonuses for creating plazas and combined with changes in design, resulted in a place that took the best of international style modernism and replicated it for for the masses while simultaneously dumbing it down. When Lever House and the Seagram Building were first erected, they won accolades for their minimalism replicated on such a fine scale. The design may have been elementary but as Daniel Burnham once stated, “God is in the details”.

And were they ever in those buildings.

Bronze-tinted glass, window-washing equipment built into the mullions, public plazas, perfectly proportioned columns, setbacks, and plazas allowed for the City to open up. Not just when it came to space and flow, but in order. Now, there was room to relax, unwind, see the sun…

…and reflect.

Which is exactly what happened.

Whatever intellectual stimulation was brought upon by the changes in these buildings’ design was outdone by the changes on the physical landscape that resulted from their groundbreaking design. America was triumphant, prosperous, and fully confident in its destiny as much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins but at the same time, it was full of what led to its currently-visible downfall:

Arrogance and hubris.

The atom may have been a proponent for peace but it was the epitome of what the mentality was in the Cold War era – technology over art, rationality over intuition, and economics over aesthetics. We could design whatever we wanted with whatever new materials, style, and engineering would allow but there wasn’t any sense of heart or soul in the end result. Frank Lloyd Wright brought an organic, prairie style of architecture to a nation that had largely found inspiration from the Old Word but at the same time of his death, the country turned to a bunch of modernists from that Old World to produce a language and even a vernacular for the second half of the 20th Century.

What resulted was absolutely devastating.

The 1961 Zoning law allowed for bonuses should a development include space for a public plaza or arcade. More importantly, it allowed for an unlimited rise without setbacks, unlike the Zoning Law of 1916. Buildings erected after that was enacted into law could rise uninterrupted but only after they were reduced to 1/4 of the total base. What was a city of “waterfalls” and “wedding cakes” soon turned into a bunch of shoeboxes with barren, windswept plazas at street level. They may have been great for lunch but they were terrible for street life and amazingly, even worse when it came to to their facade. The reason for this was simple:

Glass.

Masonry was the preferred choice of exterior for so many buildings in Gotham’s history but as technology and design changed, so did the means to express that change. Load-bearing walls were no longer needed as steel became strong enough to fully bear the load of a tower. This was true by the time of the building boom of the 1920’s but it wasn’t after WWII that changes in design and aesthetics caught up with the progress of the underlying engineering.

As copycats proliferated around the City, Seagram and Lever House became less of an anachronistic anomaly and instead, became the standard that no one could possibly measure up to.

But that didn’t stop SOM, Emery Roth and Sons, Yamasaki, and anyone else prominent enough to earn a commission during the Mad Men-era to design their own glass  box on 3, Park, or 6 Ave’s.

By 1970’s, whatever charm lay on the streets of Manhattan’s recently-cleared El’s or grand, landscaped thoroughfare was obliterated in favor of corporate headquarters that were less concerned with civic grandeur and more interested in the bottom line. The people that were housed in these vertical cube farms were increasingly commuting from farther distances and less interested in staying in Manhattan after work. Any proof of this could be seen in their bases, which lacked retail amenities and interaction with the passerby on the street. Worst of all, these skyscrapers ended up turning Manhattan into a fun-house on a scale never seen before.

But there wasn’t anything fun about being trapped in a corporate campus full of mirrored monoliths.

Winston Churchill one said that “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. It should have come as no surprise that a few generations after we started to mass produce our houses, workspaces, meals, and cartoons (Hanna-Barbera, anyone?), that the offspring in the ensuing generations turned out to be mass-produced as well.

And there’s where my typical night comes in.

