The technology of urban verticality: Part 11, *Live* television

August 22, 2017 | cement, Cities, Electricity, Elevators, Housing, Infrastructure, Innovation, plumbing, Rome, Sanitation, Speculation, Technology, telephone, television, Theory, Toilets, Verticality | No comments 39 views

 

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.]

 

As we saw in the previous Part 10, the arrival of television ‘de-socialized’ the consumption of news and entertainment.  Before television, people had a shared experience of news and entertainment – the big theater, the newsreel, and the three-reeler – that led to a socialized and homogenized view of both politics/ events and culture.  With entertainment and news socialized, the home was a place for family-level entertainment – actual face-to-face conversation, and though it was before my time, likely the topics were familial, the information unavailable through the newsreels or the movies.

Gee, mom, we never run out of things to say about soup and sandwiches, do we?

 

After television, people could both differentiate their experiences of news and entertainment and they could consume those experiences in private, or at least within the privacy of the family.

Although shifting to private news/ entertainment did not boost urbanization, it removed the social/ cultural drawback of entertainment, and it therefore relatively advantaged the city. 

 

Nevertheless, what changed urban America forever – in fact, it changed forever America and the wider world – was television’s ‘killer app’ (excuse the expression): its ability to bring the news right into your living room, as demonstrated twice in the 1960’s, first with the assassination of John F. Kennedy:

 

Television’s coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and of the events that followed, provided further evidence of the medium’s power.

 

Though few saw the assassination itself, many saw Walter Cronkite report the president’s death:

 

The power of television: immediate emotional connection

 

As immediate as were those stories, television’s real power came two days later, when the President’s assassin was himself assassinated on live TV:

 

A new form of media: reality television in your living room

 

Most Americans joined in watching coverage of the shocking and tragic events, not as crowds in the streets, but from their own living rooms.

 

Bringing the world’s events, the world’s entertainment, and the world’s violence into the house opened a Pandora’s Box: no longer would the home be a place that purely soothed. 

So don’t wait up for me

 

By 1965, Tom Lehrer had captured the doublethink in his parody folk song for World War III:

 

So long, mom!
I’m off to drop the Bomb
So don’t wait up for me
But while you swelter
Down there in your shelter
You can see me
On your TV

 

Good night, Chet; good night, David; let’s hope America is here in the morning

While we’re attacking frontally
Watch Brink-ally and Hunt-ally
Describing contrapuntally
The cities we have lost
No need for you to miss a minute
Of the agonizing holocaust!

 

A few years later, the networks broadcast the urban riots, and then on August 28, 1968 it all came together in the biggest piece of violent performance art the world had even seen.  The protesters lost the riot –

 

“The whole world is watching!  The whole world is watching!”

 

– but, having a better sense of asymmetric warfare than the police, they won the news cycle:

 

Gore Vidal and Paul Newman, Democratic delegates

 

I find the above picture extraordinary, because for that one moment Paul Newman – at the height of his career, arguably the world’s most recognizable actor – is not acting; he is agape at what he is seeing, something he would never have been able to see without television.

 

Sources used in this post series

 

Arthur Pound, “Of Mills and Markets”, 1926, cited here; teal font)

Steel-framed buildings in Britain, 1880-1905 (1998); Alastair Jackson; rustoleum font)

History of Television by Mitchell Stephens (~2000; color-TV gray font)

Life before artificial light, Guardian (October 31, 2009; methane-blue font)

Sarah Woodbury, the invention of the chimney (December 15, 2011; creosote brown font)

Mike Rendell, Georgian Gentleman (February 13, 2012; coprophagic brown font)

The secrets of ancient Roman concrete (June 21, 2013; galvanized zinc font)

Elevators, the vertical utility (April 1, 2014; 5 parts; mud brown font)

Tesla v. Edison: Who was the better inventor? (July 20, 2014; pearl-gray spats font)

The father of the fireplace insert – Benjamin Franklin (brick red font)

Sewer history, Toilets, earth closets, and house plumbing (undated)

 

In the Fifties, my generation’s parents made out at the drive-in; in the Seventies, they made love without turning off Johnny Carson; by the Nineties, they were falling asleep to Carson best-of on videocassette.

 

Over the ensuing four decades, television killed the dining room, and in its stead arose the home theater.

 

Why on earth would everybody sit around a table like that?

 

First floor, sixtieth floor – what difference does it make?

