The Announcement of The Construction of The World’s Tallest Building 1906
The Singer Building: An Architectural Marvel When It Was Originally Constructed
When you think of tall buildings you probably don’t think a building 612 feet tall is all that important. In 1906 it was considered a staggering height, as a building that size had never been built before.
What is interesting when reading the account of the announced construction of the Singer Building in the Scientific American, is the sense of wonderment in describing how much taller than any other building The Singer Building would be.
The article speaks in flowery language of the proud achievement of being able to construct a building so “lofty.” Overcoming the posed difficulties in constructing tall buildings was merely a matter of “let’s sit down and figure out how to do this.” Coming through in the writing is the confidence that we are witnessing technical advancements coming in leaps and bounds. The reader palpably feels that not just in construction, but in all areas America itself has unlimited potential.
The birth of the modern skyscraper was at hand.
Excerpts from Scientific American September 8, 1906.
AN OFFICE BUILDING 612 FEET TALL— THE LOFTIEST MASONRY STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD.
When the tall office building, in the course of its rapid evolution, had attained the height of 300 feet, it was freely predicted that the limit had been reached, and that future structures in New York city would be of more reasonable vertical dimensions. That prediction was made not much more than a decade ago; and yet to-day there is in course of construction in lower New York a building whose summit will reach heavenward for over twice three hundred feet. The new building, which will be in the form of a tower and will constitute part of an extension of the present Singer building at the corner of Liberty Street and Broadway, will contain forty-one stories, and the top of its cupola will be 612 feet above street level. Not only will the Singer tower be the loftiest inhabited building in the world, but it will exceed in vertical height the famous Washington Monument on the bank of the Potomac, which, with its total height of 555 feet, is at present the tallest masonry structure erected by man. Although the Singer tower will lack some 300 feet of equaling the famous Eiffel Tower, it will be a far more difficult and costly structure to erect, and because of its narrow base will involve more complicated and serious engineering problems’.
The new building will form the most important part of an extensive reconstruction of the old Singer building at the corner of Liberty Street and Broadway. Great credit is due to Mr. Ernest Flagg for his successful treatment of this unusual architectural problem and to his engineers for the solution of the constructional difficulties involved in the design of so narrow and lofty a building. An addition to the old structure, with a frontage of 76 feet on Broadway, is to be built on the northern side of the building, and the westerly portion of this addition will constitute the great tower. The original building and the addition will be fourteen stories in height, and the tower will extend twenty-seven stories above this.
…It is estimated that when the building is fully occupied it will accommodate about 6,000 people.
From a constructional point of view, the most interesting feature of this extraordinary structure is the means adopted in framing the steel skeleton, so that it will resist the enormous accumulated wind pressure, when the thunder squalls of the summer and the heavy gales of the winter sweep over Manhattan.
…Decidedly interesting also is the method of treatment which has given this tower an architectural character usually absent from our modern “skyscraper.” The plan adopted, both in designing the steel skeleton and in the treatment of the exterior, has harmonized both the engineering and architectural requirements of the case. It was realized that, in order to obtain sufficient strength to resist the enormous transverse bending stresses due to wind pressure, it would be necessary to introduce diagonal wind bracing, and give to the tower a true truss form from foundation to top story.
…The effect of this stupendous structure upon the already remarkable sky line of New York city will be to dwarf the immensity of surrounding buildings and deceive the eye as to their already lofty altitude. This will be particularly true of the stranger who visits New York for the first time, for he will find it difficult to realize that the towering skyscrapers which are dominated so completely by this tower are many of them between three and four hundred feet in height.
…The question of the future vertical increase in the dimensions of buildings will depend upon the financial success of the Singer Building. Should it prove possible to realize an adequate return upon an investment of this kind, it is not unlikely that corporations with whom the advertisement that is given by a spectacular structure of this kind counts for something will, in future years, attempt to rival or surpass it.
…It is the confident expectation of the engineers that in spite of the great height there will be no perceptible sway in the Singer Building even in the heaviest storm.
When completed on May 1, 1908 the Singer Building was the world’s tallest building, a record it held for less than a year. While the Singer Building was being constructed, uptown at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue the Metropolitan Life Building was also going up with their own tower and when it was completed in 1909 it surpassed the Singer Building by 88 feet. The Metropolitan Life Building in turn gave way to the Woolworth Building as tallest building in the world in 1913.
The Singer Building was unceremoniously demolished in 1967-1968 to make way for The United States Steel Building. The Singer Building remains the tallest building ever to have a planned demolition.
Thanks for your memories, the SINGER Building is mentioned in one line of a novel I am reading and this is how I came to be here reading your message. No one alive on Sept 11 2001 who knew of it, will ever forget it. I am in Australia and the unfolding of that day via TV is etched in my mind so I cannot fathom what it would have been like to actually be there. My heart goes out to you today.
I wonder why the “City Investing Building” was overlooked here. It wrapped around sort of the back of the ”Singer Tower” was built the same years and met the same fate as its taller and more famous counterpart here. The “City Investing Bldg. was 33 stories and 486 feet, according to sources. Its address was 65 Cortlland. There was also a smaller building, much older, which met the ‘wrecking ball’, as did the Singer and CIB. All gave way for destruction and removal for the the “U.S. Steel”, or “One Liberty Plaza”, where I worked for years. OLP was completed 1973 and stands at 743 feet. It survived the attacks on 9/11/01. I was on the 44th floor when the 2nd plane crashed into the “South Tower”. I will never forget that day.
you are right Mike I too wondered why the City Investing Building has not been mentioned Those two buildings were beautiful in a way the US Steel building is not I consider the loss of the Singer Tower to be second only to Penn Station as an architectural loss to New York
I can’t agree with it more, the Roxy being another act of municipal vandalism…
I often regret not having traveled downtown when, in 1966, I began working in midtown Manhattan. I could have seen both the City Investing and Singer buildings before they were demolished. Although the Singer Building was the more graceful structure, I am fascinated by the CIB. I spent many hours searching for photos in order to view it from all sides before I was able to understand the design of the tower and how its three gabled sections joined.
I am fond of quite a few International Style buildings, and regret the lossof the Union Carbide Building on Park Avenue, but to lose the Singer and City Investing buildings to One Liberty Plaza is a shame.