Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Strangest Building on an Island of Strange Buildings

Last night, we ventured downtown for a New Years Eve party in TriBeCa. On our way there, we passed a building on Worth Street that gets stranger with each viewing: The windowless, 500-foot monolith that is the AT&T Long Lines Building.

You could write a little narrative about this building, but its nature is best communicated through bullet points of architectural weirdness.

  • Completed in 1974, it is 551 feet tall — but has only 29 floors. Inside, each hidden story is more than 18 feet tall. ( statistics)

  • As you probably guessed, the building is a giant telecommunications hub filled to the brim with telecommunications equipment.

  • The building is assymetrical. The original design plan was for the building to extend for another full city block. (Great pictures of the building @
From this great message board thread concerning the building come other gems:

  • "At the time it was built, telephone equipment generated much more heat, and the building heating system was designed to capture the heat and store it in salt banks, to be released when needed. With modern equipment generating less heat, and no sunlight - the place was always cold and gloomy."

  • Though largely an uninhabited router and switch farm today, hundreds of people used to work inside this Lego.

    "The absence of people inside is a consequence of technology, but that is not the reason they were built windowless. When constructed 1960-1970, hundreds of people worked in each."

    (Each, because the AT&T Switching Center @ 10th Avenue & 53rd street is another windowless building — 370 vertical feet of uninterrupted granite.)

It's a little surprising to me that this building could be built, even in era hostage to Cold War paranoia.

Today, the public's reaction to the 200-foot windowless pedestal at the base of the to-be-built Freedom Tower has been largely negative — but that chunk of rock will be sheathed in glass, set back from the street. Here, you have a mass of a building that positively looms over the diminutive Worth Street.

Google satellite image of AT&T Long Lines Building

Like strange architecture? Visit Pyongyang. I hear it's beautiful in January.


TC said...

You just solved a HUGE mystery for me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a strange idea that simply encasing a monolith in glass would somehow make it more acceptable?

I guess it would blend better into the skyline, becoming more anonymous, but the nature of the structure would still be unchanged. No matter what they do with it, it's still a HUGE building in the middle of a still pretty lo-rise neighborhood.

Andy said...

I won't claim to know THING 1 about architecture, but I somehow doubt that surrounding the tower's pedestal in glass will render it anonymous, just another spike in the New York skyline.

The strangest thing that my friend – who, mind you, lives nearly across the street from the AT&T Long Lines Building – said when I started talking to her about this structure: I had never noticed it before.

Really? You never noticed the 500-foot slab of granite near the stop light?

She never noticed it because she had a form of inattentional blindness regarding the building. It didn't merit her attention so she didn't even see it.

No matter how the Freedom Tower (Can we go ahead and rename it now?) is constructed, I don't think that New Yorkers and tourists will suffer too much inattention blindness regarding its presence. At least, they won't until the reason for the structure's construction fades to a greater degree from the collective memory.