A stingy piece of pie

While looking for something else, I came across these photos from an old walk across New York City. I recalled that the sun had just set, and the best of the daylight was done. I wanted to cross 5th Avenue and get myself a little sundowner and a snack, but I waited. The Flatiron Building was an instant hit with some of the early greats of photography. Joseph Steiglitz and Edward Steichen. Who was I to break the tradition a hundred years later? I paused and took a few photos. First the crowds. Then a couple gave me the perfect ambush photo as the man fussed with his tripod and camera.

Tourists like them and me are drawn to this icon of a building. You already know a few stories when you see it: it was the first steel frame skyscraper in NYC, a floor went up each week, it had more than a thousand windows, it is a right angled triangle in plan, it was built without women’s toilets, it had hydraulic lifts, it was designed to withstand winds but created unpredictable gusts at street level, that critics hated it at first (“a stingy piece of pie”, “Burnham’s Folly”, and so on), but artists and foreigners loved it. Foreigners can see some things more clearly. It is now listed as one of New York’s Designated Landmarks.

The detailing of the facade caught my eye. This is a typical Chicago School building, predating the Bauhaus style towers elsewhere. The steel frame which gave it strength was spanned with clay tiles.The tiles are designed to give it what the architect, Daniel Burnham, called a Beaux Arts look. The visual differentiation between the bottom, middle, and top was supposed to give it the look of a Greek column. I’m not sure it succeeds. Today it seems to look forward to the future more than it looks back at the past.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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