Jon Barker

The Flatiron Building

The Flatiron building is located at 175 Fifth Avenue, Manhatten.  It was completed in 1902.  It's name derives from its similarity to a cast iron flat clothes iron.  It is designated a national historic land-mark.

It was designed by Chicago's Daniel Burnham as a vertical Renaissance palazzos with  Baux-Arts styling.

The penthouse which took the building to 21 floors was not part of the original plan.  It was constructed to be used for artist's studios and was quickly rented out to artists such as Louis Fancher.  Many of the artists contributed to the pulp magazines which were produced in the offices below.

The Flatiron Building has become an icon representative of New York City but not everyone thought well of it in times past. In particular, it was criticised for its awkwardness and the impracticality of the office space which was claimed to have too many windows and very little wall space for office furniture.

But others praised the building for its unique physical characteristics.

H. G. Wells wrote,

"I found myself agape, admiring a sky-scraper the prow of The Flatiron Building, to be particular, ploughing up through the traffic of Broadway and Fifth Avenue in the afternoon light."

The building has attracted the attention of numerous artists including the photographer Edward Steichen who famously photographed it on a wet wintry afternoon in 1904.     Another memorable image was taken by Alfred Stieglitz  the year before when the streets were covered in snow.  Stieglitz reflected on the dynamic symbolism of the building , noting that it"...appeared to be moving toward him like the bow of a monster ocean steamer - a picture of new America still in the making"' and remarked that what The Pantheon was to Athens, the Flatiron was to New York.

But decades later after it was completed others could still not come to terms with the building.  In 1939, sculptor William Odway Partridge remarked that it was " a disgrace to our city, an outrage to our sense of the artistic, and a menace to life."

Artist’s Note

I personally think that H. G.Wells and Alfred Stieglitz got it right. The building with it's unique position at the junction of 5th Avenue and East 23rd Street is a wonderfully inspiring land-mark which epitomises the bold ambitiousness of early 20th century New York architecture. Over a century after its construction it is for me still steaming through the New York traffic as it continues its voyage through time towards an ever new and changing America.

The Empire States Building

The Empire State Building is 102 floors high. It was completed in 1931 and was the worlds tallest building for 40 years.  With the antenna included it stands 443 meters high.  Following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers it again became New Yorks tallest building but has since been surpassed by the One World Trade Center.

It is generally considered to be an American cultural icon. It is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style and has been named as one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

It's distinctive Art Deco spire was originally intended to be a mooring mast and depot for airships.   The 102nd floor was originally a landing platform with airship gangplank.  However this proved to be impractical due to the powerful up drafts caused by the height of the building itself.

The construction  involved 3,400 workers and was completed ahead of schedule in just 15 months.  However,  its opening coincided with the Great Depression of the 30's and much of its office space was originally unrented.

The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as "The Empty State Building".

Sadly, over the years more than thirty people have committed suicide from the top of the building.  However, on December 2nd 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor only to be blown back onto the 5th floor by a gust of wind and left with just a broken hip.

The Empire State Building has one of the most popular outdoor observatories in the world, having been visited by over 110 million people.  It makes more money from ticket sales than from office rental to 1000 businesses.

It now features floodlights to illuminate the top of the building at night in colours which can be adjusted to reflect seasonal and other events.   After the death of Frank Sinatra it was bathed in Blue light to represent the singers nickname, "Ol Blue Eyes".  After the death of Actress Fay Way (from the film King Kong which famously featured the building) in late 2004, the building stood in complete darkness for 15 minutes.

Artist's Note

For me The Empire State Building is the very essence of New York.  When I think of New York commuters trudging through deep winter snow I always imagine the building emerging above the city landscape, beaconing them on as it were and imparting a feeling of timeless solidarity and a sense of security in what has become an increasingly fragile world.

Narrative, Backgound Research and Artist’s Dialogue