Forty plus years on, both New York and the impact of Delirious has changed irrevocably. Since the book's publication, "Manhattanism" has become the norm rather than the avant garde outlier, in America and everywhere else. Mixed use buildings and density are the hallmarks of contemporary buildings, and even one of the OMA partners call the typical office mixed-use offering "Bento Box Architecture". Moreover, New York has arguably become a victim of its own success. After forty years of almost nonstop growth, several recessions, and a pandemic, the model of "Manhattanism" has turned the once grungy, 1970's metropolis into a "boutique city", a more unequal and stratified palace of consumption, a playground for the wealthy. Post 1978, investor capitalism, the personal computer, the internet, and then globalization made New York fabulously successful. The city's architecture transformed along with the economy, with successive mega-urban redevelopment projects like Battery Park City, Time Square, World Trade Center, the High Line, Downtown Brooklyn, Billionaire's Row, and later Hudson Yards. In many ways, it can be read as the natural and inevitable outcome of "Manhattanism" - a nonstop consumption palace pushed to the extreme, which to its many critics (critics of capitalist corruption, or critics of liberal identity politics) can only lead to inevitable disaster or eventual decline.
While the pandemic appears to have proven critics right, with the city's economy in tatters and folks leaving in droves, these doomsayers are missing the point. Since the late 19th century, New York has been a hotbed of architectural and development innovations, shaped by changes in the economy and technology. From the newspaper barons of yesterday to today's tech titans, New York's power brokers have consistently reshaped the city to their own image, decade after decade. To isolate and chronicle New York's recent boom, and to negate developments prior to the 1970's, or to only understand New York architecture through the specific case studies of Delirious, would be a grave oversight. A longer view is necessary.
From the 1870's until today, New York architecture, specifically tall buildings, can be classified into seven distinct ages, lasting 10-20 years each, and corresponding roughly to the boom-and-bust business cycle. Each of these time periods corresponded to unique circumstances facing the city - a booming industrial population, the rise of automobiles, and even the growth of global capital today. They were grand structures built by companies and organizations who wielded the power of the day - steel magnates, insurance companies, consumer products, financial firms, and global investors. These players utilized architecture to project wealth and status, but also to make a bold and lasting statement on the New York skyline. The buildings were designed by the leading minds of their times and employed the most cutting-edge technology. While style, ideology, and construction methods may change over time, these facts remain the same.
Architecture as a Living History Textbook (Reading Architecture)
1870-1900: The Early Height Experiments
2011-Present: Rise of Superstar Architecture