The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.
Skyline, 1930 - The Third Period
Two Irving Underhill perspectives of lower Manhattan in the early 1930s, seen from across the Hudson (top) and from Brooklyn, show the characteristic setbacks and slender towers that shaped the downtown skyline after 1916 and until the early 1960s. There was a new scale of the tallest towers, which rose to between 50 and 71 stories and crowded on and near Wall Street, representing the peaks of land values in that area.
It was government regulation -– New York’s first zoning law, passed in 1916 – that sculpted these skyscrapers into ziggurats and pyramidal bases with slender tower shafts. Rather than the blocky, straight-up sides of the high-rises of the previous decades, these buildings followed rules that, after a certain height above the sidewalk, required the mass to step back as it rose. This setback formula was designed to preserve a measure of light and air for the streets below and better access to light for the workers on upper floors. In addition, a tower of unlimited height was allowed over one quarter of the area of the lot – thus producing the spindly shafts of the Wall Street cluster. The details of the zoning formula are illustrated in a model case in the gallery.