When it was completed, the 1915 Equitable Building had the largest total floor area in the world. Although it could never claim the title as the world’s tallest building, the skyscraper was nevertheless a behemoth that eclipsed the sun and cast a shadow onto its neighbors. Many New Yorkers feared that the carte blanche held by developers would create a city in which sunlight was a luxury, plunging residents into a macabre world of darkness. The time for intervention was ripe, and the government stepped up to the plate with a novel idea–the first comprehensive zoning resolution in the country.
The 1916 New York City Zoning Resolution imposed height and setback limits and distinguished between residential and industrial districts. Its purpose was clear – to prevent buildings at the scale of the Equitable Building – but figuring out how to implement the resolution was a different story. Architects began navigating how to master the resolution, and with it, usher in a new era in New York City building.
In 1922, architect and delineator Hugh Ferriss was commissioned by Harvey Wiley Corbett to draw a series of step-by-step perspectives demonstrating the consequences and potential of the new 1916 zoning laws. Corbett reinvisioned New York as a marvelous city of skyscrapers. As a result of those initial drawings, Ferriss produced a remarkable book entitled The Metropolis of Tomorrow in 1929. It portrayed how New York City would look in the future and how it would change over the course of the proceeding decades. His vision of the city possesses a beautifully eerie, yet calm feel. The drawings, which eschew a human presence, have a post-apocalyptic quality reminiscent of the city of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Ferriss’ drawings were produced in an age when architecture was synonymous with vision. Radical social changes resulting from the industrial age led to the belief that if an architect could dream it, it could be built. A lack of imagination was the only impediment to outdoing one’s rivals and the skyline of New York City was reshaped with such vision.
In the end, many of the buildings based on Ferriss’ drawings were never realized. They epitomized a grand vision of New York City that was not firmly codified. As the priorities of urban planners changed, it only became a matter of time before the city’s zoning regulations would be given a fresh start.
In this alternate scenario, Ferriss' drawings DID get off the board and became reality, becoming repeated in other cities after New York--Chicago, Detroit, Omaha, Sioux Falls, Las Vegas, Seattle, Houston, Minneapolis and even Anchorage.
- Using the presented images, how tall would those buildings be?
- Considering that the history of regional population growth is the same as in OTL, how long would it take to build even one of them?
- What engineering features would be needed to keep those titanic buildings standing strong and safe?
- How long would they stand before collapsing into rubble in a Life After People?