IWALKED NEW YORK CITY’S EQUITABLE BUILDING
Located at 120 Broadway is the Equitable Building which is famous for being responsible for the creation of the modern day skyscraper. The Equitable Building was built in 1915 as home to the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States after their former headquarters were destroyed by fire just three years earlier. The Equitable hired American architect Ernest Robert Graham from Chicago to design their new home. Graham had recently completed design of the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C. just a year earlier.
The original design for the Equitable Building called for it be constructed to a height of forty stories. Upon the advice of consulting engineer Charles Knox, however, the height was reduced by four floors. The reason for this was that Knox had determined through a series of precise calculations that the ideal height for a building of this size would be thirty-six floors so as to optimize elevator usage. As Knox was quoted, “The elevator service will determine the height of the building.” Knox’s precision calculations included studying elevator usage for years. He would collect hourly data based upon traffic and destination of travelers and from this derived his ultimate recommendation.
Thus when the Equitable Building was ultimately unveiled in 1915 it only rose thirty-six stories, however, was still the largest office building in the world. Its massive appearance, encompassing a full city block, did not impress all though. Due to large block-like design the building served as an immoveable sun guard for all of its neighbors casting them in seven-acre shadow. At least four buildings in the area were unexposed to light for its first twenty-one stories and real estate values on these properties declined.
After a huge uproar, the Equitable Building pressured the city to take action and create the 1916 Zoning Resolution which would prevent this problem from being replicated in the future. From this legislation all new skyscrapers would require the usage of setbacks to allow sunlight to filter onto the city streets and prevent a city-wide blackout. This setback style, in essence, created the prototypical New York City skyscraper which would be duplicated countless times going forward.
To give you a little perspective on how the setback rules (or sometimes called wedding cake) work let me try and articulate. With this legislation setbacks were required to incorporate setbacks, or become narrower, at a height that was equal to one to two-and-a-half times the width of the street on which the building resides. So, for instance, a one hundred foot wide street would be required to have setbacks every 100-250 square feet. So there you go, you are now fully qualified to engineer a New York skyscraper.
The building is constructed of limestone in a Beaux-Arts style and is 538 feet tall. It begins with a six-story base before diverging into a set of dual towers giving it the appearance both from street-level and from above to the letter H. Atop the six-story base is a series of four eagle sculptures.
Address: 120 Broadway, New York City, NY
IWalked Audio Tours To See This Site: New York City’s Lower Manhattan