New Rush of Buildings Reaching for the Clouds
Between Godzilla tromping around Gotham and giant space rocks hurling toward Earth, American cities are taking a beating this summer - at least on the silver screen. In one disaster movie, the elegant spire of New York's Chrysler Building appears to have been reduced to the function of a giant lawn dart.Skip to next paragraph
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In reality, city skylines are not only holding their own this summer, they're inching ever higher amid an emerging boom in urban construction.
"The downtowns are coming back," says George von Klan of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Bethlehem, Pa.
Steel cranes will soon tower over major projects in San Francisco. Times Square in New York City is home to a new 50-story skyscraper. And a Chicago developer is even talking about returning the world's-tallest-building title to the Windy City by constructing a 1,500- to 2,000-foot office-and-apartment tower. If completed, the project would cast a shadow from Illinois to Malaysia by edging out the current world record holder, the 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Fueled by a roaring US economy and plunging office vacancy rates in major cities, some developers are looking to the sky to construct the next generation of city homes and offices. But analysts warn that this is far from the start of another golden age of the skyscraper in America.
Going up - and out
With a few exceptions, most construction activity is not likely to radically alter city skylines. Instead, a majority of the new skyscrapers are expected to be relatively modest buildings ranging from 20 to 40 stories tall, or no more than 500 feet high. And a large number are much smaller than that.
"We are back in a building boom, but it is a different kind of building boom," says Mike Jordan-Reiley, spokesman for the Otis Elevator Company. If anyone knows skyscraper development nationwide it's the folks who sell elevators. No tall building can function without them. "We're finding that people are going out instead of up," Mr. Jordan-Reiley says. Rather than 80 stories, projects are being built to seven or eight, or as Mr. Jordan-Reiley puts it "more like 70 feet rather than 700 feet."
For many developers, it is a matter of efficiency. "It is more economical to build a building lower and wider as opposed to taller and thinner. And if the economics dictate, that is what will happen," says T.J. Gottesdiemer, a New York-based architect with the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
Some projects are entirely residential. Others are aimed at the office market. But a growing number are multiple use, with retail stores and restaurants at street level, office space in the midsection, and condos and rentals on upper floors. They form a complete, vertical neighborhood.
Such projects are not only helping ensure that corporations remain downtown, but they are transforming business districts into vibrant, 24-hour communities.
"The continued reinvestment in urban cores is something we've seen in the last couple years. It is something that bodes well for the life of cities as we enter the next century," says R.K. Stewart, an architect and vice president at the San Francisco-based Gensler architecture firm.
Within the past month in San Francisco, he says, ground was broken for the first two high-rise projects launched in the city in more than eight years. Two other projects are close to breaking ground. And six to eight more are in planning stages.
There are similar levels of activity in New York and Chicago. Major projects are also planned or under way in Boston, Tampa, Fla., Houston, Los Angeles, Denver, and other cities, industry analysts say.
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