 

Television brought immediacy and interactivity through a convenient personally controlled portal, and it brought one other thing: discreet (or even private) choice, so compared with other pre-television media, it offered an unbeatable value proposition:

 

 

That’s my table, whose research consisted of me typing it up, so it’s grossly generalized and unproven … but as I’m not gunning for either a doctorate or tenure, I can publish whatever I like without qualifiers or proof statements. 

 

AHI’s housing technology series

 

March 14, 2006: The earliest apartments, Roman insulae

April 14, 2006: The evolving modern home

April 28, 2006: The cradle of apartment living: New York City

August 13, 2007: Cities and scale, 3 parts

March 25, 2008: The economics of water, 7 parts

June 19, 2008: Urbanizing requires formalization, 2 parts

March 20, 2009: When and where modern housing was born

April 5, 2010: Preaching the gospel of water infrastructure, 2 parts

April 20, 2011: The high-rise’s mahout

January 28, 2013: Grandma in a can?

July 20, 2013: The new urbanism of Tiny Tower

April 1, 2014: Elevators, the vertical utility, 7 parts

August 4, 2014: Vertically obsolete?, 3 parts

February 17, 2015: Form forces function, 8 parts

April 15, 2015: A tale of two cities (Chicago), 12 parts

June 20, 2016: Pre-municipal cities, four typologies, 10 parts

December 5, 2016: The first housing commissioner, 10 parts

 

In any case, the potency of television’s value proposition has consistently shown over the last half century, because despite its smaller screen, blurry image, and often tinny sound:

 

1.     Television reoriented the family’s evening away from each other and toward its beaming glow.

2.     It redefined cooking, leading first to the TV dinner and then giving ubiquity to the microwave.

3.     It doomed the dining room.

With television, the windowless room became not a core utility space but also a place for privately viewing the entire world, and so hypnotic is it that it’s penetrated that other awkward closed social space, the elevator.

 

The fusion of two vertical technologies: television in elevator

 

Which brings us, more or less, to the final technology disruption, yet another one that on its face would collapse the vertical value proposition.

 

Hey, pay attention, I’m blogging about you!

 

[Continued in Part 12.]

The technology of urban verticality: Part 10, Television

August 21, 2017 | cement, Cities, Electricity, Elevators, Housing, Infrastructure, Innovation, plumbing, Rome, Sanitation, Speculation, Technology, telephone, Theory, Toilets, Verticality | No comments 47 views

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.]

 

Approaching the end of this lengthy and tardy exploration of the dozen technological inventions that have made possible the urban verticality which has been remaking human society for a century, faithful readers have by now doubtless deduced that long thesis-oriented posts like this one take actual research.

 

[That’s something reporters used to do in journalism. – Ed.]

 

By its nature, research is open-ended – if you know that what you’re looking for exists, it’s not research, it’s just reference-checking.

 

Blogger testing hypothesis

 

When I came to the next technological innovation, I was morally certain it was critical to urban verticality, and the better part of a day disappeared as I searched to confirm my instinct, and to explain it, as Popular Mechanics made its motto in 1930,

 

Written so you can understand it

 

 

11.       Television (1927, Philo Farnsworth)

 

I mean you no harm: Felix the Cat, the 2” inch broadcast image in 1928

 

Of course television proved to be a revolutionary invention with impact across virtually the entire human spectrum, but in this essay I am isolating television’s impact on urban living and claiming that in fact it is also integral to urban verticality.  Without television, living in high-rises would have appealed only to the upper crust — those so rich they could bring the entire world to themselves; with television, those who lived in aerie splendor could also have the world’s information at their fingertips and eyeballs.

 

But who watches the watchmen?

 

As we saw in earlier parts, when electricity snaked its way through the I-beam-supported walls of elevator-accessed skyscrapers, it brought the telephone, and that not only enabled the consolidation of coast-to-coast enterprises, it also dramatically increased the reach of a single executive (be he newspaper publisher, oil tycoon, or global financier). 

 

Sources used in this post series

 

Arthur Pound, “Of Mills and Markets”, 1926, cited here; teal font)

Steel-framed buildings in Britain, 1880-1905 (1998); Alastair Jackson; rustoleum font)

History of Television by Mitchell Stephens (~2000; color-TV gray font)

Life before artificial light, Guardian (October 31, 2009; methane-blue font)

Sarah Woodbury, the invention of the chimney (December 15, 2011; creosote brown font)

Mike Rendell, Georgian Gentleman (February 13, 2012; coprophagic brown font)

The secrets of ancient Roman concrete (June 21, 2013; galvanized zinc font)

Elevators, the vertical utility (April 1, 2014; 5 parts; mud brown font)

Tesla v. Edison: Who was the better inventor? (July 20, 2014; pearl-gray spats font)

The father of the fireplace insert – Benjamin Franklin (brick red font)

Sewer history, Toilets, earth closets, and house plumbing (undated)

 

The skyscraper and the concentration of information-managerial capacity embodied within it made possible the world’s first truly capitalist billionaires – men who made their money not by armed conquest but by invention, patent, capital accumulation, and monopolistically value added.

