Skyscrapers' summits: A chronological record of transformations in urban representation

Glan Blake Thomas
AET Flexiblespace, London

Understanding the skyscrapers' comprehensive meaning, beyond its mere economic and functional role in today’s society, is indispensable for the intelligibility of the contemporary metropolis. This can only be accomplished through an investigation of their contribution to visual culture and to the building of collective identity. The skyscraper’s summit or “crown” illustrates the interaction between the economic and political forces that produce these structures, their design process, and the permanent renovation of their exterior skin+ observatories. It does this by using emerging technological devices and their reception by different categories of users/viewers. As is the case for the Empire State Building, 70% of the mixed use and office skyscrapers gain their economic revenue and fame from their observatories. Such a shift symbolises and reflects wider transformations of many cities from landscapes of production to centers of consumption and leisure. The emergence of these observation decks and of “sky leisure” can be read as a discourse, which can be analyzed as a series of dialogical texts, representing an interaction between architecture, history and geography. The presentation aims to construct a new theoretical model of the representation of the skyline and to define a typology of skyscrapers built during the last 50 years that continue to reshape the visual culture and experience according to their summits and the potential changes. The central question in crafting this framework and typology is identifying, what strategies and tactics come together to influence the shape of skyscrapers’ summits and what insights does this reveal concerning the urban landscape?

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