Skyscrapers, Old and New

The Tower at PNC Plaza under construction in March of 2015. In front of it, three of the Fourth Avenue towers: the Benedum-Trees Building (1905, architect Thomas H. Scott), the Investment Building (1927, architect John M. Donn), and the Arrott Building (1902, architect Frederick Osterling).

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4 thoughts on “Skyscrapers, Old and New

  1. Is there a reason for the near-identical heights of these three buildings, as well as the two to the right? Building codes? Maximum height that water could be pumped at the time? Maximum run on an elevator?

  2. Father Pitt replies: This is an interesting question to which Father Pitt does not know the answer. We can eliminate technical questions, because the Frick Building (earlier than all but the Arrott Building) is taller, and the even earlier Park Row Building in New York was taller than that by nine floors. Various city planning commissions were corrupt and whimsical, so they might have decreed a height limit on Fourth Avenue.

    But Father Pitt suspects that economics is the root of the phenomenon. Builders of skyscrapers are always pulled between the desire to show off height and the necessity of keeping within a budget. With some notable exceptions, the competing forces tend to average out, so that a skyscraper is about as tall as its neighbors built at the same time, and not much more. In the burst of skyscraper construction right around the beginning of the Depression, the Koppers Building, Grant Building, and Gulf Building were all built to very similar heights—again for no obvious reason other than the averaging-out of opposite economic forces.

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