Skyline Timeline

History of the New York City skyline comes alive in new exhibit

A new show at The Skyscraper Museum in New York City documents the rise of the city's skyline. Pictured: a 1932 view of midtown. (New York Public Library/Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum)

A new exhibit at The Skyscraper Museum in New York City traces the evolution of the city’s skyline from the 19th century to the present day and into plans for the future. With a mix of archival photography, interactive graphics, models, and drawings, the exhibit breaks down the skyline’s history into distinct eras and traces the various influences that have shaped the city.

In the exhibit, the history of the city’s buildings becomes a lens through which to view the history of the city, and even the country, as a whole. Technological innovations like the elevator and electric lighting are given form as buildings become radically taller and bigger, visible indications of radical changes in the way city dwellers lived. Other forces, like the rise of building setback codes and the later creation of privately-owned public spaces (POPS), are illustrated with detailed models and explanations of figures like Hugh Ferris and others who have permanently changed skyscraper design in New York and around the world.

Photo of the New York City skyline at 1902

The New York City skyline at 1902 (Irving Underhill, The Library of Congress/Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum)

Photo of the New York City skyline at 1999

The New York City skyline at 1999 (Richard Berenholtz/Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum)

Highlights of the show include extremely detailed photos from the early 20th century and panoramas that track the skyline’s evolution over more than a century.

Photo of the New York City skyline at 1876

The New York City skyline at 1876 (New York Public Library/Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum)

Historic photo of New York City

Detail view of the 1876 skyline with the still-under-construction Brooklyn Bridge on right (New York Public Library/Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum)

The exhibit shows how New York City, with a vertical cityscape unlike almost any other in the world, actually reflects global trends and innovations as much as it charts its own course.

Photographs in the show bring to life the city’s past as a mid-rise port for steamships and schooners in stunning detail. It’s almost possible to count the bricks on some 1876 views.

View of midtown Manhattan in 1975, after modernist curtainwall skyscrapers took over the city (Thomas O’Halloran/Courtesy The Skyscraper Museum)

The show follows the city into the glass-and-steel postwar period and charts the rise of new supertalls in midtown. Current and future projects are put into context by comparing them to the designs and technology of their predecessors. Without explicitly praising or criticizing any developments, the show presents change simply as an inevitable part of the life of the city.

Open through January 2019
The Skyscraper Museum
39 Battery Place
New York, New York, 10280

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