Too many times, the person getting into my cab is a clone of someone I previously had. I can guess their language, destination, thought pattern, or occupation just based on a few cues that don’t even call for an accompanying neon sign. It’s pathetic on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin in explaining it. For starters, New York was always a place where immigrants came to find themselves and enter into America but increasingly, it was a destination for those seeing extreme wealth at all costs. The division of labor espoused by Adam Smith reached it’s zenith in Gotham at one time as nearly every occupation on Earth could be found somewhere within its confines but increasingly, a service sector and knowledge economy came to dominate, headed by a few select fields that weren’t important on the grand scheme of things but had their literal headquarters somewhere on the island of Manhattan. Most of all, New Yorkers was a place where people clashed – not civilizations on Huntington’s scale but classes. Think Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (yes, I know it took place in the Bronx) or Gangs of New York for the vibrancy that resulted when various groups were thrust into a social setting that could only have taken place in Gotham.

But Churchill’s quip came to be reality and as the buildings became more square and transparent, so did the people that inhabited them and eventually, their offspring. Nothing bothers me more than getting someone in the back seat that either works 90 hours a week in finance, is perpetually glued to the phone in his/her hand, or can’t speak without sounding like he/she came from the San Fernando Valley and wanted to be a mallrat. Those people are a dime a dozen and drain all the life and vitality out of a metropolis that should be home to 8 million stories – unique, wild, zany, fascinating and ultimately, colorful stories.

But that’s not the case.

Instead, what I come across pales in comparison to what used to be. I’ve had at least a dozen passengers tell me that their Dad, Uncle, or Grandfather drove a Taxi in New York in the 60’s or 70’s, to which I always say the same thing:

“I would have killed to have done it back then.”

No, I’m not the next Son of Sam but I do wish for a City with edge, gruff, grit, a bit of danger, and most of all, characters.

Most nights, I’m the biggest one of those in my ride, and that’s not saying a whole lot!

What bothers me the most now is that too many people are plugged into the outside word to think, reflect, and create on their own and I know this firsthand because I’m partially guilty of this too. What separates me from them (aside from the fact that I’m up front and behind the wheel) is that I do my best to listen, react, and ask when I come into contact with someone new.

For jobs that I come across all the time, it’s just this:

“Do you like it?”

To which I hear, “Not really…”

When I get someone that is a professional wardrobe stylist, a music promoter, or a short story writer, that’s when the fun begins and I feel like I’m in school all over again.

But sadly, those instances are too few and far between.

Onward, I go. I know I’ll spend more nights ahead watching the soulless masses enter my cab one fare at time, taking in news and information from others but offering so little original thought in return. Once in a while, I will get proven wrong and find a moment of joy in the midst of a sea of bland mediocrity and regurgitation of someone else’s ideas and commands. The division of labor is still dynamic enough in an economy this trepid that new positions are still being created at the expense of the masses that have been laid off in the name of downsizing, reorganization, and offshoring. Thankfully, those in the transportation field don’t have much to worry about, as our ilk will continue to enliven the City until robots come along and the trains, buses, and taxis, are fully automated.

While our positions many not be paramount in the grand scheme of things, no one will ever accuse us of ever being carbon copies reflections of those who also hold the same position.

Not that I’ve ever had to worry about that during my time in the Big Apple!

New York Central lightshow - Midtown

New York Central lightshow – Midtown

 

 

 

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Let Freedom (Tower) Ring

Rendering of the new WTC – looking northeast

“Hey there, where to?”

“The 4 of us are going down to Bay Ridge.”

“No problem. Want me to take the Battery Tunnel?”

“That’s fine. We don’t mind paying the toll.”

“I’m gonna take the West Side Highway down, traffic should be good.”

Sure enough, we wove our way through the stilettos and roadwork of the Meatpacking District before flying down the Hudson as the sun descended to the west.

“Wow, is that the Freedom Tower? It looks great.”

“Sure enough, it is. It was topped out a few weeks ago and should be open sometime next year.”

“Wasn’t that supposed to be the World’s Tallest Building?”

“When they first planned it, yes. 1,776 feet isn’t anywhere close to what’s going up in Asia but it will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere when it’s completed.”

“I see. Are they putting up an identical one next to it?”

