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    How The Equitable Building Shaped The Modern New York City Skyline?

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    In a city packed with iconic skyscrapers, the Equitable Building, in the heart of New York City’s Financial District, might not seem to stand out. But according to legend, this skyscraper was once considered so obscenely large that it led to the first major zoning law in the United States. And because of that law, it was the last skyscraper of its kind. So, how the Equitable Building shaped the modern New York City Skyline?

    The building is in the neoclassical style, rising 538 ft (164 m) with a total floor area of 1,849,394 square feet (176,000 m²). It rises as a single tower with the appearance of two separate identical towers standing side by side, connected by a wing for the whole height of the building, such that it appears in the shape of the letter “H” when viewed from above. It has no setback from the street beyond the depth of the sidewalk, rising vertically for all its floors.

    The building has a through-block entrance lobby with a pink marble floor, sand-colored marble walls, and a vaulted, coffered ceiling. It has approximately 5,000 windows. It originally housed the exclusive Bankers Club on its top three floors. The white marble of the building is Yule marble, quarried in Marble, Colorado, which is also the source of the marble used for the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Lincoln Memorial.

    History of Equitable Building

    The building was constructed as the headquarters of The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. The site had previously been intended in 1906 for a 62-story tower designed by Daniel H. Burnham, but the project had been postponed. When the Equitable’s previous headquarters, the Equitable Life Building, was destroyed by fire in 1912, the same site at 120 Broadway was chosen as the location for its new headquarters building. It was originally intended to be 40 stories high, but it was reduced by four floors on the advice of consulting engineer Charles Knox, who determined the lower height as being optimal for its elevators. The building is currently listed as 40 stories.

    How The Equitable Building Shaped The Modern New York City Skyline? 2

    When it was completed in 1915, the Equitable Building was the largest office building in the world, and an engineering marvel. The building had one problem: it was too big. Opponents were outraged at the unprecedented volume of the building, which cast a seven-acre (28,000 m2) shadow on the surrounding streets, casting a permanent shadow on the Singer Building up to its 27th floor, the City Investing Building up to its 24th floor, and completely cutting off sunshine to at least three other buildings shorter than 21 stories. Many New Yorkers reasoned that further construction of buildings like it would turn Manhattan into an unpleasant and dark maze of streets. Meanwhile, developers worried that a glut of these huge office buildings would hurt real estate values.

    At the time, New York had no laws restricting the size or height of office buildings. But as new technology was pushing skyscrapers like the Equitable Building to unprecedented scale, the outcry for regulation reached a breaking point.

    Then, something happened.

    The Equitable Building was one of the last, but most egregious, examples of the problems of unregulated development. Within a year a law was passed that effectively made skyscrapers like the Equitable Building impossible to build again. It was called the 1916 Zoning Resolution, and it was the first comprehensive zoning law in the United States.

    To be clear, the Equitable Building didn’t directly cause the 1916 Zoning Resolution. It was simply the ultimate scapegoat in a debate that had been heating up for years as new technology made skyscrapers bigger and bigger. Instead of enacting a fixed height limit, like other cities had done, the drafters of the resolution developed an ingenious plan based on something called a setback principle. Here’s how it worked.

    Depending on the district, a building’s height could not exceed a certain ratio to the width of the street. In a 1 1/2 district, for example, the maximum height was limited to 1 1/2 times the street width. A building could gain extra height, however, if it were set back from the street. In a 1 1/2 district a building could rise another three feet for each foot that it was set back from the street. Furthermore, in any district, 25% of the lot had no height limit at all.

    Working within these constraints, architects began to creatively conform designs in what became a characteristic style, starting full width at street level and tapering off in steps as it rose in height. And once you’re aware of it you start to see it throughout Manhattan. And the intended effect of making New York’s dense streets seem more open, for the most part actually works.

    The Zoning Resolution went beyond height limits too and thus further changed New York City skyline. It also set rules for how land could be used in specific areas of the city, such as prohibiting industrial work in residential or business districts. Around the same time, other American cities began to adopt similar zoning plans. Six years later, Congress passed a law based partly on New York City’s example as a blueprint for zoning nationwide. By the 1960s, New York had grown significantly, and so the city passed a new resolution modifying the setback principle to accommodate for new building designs.

    Equitable Building Today

    The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission made the Equitable Building a New York City landmark in 1996. Current tenants as of 2020 include the New York City Department of City Planning, Macmillan Publishers,ALMBeyer Blinder Belle, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

    Last summer, the two-year renovation of the building was completed. Amenities and upgrades for office tenants include bicycle storage with locker rooms and showers, new elevator cab finishes, new security turnstiles, and a fully refurbished lobby with the restored, vaulted ceilings.

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