On the day the World Trade Center fell, the Empire state Building once again became the tallest building in New York City. In the months that followed, six of its commercial tenants ran off. They did not want to be in the tallest anything, anywhere, anymore. At a time when U.S. Vice president Dick Cheney was still being shuttled around to undisclosed locations, skyscrapers suddenly seemed like the most disclosed locations. For a while, it looked as though the tall building, at least in the U.S., might be one more casualty of war.
Three years later, despite fears of terrorist attacks, big is beautiful again. On July 4, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presided at the rise at the World Trade Center site. New skyscraper projects are under way once more elsewhere in the city and around the U.S. Meanwhile, outside the states, where the taste for tall buildings never really faded, the skyscraper has also been
poking its head up in very different ways, and not just for reasons having to do with security. Since the 1990s, tall buildings have been reshaped by a number of global architecture stars whose vision is finally beginning to penetrate the more conservation American market.
Some of the best examples of that rethinking now fill two large galleries of the Museum of Modern Art’s temporary outpost in Queens, New York. Using 25 spectacular architectural models (some of more than 4 m high), “Tall buildings”, a show that runs at MOMA through Sept.27, looks at the ways in which the skyscraper has evolved since the early 1990s, at least in the hands of its most gifted practitioners, the kind who are proposing-and even producing, but usually in other nations-buildings that don’t resemble the dull boxes that crowd most American downtowns.
Engineering is, among others, a path to new kinds of beauty. Just look at Renzo piano’s London Bridge Tower, a slender glass pyramid that forms a glittering stalagmite against the old city’s skyline. You get a grasp of what ingenious engineering is all about from the London Headquarters of the insurance firm Swiss Re, designed by Norman Foster. Even before it opened in April, it was known as the small cucumber because it rises against the sky like a green pickle. But the building’s single feature is the inclusion of larger interior gardens throughout. But there’s a dematerializing spirit even in a building that didn’t requiring new fears of engineering-the Arcos Bosques Corporativo in Mexico City, an arched tower with a vertical slot down its center that lightens the building’s mass brings the sky itself into play.
“Not only did American invent skyscraper”, says the Spanish designer Santiago Calatrava, “it invented the skyline.” But American skylines have got a little dull. With some work, the world’s architects might bring them back to a very tall standard.