10 years after 9/11, there’s little doubt that the concept of a pair still rings true in Lower Manhattan, even if what’s going up now hardly resembles what once stood on those hallowed 16 acres.

With the possible exception of the Second Ave Subway, there’s currently nothing under construction in the Big Apple that has captivated and polarized so many New Yorkers as the army of cranes hard at work down at Ground Zero. In the midst of economic imbalance that has New Yorkers working harder than ever to pay rents that are at an all-time high, the sight of Lower Manhattan’s skyline returning to prominence has many optimistic about the future of Lower Manhattan and the office market as a whole.

The old saying that time heals all wounds might not hold more than at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. Shortly after the terrorist attacks that brought the original World Trade Center down, many thought that skyscrapers such at those were a 20th century relic and that the whole 16-acre site should be turned into a memorial for the thousands that perished that day. Rebuilding seemed so far off given the 1.25 million tons of debris that had to be cleared away, the human remains that had to be sorted out and cataloged, and the recession that nation was plunged into around the time of the attacks. Tall buildings were seen as the ultimate sign of hubris and arrogance, and who could forget the sight of innocent office workers leaping to their deaths, unable to reach lower stories and setbacks in a structure that was the epitome of modernism gone cold and impersonal?

If time is the ultimate judge of historical events, the act of War that took place on that September day turned out to not be as bad as was first thought. The thousands that were thought to have their lives ended in the towers was reduced down to 3,000 as more peoples whereabouts became available.  Even though the stock market had a few rough sessions, there wasn’t a second coming of the great depression as a result of the attacks. Additionally, the cleanup defied the odds, as it became the only major construction project in modern Big Apple lore to be completed on time and under budget, as the last steel beam from the foundation was removed in March of the following year. All of positives after that were nowhere to be found, as the real problems arose and lingered for years.

There still isn’t a site in the city limits where so many agencies and egos clash on such a massive scale. The Original World Trade Center was a pet project of David and Nelson Rockefeller (some even gave the towers those nicknames) to help revitalize Lower Manhattan. In the postwar years, Midtown was taking over as the economic and business heart of the city. Newer Towers, a more efficient street layout, and easier access from much of the Metropolitan area allowed new office corridors to spring up on 3, Park, and 6 Aves. While the design of the towers left much to be desired, the resulting corporate canyons resulted in a fundamental shift of the city’s economy from manufacturing to the late 20th century buzzword of FIRE (financial, insurance, and real estate) as well as the competition it gave to the Financial District. The Chase Manhattan Tower of 1960 brought an end to the wedding-cake/ziggurat towers that helped romanticize Lower Manhattan’s skyline but it was a harbinger of things to come. By the time of the late 1960’s, the dominoes had already been set in motion.

Enter the Port Authority. Originally created in the 1920’s as an agency to build a freight rail tunnel under the Hudson/Narrows (still not fulfilled to this day), the agency did create a series of spectacular river crossings and port improvements that added to the region’s mobility and economy. They were also the operators of the Hudson and Manhattan tubes, later rechristened as the PATH system. Sure enough, the Lower Manhattan terminus for the line was where else, at Hudson Terminal…which later became the site for the World Trade Center.

Like the United Nations, Lincoln Center, and so many housing complexes around the city, Urban Redevelopment and Eminent Domain were the final piece of the puzzles for the 16-acre Superblock imposed on Lower Manhattan. The old Hudson and Manhattan Terminal, the Syrian Quarter, and Radio Row, along with the streets that ran through the site, were obliterated in order to make way for the 7 Towers and the Vista Hotel that eventually took their place. Minoru Yamasaki’s plan was grand on a scale that nothing in New York had ever seen and it was tragic that like his Pruitt-Igoe complex in Saint Louis, they did not stand the test of time. Although their demises were the result of a different set of circumstances, the imagery of modern architecture failing to accomplish the goal of the betterment of humanity through an international style held sway.