 

I bestride the board, I bestride the office, I bestride the nation

 

Though they eventually became residential as well, those skyscrapers were built for office work, and while people would live in them, if you weren’t a multimillionaire able to afford great art on the walls, what was the appeal?

 

Rockefeller’s penthouse living room, 1930s: see anything missing?

 

“Tune in next week, for another adventure of Dick Tracy”

 

Meanwhile, for residential living, radio was a limited medium, and people wanted visual spectacles.  During the days, they flocked to the ballgame (during the days) and  movie theater – every town had one, few towns had more than two – for immersive entertainment, the short feature before it (something for the children), and in between the newsreels.

 

A one-reeler, and the same reel from coast to coast

 

So starved was the American public for movie story entertainment that moviegoers would return week after week, even if the same film were playing.

 

Every week we say the same glamorous things, and every week the same people hear us say them

 

Between the two world wars, movies became the dominant form of American entertainment, and I think their social impact was profound.  Aside from movies being sociable (everyone experienced the same entertainment at the same time), movies were and are suburban – to see them, you left your house, and as long as you were journeying to the theater, there was little premium for verticality. 

 

AHI’s housing technology series

 

March 14, 2006: The earliest apartments, Roman insulae

April 14, 2006: The evolving modern home

April 28, 2006: The cradle of apartment living: New York City

August 13, 2007: Cities and scale, 3 parts

March 25, 2008: The economics of water, 7 parts

June 19, 2008: Urbanizing requires formalization, 2 parts

March 20, 2009: When and where modern housing was born

April 5, 2010: Preaching the gospel of water infrastructure, 2 parts

April 20, 2011: The high-rise’s mahout

January 28, 2013: Grandma in a can?

July 20, 2013: The new urbanism of Tiny Tower

April 1, 2014: Elevators, the vertical utility, 7 parts

August 4, 2014: Vertically obsolete?, 3 parts

February 17, 2015: Form forces function, 8 parts

April 15, 2015: A tale of two cities (Chicago), 12 parts

June 20, 2016: Pre-municipal cities, four typologies, 10 parts

December 5, 2016: The first housing commissioner, 10 parts

 

[Movies reached their ultimate suburban expression with the 1933 invention of the drive-in, and flourished for nearly three decades, though for at least half that interval, the value proposition was less the bright huge public image and more the private physical story you and your carmate were frantically telling each other. – Ed.]

 

At the drive IN, we make OUT

 

Enter the next innovation, one that brought the cinema, the newsreel, and the baseball stadium to the comfort of your own sofa.

 

Instead of looking at each other, now we look out at total strangers whom we think we know

 

Unlike some of the other technological innovations that have created our vertical urban world, television was invented well before it became widely embraced:

 

Electronic television was first successfully demonstrated in San Francisco on Sept. 7, 1927. The system was designed by Philo Taylor Farnsworth, a 21-year-old inventor who had lived in a house without electricity until he was 14.  Farnsworth’s invention, which scanned images with a beam of electrons, is the direct ancestor of modern television.

 

Pretty soon you’ll be using this to print money

 

The first image he transmitted on it was a simple line. Soon he aimed his primitive camera at a dollar sign because an investor had asked, “When are we going to see some dollars in this thing, Farnsworth?”

 

Whereas electricity and the telephone created immediate demand, television’s was slower to arrive, because it was a medium that lacked content, the receiver sets were expensive, and the initial image quality was pretty dreadful:

 

In 1939 RCA paid for a license to use Farnsworth’s television patents. RCA began selling television sets with 5 by 12 in (12.7 by 25.4 cm) picture tubes.

 

The company also began broadcasting regular programs, including scenes captured by a mobile unit and, on May 17, 1939, the first televised baseball game — between Princeton and Columbia universities.

 

By 1941 the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), RCA’s main competition in radio, was broadcasting two 15-minute newscasts a day to a tiny audience on its New York television station.

