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Sky Scrapers

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



No one can deny that it is representative. The trouble is that it does not represent what is agreeable or inspiring. It represents, alas, New York. It represents the commercial spirit entirely overtopping the aesthetic and sanitary in general; and the religious and domestic, as manifested by the church and house to the left, in particular. In more senses than one it represents selfishness and greed, entirely throwing into the shade beauty, health, kindness, rationality, and safety. Were it possible for any artistic motive to appeal to our legislatures, they would pass laws enabling owners of churches and houses afflicted as are these at the left of this picture, to obtain from any one erecting a building like the tall one, damages of an amount to render its erection impossible. Beautiful building as it is, considered only in itself, it makes worse than wasted every penny ever expended for the purpose of giving the adjoining buildings architectural dignity or value.

Of course, nobody can imagine that our legislators will ever be influenced by aesthetic considerations. But they might be reached by other considerations. To say nothing of preventing risk to life through earthquake or conflagration in edifices, fireproof too often only in name, some law should be found to prevent robbing one's near neighbors of sunshine and health, as well as one's distant neighbors of real estate values, which a less grasping appropriation of fortunately situated lots would distribute more generally. In fact, the conditions are such that it would not be strange if, at no distant date, the practical and moral aspects of the subject, aside from the aesthetic, would so appeal to public sentiment that offices and hotels in these high buildings would be as much avoided as now they are sought.

It may be urged that high building cannot be prevented in this country, because it is free. But it is not free—for those who interfere with even the convenience, not to say the rights, of others. There is a law in certain states of Germany that no façade can be higher than the width of the street which it faces. Some such law passed in our own States, in order to secure health and safety, would do this not only, but probably attain also the desired aesthetic end. Architects, assured that no building could exceed a certain height, would be quite certain to prevent other buildings from overtopping their own, by seeing that theirs were carried up to the exact limits of possibility. Were this done, our streets would have a uniform sky-line. Meantime, while legislation falters, why should not the aesthetic considerations influence individuals? Why should not those interested in the development of new streets have introduced into the deeds sold a prescribed height beyond which façades should not be carried? Or, to enlarge the question, and this in a practical direction, why should not trustees of institutions of learning pass laws prescribing not only the sky-line, but the color and style of new buildings erected by benefactors. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XIX.

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