Looking Up, Part 1a

I’d like to start a series of articles about looking up. This is the first one.

Truly cool New Yorkers do not look up. I on the other hand, look up not much less than a tourist fresh off the bus. Unlike most tourists though, I own a really expensive long lens.

In the beginning of the skyscraper era, architects were confused about how to design the look of these super tall buildings. One of the decisions facing them was – what to put on the top. There were many choices. A very popular one was to use a little temple/colonnade on top, based on the ancient minaret that was later converted into a bell tower – the fabled Giralda Tower. Then you could use a giant torch or lantern, a mini ziggurat, statue, a spire or a combination of several of these. In following posts of this series I’ll give you examples of those buildings. But today my theme is crowns.

The Crown Building on 5th Ave.

You can’t really see that without magnification – the crown features what seem to be colored glass jewels.

New York Life Insurance Building.

They have an awesome series of ads featuring the building. My favorite one is where they do a time-lapse walk through, with changing eras, people and New York Skyline, ending in the future where a girl with a futuristic haircut steps out of the building, into a hovertaxy and zooms away. Please let me know if you find a video of that.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower. “The Light That Never Fails”, the old symbol of the company (now it’s Snoopy) is set inside a crown-looking lantern top.

The American Radiator Building : A crown fit for the king of the Radiator Planet.

The Old RCA Victor Building has such an expensive and complicated top, that one might question it’s usefulness – it’s almost impossible to see any details from the ground.

Wireless Maiden, close up.

later, architects decided that it wasn’t worth it to decorate tops of the buildings – they are hard to see. The era of International Style did not allow for interesting skyscraper tops. You’d be lucky to see a neon sign. Fortunately the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill brough back the practice of decorated tops, as can be seen on the Bear Stearns Building. Another example of an SOM topper is the World Wide Plaza Building.