 

Then the war intervened, and technological and engineering creativity were directed into saving the world, so the rollout of television slowed:

 

Six experimental television stations remained on the air during the war: one each in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Schenectady, N.Y., and two in New York City. Full-scale commercial television broadcasting did not begin in the United States until 1947; before then, the number of US homes with television sets could be measured in the thousands.

 

A network of networks that spread slowly

 

With the end of World War II, however, television boomed:

 

The number of television sets in use rose from 6,000 in 1946 to some 12 million by 1951.  No new invention entered American homes faster than black and white television sets; by 1955 half of all US homes had one.

 

[I entered the American home in 1953, and though cannot pinpoint my earliest memory, I was actually on Rex Trailer’s Boomtown (probably about 1959), because I had a signed photo of myself in my cowboy suit standing next to Rex. – Ed.]

 

The towhead at far left could just possibly be me

 

Television immediately redefined the family evening experience: instead of conversing at the dining room table, the family now gathered around their personal theater, watching and eating via separate compartments of their brains.

 

“Not tonight, dear, I’ve got a haddock”

 

As such, television became the automatic regulator of our daily domestic rhythms:

 

In 1954, the Toledo, Ohio water commissioner reported that water consumption surged at certain times because so many people were simultaneously using their toilets during commercial breaks on the most popular shows.

 

Yet even these changes, revolutionary as they were, were as nothing to television’s ultimate use, which we discovered only in the 1960’s.

 

[Continued in Part 11.]

 

The technology of urban verticality: Part 9, I-beam steel

August 11, 2017 | cement, Cities, Electricity, Elevators, Housing, Infrastructure, Innovation, plumbing, Rome, Sanitation, Speculation, Technology, telephone, Theory, Toilets, Verticality | No comments 55 views

 

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.]

 

As the previous three parts established, in rapid succession the elevator, the telephone, and electricity on demand accelerated the economic benefits of information-based urbanization and the rise of ever-larger companies, governments, and personal fortunes – and for the first time in history (I think), these new fortunes were urban byproducts. 

 

There’s money in cities, money in technology, money in consolidation

 

Before 1850, money was made chiefly from land, agricultural or agricultural rents.  Land was owned by familial inheritance, by sovereign grant, or by conquest.  When it became possible for a man in a city to become rich from his own efforts, the whole ethos of society changed. 

 

Pickwick: pre-urbanized picaresque

 

[Now that I reflect on it, perhaps the social disruption wrought by the rise of urban wealth creation lies at the heart of Dickens’ work, because after his earlier lightweight works (Sketches by Boz, Pickwick Papers), his major novels concern urbanization and what Dickens consistently portrays as the immorality of the randomness of wealth and poverty being disconnected from character: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Dombey and Son, and Little Dorrit all deal with the dynamics of urban wealth and its disruptive effects on what to Dickens was the purer motivation of his country characters. – Ed.]

 

 

Scale and leverage – of energy, people’s labor and initiative, and capital – favored cities as nerve, power, and money hubs, and that meant a great prize was waiting for those who could build up into the sky, using a revolutionary new form of construction: integrated framed construction using the new miracle material, steel.

 

 

Sources used in this post series

 

Arthur Pound, “Of Mills and Markets”, 1926, cited here; teal font)

Development of steel-framed buildings in Britain, 1880-1905 (1998); Alastair Jackson;  rustoleum font)

Life before artificial light, Guardian (October 31, 2009; methane-blue font)

Sarah Woodbury, the invention of the chimney (December 15, 2011; creosote brown font)

Mike Rendell, Georgian Gentleman (February 13, 2012; coprophagic brown font)

The secrets of ancient Roman concrete (June 21, 2013; galvanized zinc font)

Elevators, the vertical utility (April 1, 2014; 5 parts; mud brown font)

Tesla v. Edison: Who was the better inventor? (July 20, 2014; pearl-gray spats font)

The father of the fireplace insert – Benjamin Franklin (brick red font)

Sewer history, Toilets, earth closets, and house plumbing (undated)

 

 

10.       I-beam steel and curtain wall construction (1890)

 

As my guide to steel-frame construction I have adopted Alastair Jackson, an architect whose article in Construction History (Volume 14, 1998), Development of steel-framed buildings in Britain, 1880-1905, though not being optioned by Steven Spielberg or Angelina Jolie, nevertheless provides an outstanding guide to the disruptive effect, first in engineering and building verticality, and then to architectural sensibilities, starting with the new form of construction it enabled:

 

My definition is as follows: A steel-framed building consists of a framework of primary vertical and horizontal steel members connected to provide full resistance to static, live, and dynamic and environmental forces.” 