Flash forward to the 21st Century and what we have for the site that formerly housed the Twin Towers called home can be seen above. Even with all the decades and two terrorist attacks since the sites original inception, there are a ton of similarities between the first and current World Trade Center projects. Big tenants will call the site home – Conde Nast has agreed to take space in 1 WTC while Cantor Fitzgerald and Port Authority were the companies that suffered the biggest losses on 9/11. Daniel Libeskind and David Childs were the architects most responsible for the master plan down at Ground Zero and should the site be fully developed, Santiago Calatrava, Richard Rogers, and Lord Norman Foster will be those who leave their imprint on Lower Manhattan. The Rockefellers and the Port Authority will be joined by the victims families, Larry Silverstein, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation as the sides vying for influence over what will ultimately be constructed in Lower Manhattan as well. With so many big shoulders and egos vying for influence in the reconstruction process, it should come as no surprise that the National September 11th Museum, the new PATH terminal, and two of the four major skyscrapers have yet to come to fruition, nearly 11 years after the attacks. The original World Trade Center was complete by 1973, with the exception of the Vista Hotel and 7 WTC Building which were started later and not complete until the 1980’s.

For now, 1 and 4 WTC are like so many other construction projects around New York. They make for interesting conversations between my passengers and I but most New Yorkers don’t think twice and about the larger ramifications of what’s being built around them. I need to admit to myself that people don’t give a second thought to that design of the built environment around them but they need to think about the bigger questions: What do I want to go up where the World Trade Center was? Why aren’t the families of the victims able to go to a museum that commemorates one of the darkest days in American History? Why is the Port Authority allowed to jack up tolls and fees that everyone will ultimately pay for, to cover a project that’s billions over budget and years behind schedule? Do companies need subsidies and tax breaks to move to Lower Manhattan when millions in the city aren’t receiving help for rent and food?

I was not in New York on 9/11 and would have been there the day before on my 25th Birthday, had it not downpoured the entire day. In the days and months after the attack, I read so much on what went into the creation, and ultimately, the destruction, of the World Trade Center. The timeline, sequence of events, and the players involved were each worthy of a story of their own, but when combined, served to write one of the most complex and tragic tales of modern New York. As I see the lights of 1 WTC on each night as I make my way around the city, I can’t help but think that the parties involved and the families who lost loved ones deserve a better narrative than the one that’s being poorly constructed all these years later. For all the glass and glitz being shown to the world, New Yorkers deserve at least a full audit of the finances of all the parties involved in the rebuilding currently taking place.

Anything less would be a slap in the face for those still hurting from the attacks, even after all of this time.

A view down Fulton Street of a red, white, and blue 1 WTC under construction

Skyward

157 W 57 – under construction

Skyscrapers. It’s nearly impossible to picture Manhattan without them. Most cabdrivers find them annoying because their construction and maintenance will clog up a street for weeks and months on end. Ask any hack what gets in the way besides the tent cities and closed-off lanes that pop up every night and tall buildings would probably be one of the answers that you’d hear first. Most people in the city have no idea what’s where aside from the Empire State Building and a few other landmarks but as you’ve probably guessed, this cabdriver isn’t quite like all of the others.

When I was little, nearly every major tower that wasn’t pyramid-shaped or designed by Gustave Eiffel was in the United States. The Sears Tower was #1 in height while #’s 2, 3, and 4 resided in the Big Apple. Like the cars that Detroit churned out or electronic patents that fueled automation and innovation, the United States was home to the tall buildings that those in other countries could only be envious of and emulate.

As many people know, that is no longer the case in the 21st Century. On the day that Towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center were destroyed, the United States had already ceded the title of the World’s Tallest Building to a structure in Asia. Rapid urbanization was unable to fully assimilate and integrate the masses of laborers that were flocking to cities in search of a better life but the concrete and steel shoots of bamboo that sprouted up in city after city overseas was enough to get the world’s attention. If not full, the skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, and Taipei accomplished the feat of putting their respective cities on the World Map. No longer could anyone not know where these places were or not recognize any landmarks in them, even if they were involved in a race to the sky that had no end in sight.

