Read All About It: The Skyscraper as a Medium

Read All About It: The Skyscraper as a Medium

With New York being the epicenter of skyscrapers and media, it’s not much of a surprise that sooner or later someone was to write a book featuring the two. What is surprising is that this book already exists since 2012 and that it has been under my radar ever since. In my defense, the word ‘skyscraper’ is not part of the cover or the suggested categories. Since this book only gets two measly reviews on Amazon, we’re going to discuss this book anyway since the topic is so mightily interesting.

This review is about Media Capital. The book comes with two subtitles: ‘The History of Communication’ and ‘Architecture and Communication in New York City’. It’s a little bit more than that though. With ‘media’ being synonymous to ‘news bringers’, the word is actually the plural form of ‘medium’ which is ‘a means to get from a to b’. This meaning is what binds the two protagonists of this book: newspapers and skyscrapers.

Even though technically skyscrapers were developed in Chicago, it’s New York which happily explored all of their purposes. Understanding that you need to be in the center of things to be on top of the news and the audience, the newspaper industry of the 1870’s realized that architecture is a form of communication. Appealing styles and height were deliberately preferred to tell the world these were sturdy, reliable and important institutions that have something to say to the world. For them, skyscrapers were all about seeing, and to be seen.

media_capitalWorld Building (left), Tribune Building (center) and Times Building (right) at Park Row.

Being close to news sources such as City Hall, the financial district and the courts, and facilities such as the postal, telephone and telegraph services, Park Row became the gathering place for the aspiring newspapers, such as the Times, Tribune and the World. Not only did they erect the first buildings which surpassed the 85-meter tall tower of the Trinity Church as News York’s tallest structure, but for a short time they were also the tallest buildings in the world. Together they made Park Row the world’s first skyscraper district.

100 Years on, the World and Tribune Buildings have been demolished, while the Times Building lives on as the world’s oldest skyscraper still in existence. But the story continues. In this age, media organizations merged to become conglomerates which have moved up to Midtown Manhattan. But they still can be found in skyscrapers, such as the Times Building, the Time Warner Center and the Condé Nast Building. These may not be the tallest buildings in town, but today’s messages of sustainable design, public appearance and how the media views their place in the world, are still clearly readable.

media_capital_02left to right, the Midtown offices of media conglomerates Hearst, Time Warner and Condé Nast

Media Capital tells the stories about how New York media has presented itself to the world through architecture, but it should be equally sold as the story about the public and corporate perception of skyscrapers. It’s not all about density and profitability, not even about views and visibility, but also about how you perceive yourself. Media Capital does an excellent job telling this story in a well researched, good paced and entertaining way.

Two thumbs up for this one!

Media Capital
Architecture and Communications in New York City
by: Aurora Wallace
University of Illinois Press (2012)
softcover | 178 pages | ISBN-13: 978-0-252-07882-8
more: publisher’s info page

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