 

The principal difference from earlier buildings is the use of continuous stanchions for the full heights of buildings, butted and spliced as necessary.  The connections to the columns should utilize bolts or rivets in shear, either through a scaling bracket or directly through a web connection, and should have some moment carrying capacity.

 

Ubiquitous today, revolutionary at the time

 

In architectural terms, steel is a miracle material: for its strength it is lightweight, it can be shaped to suit, has enormous tensile strength when shaped, and when bolted or riveted together, it can form continuous beams without inherent structural weaknesses.

 

In such a structure the role of masonry can, but does not have to be, reduced to non-loadbearing status. 

 

Is your name Bessemer, by any chance?

 

Once you can bend steel to any shape you want, no more need for arches; and once you no longer need masonry to bear load, then building structures become much lighter, bye-bye flying buttresses – internal bracing can hold the building together in constructive tension.

 

A whole new way of creating space in the sky

 

Steel’s structural potential took several decades in arriving, it was a widely-anticipated widely anticipated breakthrough:

 

A magic pot for a magic metal

 

The use of steel for structural purposes was initially slow. The Bessemer process in 1855 made steel production more efficient, and cheap steels, which had high tensile and compressive strengths plus good ductility were available from about 1870, but wrought and cast iron continued to satisfy most of the demand for iron-based building products, due mainly to problems of producing steel from alkaline ores. These problems, caused principally by the presence of phosphorus, were solved by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas in 1879.

 

But the economic pressure was there.  As I wrote in my post on elevators:

 

Reversing the polarity of the economic proposition created an engineering challenge to build as high as physics would allow.

 

To many definitions of cities we can add yet another one: A city is a location where the network effects of infrastructure become magnetic – the value of incremental hookups outweighs the cost of extending the network to accommodate.

 

The development of the railways was one of the main driving forces behind the introduction of steel in various forms.  There were strong links between the railway and steel construction industries, not only in the demand for steel, for rails and locomotives, but also in infrastructure development – particularly bridges, stations, and warehouses. 

 

Those infrastructure network effects were heightened by the Gilded Age’s discovery of the natural monopoly power of railroads, oil companies, and for a time even mega-banking, where there was a race to build out and dominate the network.

 

[Lest you think those days are behind us, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Uber would like you to keep thinking that breakthrough network-effect technologies are just a thing of the past.  – Ed.]

 

Portrait of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com

No, Jeff, we need a natural laugh

 

The roots of the [architectural] debate [over the building structural potential of steel] predate Bessemer. 

 

Having discovered John Ruskin relatively late in life, I have come to dislike him enormously, though I can’t pinpoint why.  Perhaps it’s his narcissism, his ceaseless self-satisfied grandiloquence, or his elevation of esthetics to moral certainties, all of which are in display on this epically pompous pronouncement:

 

In 1849 Ruskin had written “true architecture does not admit iron as a construction material.” 

 

Nor is this simply a throwaway: Ruskin then goes on at some length before allowing iron back among the building elements, if only in the most proletarian role: “metals may be used as a cement, but not as a support.”  Though this technological provincialism makes you want to sock him, it would be irrelevant, except that when building construction is hobbled by esthetics at the expense of functionality (cf. the Athens Charter crowd and Brutalism), humanity suffers and all because some in the upper crust denigrate striving if it is not artful by aristocratic standards:

 

Architects attached importance to truth and morality in their work. 

 

Truth is a building that survives a fire or an earthquake.  Morality is a roof that doesn’t leak.

 

It is fair to say this is not a great issue with most engineers, who were not concerned with the conceptual design of ordinary buildings. 

 

So the engineers, unworried by the architects’ concerns over truth and morality, simply kept improving the processes to make steel:

 

Serious problems caused by phosphorus in the iron ore were solved eventually by Gilchrist Thomas in 1879. 

 

An engineering breakthrough at 29: Sidney Gilchrist Thomas

 

In 1880 there were two papers about steel at RIBA – by J. A. Picton and Professor A. W. B. Kennedy.  These demonstrated that the architecture profession was alive to the issues posed by steel at the earliest stages of its commercial introduction.

 

Ah, yes, architectural papers, where good ideas can be discussed hypothetically.  While these were being discussed, the engineers were building:

 

Sir William Arrol completed the Forth Bridge in 1890.

 

Some might call it beautiful; all would call it functional

 

At a further stage in the debate, the design of Tower Bridge, completed in 1894 [Also by Arrol – Ed.] and still esthetically controversial today, incensed some of the architectural profession because of the way its masonry towers conceal steel frame construction. 