What makes New York unique is that even though it will never house the World’s Tallest Building again, the sheer volume and length of time that it took to construct it’s current skyline has enough history in it for anyone so inclined to look into it. Over the decades of the 20th Century that the Big Apple has had enough buildings that once held the title, with one overtaking the other until it became surpassed within a few years. Newspaper row was over by City Hall on Park Row and to this day, the buildings on it reflect the first attempts to take a horizontal building form and extrude it vertically. The results may not have been great but like any adolescence, the adulthood that resulted gave us works that were worthy of being the highest-built man made objects.

The dome of the Singer Building was dwarfed by its many of its neighbors by the time it was demolished in 196, but it was still noteworthy for being one of the first tall buildings to fully incorporate the tripartite idea of base, shaft, and capital. Other works that came later like the Woolworth Building, (original) Met Life Tower, and 40 Wall street incorporated this in a seamless manner while donning the guises of a church or bell tower. Capitalism on a big scale still needed something that people on the ground could relate to, even if the form that was used was irrelevant to the tenants that were housed in that particular building.

America was, and still was, a land of importation. The first people here were from foreign lands along with the labor that was brought here to perform many of the menial tasks of the young Republic. It should come as no surprise the Greek Revival, French second Empire, and Art Deco all found a home here in many of the buildings that have held monumental roles since their completion. All of this reached an apex in the roaring 20’s when anything was possible, even constructing Towers of Babel that were built without tenants in mind. The zeitgeist of the age could be seen in Midtown, which had finally wrestled the title of New York’s business district away from downtown during the Chrysler and Empire State Building’s race for the World’s Tallest Building. Never before nor since would a spire be hoisted into place in a matter of hours or a mast be built for air travel, defying conventional wisdom of architecture’s role of form and function on a fixed budget.

Unbeknownst to the people of the 1930’s and 1940’s, they did not realize at the time that they were living witnesses to the excesses of the Jazz Age. Manhattan’s skyline would be nearly frozen in time for 15 years until the end of World War II. “Wedding cakes” abounded in masonry and when the building resumed in the Postwar period, new forms, materials, and functions would alter not only what was vertically constructed, but how the people on the ground flowed through the city.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” . It was only apt that the person most single-handedly responsible for Allies’ Victory in World War II would describe what would happen to the city that most prospered from the freedom ensured by their victory. New York was the largest city on the planet in 1950 and many of these others were digging out of the rubble of the World’s Worst conflict ever inflicted by man. Companies wanted to be in New York and the great wave of Suburban migration had yet to encompass the ubiquitous Office Park and campus that many communities encircling the Big Apple can claim today.

A list of seemingly disparate factors combined to give New York a skyline that was radically different in 1970 than from 1950, in the sense that what was gained in largesse was lost in aesthetics. Mies Van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Le Corbusier looked to America for site and projects where their Bauhaus School creations could be realized in three dimensions. Advances in glass and steel could allow for glossy-skinned buildings to be constructed with less planning and time to construct their skin and frames. Air conditioning made larger floorplates possible as well. Open space moved to the forefront with the revision to the city’s Zoning Law in 1961. The result was the ransacking of classic streetscapes on 3, Park, and  6 Ave with rows of glassy boxes that featured uninterrupted sides all the way up to the roof, set in barren plaza that was only built to garner a zoning bonus. Watching Mad Men or a Hitchcock film of the era may be the cool thing to do now but imagine living in that era, where every man in the gray flannel suit worked the same type of job in the same type of cubicle farm in the same type of building as every other man in the grey flannel suit. Only an lag in the unbridled growth of the nation’s economy brought a halt to the madness, which devoured such gems as the aforementioned Singer Building and Penn Station in the process.

This was the skyline that was familiar to me when I was a lkid and was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the Big City to the East. The land of shoeboxes that could be seen during the opening montages of Barney Miller or Rhoda told viewers what City the shows took place in but also as a reminder that the triumph of Modernism was too haughty not to see how dated the style would end up being withing a matter of years. Cramming as much rentable space into a building envelope may have made technological and economic sense but the overwhelming sense of scale that resulted on Water Street and major Midtown thoroughfares served as a constant reminder that bigger was not even close to always being better.

Recent years saw a full revival of older styles in garbs that weren’t quite up to par with their earlier century counterparts. To be fair, new colors, forms, and styles were used in an attempt to modernize, brighten, and humanize the City Skyline. Subway entrance improvements and plazas that were enclosed, midblock, or landscaped were constructed in an attempt to engage passerby instead of being a means to an end for the developer. All three of these ideals converged in David Child’s Worldwide Plaza, which anchored the redevelopment of 8 Ave from a porn-laden Avenue to the home of the “Starchitects” that were increasingly leaving their footprint on the Big Apple. It was at this time to that the skyline began to flatten out, as many towers were topping out in the 750-800 foot range, right before increasing heights led to a diminished level of return on the investment in construction.

1 Worldwide Plaza

What’s important to remember from the end of 20 Century was that as Postmodernism gave way to High-Tech architecture, was that the styles were increasingly en vogue for shorter amounts of time. As the world sped up, each movement that designers expressed their ideas in became shorter and shorter. Unfortunately, planned obsolescence only works for some durable goods and certainly not for many of the buildings that they were housed in. From a functional standpoint, it should come as no surprise that huge swaths of the city were turned into Historic Preservation Districts as many corporate corridors were becoming prohibitively expensive to upgrade to Class A (top of the line) Office Space.

Just last week, I picked up a fare that was heading uptown to a fashionable street on the Upper West Side. On the way up, I had this conversation:

“So, you said your husband has a hand in shaping this city. What does he do?”

“He works for FXFowle”

“Oh wow, that used to be Fox and Fowle. I remember when they designed 4 Times Square. Heck, I watched that go up!”

“Yes, my husband was involved with that.”

“What did he do for them?”

“He was their urban planner.”

Like so many others in New York, this continued as we discussed his job and the construction of one of my favorite late 20th Century towers in Manhattan.

What’s important to remember in the midst of all of this building and rebuilding is that the Towers that are leaving their mark on the skyline today are increasingly residential. As New York is increasingly a playground for the rich, they are the only ones who can afford the sky-high rents that these premium living spaces command. While not as exciting as the World’s Tallest Building race, watching the chase for the title of the city’s tallest residential structure has been just as exciting. Trump World Tower ruffled a few cages when it wrestled the title away from the Cityspire Building in the late 90’s. Frank Gehry’s new tower by the Brooklyn Bridge then held the title but the building pictured at the top of this post will hold the title when it’s completed sometime next year. Like all records, it will probably be broken and in a manner deserving of a story all its own.

As office space per worker shrinks in an era of automation and austerity, building New York’s supertalls of tomorrow will become that much harder. With the exception of Hudson Yards on the West Side, large building sites have been hard to assemble as well. Coach’s new Headquarters on 10 Ave has yet to commence as of this writing and each additional planned will need an anchor tenant before any of the serious earth-turning can begin.

Each of my shifts takes me around the city and like driving past a tree every day or week, it’s hard for me to notice the change taking place in buildings that are under construction in various neighborhoods. Eventually, the sidewalk sheds will come down and the cranes will be lowered to the ground, only to be brought across town to their next site ready to be developed. Most cabdrivers will be too busy cursing in Farsi on their Bluetooths or admonishing passengers for having the guts to use a credit card to pay for a fare. Such a shame too – all they’d have to do is look up at the city that is still doing its best to pull the rest of the nation out of a recession. How many other places are so adept at telling America’s architectural and economic story while still writing it at the same time?

1 WTC from the West Portal of the Battery Underpass