 

Made to look old to appease the aristocrats

 

H. H. Statham refused to show it in The Builder.

 

The Builder was first published in 1843 and continues today, though in a nod to modernity its name was changed to Building in 1966.

 

Although the steel framed building was superficially similar to earlier framed buildings constructed using cast and wrought iron, it was in fact radically different in terms of its structural functioning.  Introducing steel into buildings [resulted in using] continuous columns, extending for more than one storey.  This ended the long tradition of constructing buildings floor by floor.  The design of the joints between columns and floors changed significantly as a result.

 

Once the capitalists realized that steel would let them build tall, they gave the engineers their building orders:

 

In the United States, the first steel framed building was the Rand McNally Building in Chicago, erected in 1890.

 

The first of its kind

 

Remarkably, the world’s first steel-frame building lasted only 22 years, when it was demolished, vertically obsolete, and a taller building put on the site – a building that today one has difficulty pinpointing from Google Street View because it is surrounded by even taller and newer buildings.

 

 

AHI’s housing technology series

 

March 14, 2006: The earliest apartments, Roman insulae

April 14, 2006: The evolving modern home

April 28, 2006: The cradle of apartment living: New York City

August 13, 2007: Cities and scale, 3 parts

March 25, 2008: The economics of water, 7 parts

June 19, 2008: Urbanizing requires formalization, 2 parts

March 20, 2009: When and where modern housing was born

April 5, 2010: Preaching the gospel of water infrastructure, 2 parts

April 20, 2011: The high-rise’s mahout

January 28, 2013: Grandma in a can?

July 20, 2013: The new urbanism of Tiny Tower

April 1, 2014: Elevators, the vertical utility, 7 parts

August 4, 2014: Vertically obsolete?, 3 parts

February 17, 2015: Form forces function, 8 parts

April 15, 2015: A tale of two cities (Chicago), 12 parts

June 20, 2016: Pre-municipal cities, four typologies, 10 parts

December 5, 2016: The first housing commissioner, 10 parts

 

Together the telephone, electricity on demand, and I-beam streel-frame construction had an effect on urbanization nothing short of extraordinary (and without precedent before or since).  As I wrote in Part 3 of my post on elevators:

 

In the 1890s, as Bernard recounts in his book, the tallest building in the world was the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago;

 

Tallest building in the world … for a while.

 

By 1913, when hydraulic elevators had been replaced with much speedier and more efficient electrical ones, it was the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York.

 

Tallest building in the world, 1913

 

As J. A. Picton foresaw in 1880:

 

“Science has put within our reach a new constructive element, so to speak, of which the engineer has hitherto almost enjoyed the monopoly.  Let the architect put in his claim.  The material is plastic and ready to take any form that genius and taste may suggest, and in this way the motto which should characterize all true architecture, ‘Strength, commodity, and beauty,’ may be fully realized.”

 

From the Woolworth Building, you can see the future

 

Once the office buildings had skyrocketed, it was only a short while before the residences followed them up into the sky, not because people absolutely wanted to live that high up, but rather because going up gave the shortest commute. 

 

[Continued in Part 10.]

The technology of urban verticality: Part 8, Electricity on demand

August 9, 2017 | cement, Cities, Electricity, Housing, Infrastructure, Innovation, plumbing, Rome, Sanitation, Speculation, Technology, telephone, Theory, Toilets, Verticality | No comments 71 views

 

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.]

 

The previous Part 7, an intermezzo in our introduction of technological advances, established that the telephone so disrupted the business of business as to impel, in very short order, massive scale increases in:

 

With all the bustle, the noisiest city on earth: New York banner, 1905

 

·         Centralization of enterprise.

·         Consolidation of enterprise.

·         Capitalization of enterprise.

·         Construction density and verticalization to accommodate enterprise.

 

All these changes made America much wealthier but they were economically, politically and socially disruptive – and they all created unstoppable pressure for the next technological breakthrough: electricity on demand.

 

 

9.         Electricity (1881, Thomas Edison)

 

Young man in an inventing hurry: Thomas Edison, 1880

 

While Edison didn’t invent everything, nor even everything to do with electricity, he invented and patented so many devices of components of things that no person has a better claim to be the principal founder of modern cities, because he more than anyone else brought electricity on demand to the property and then up into the sky.

 

Edison’s carbon filament light bulb patent, 1880

 

The new system by inventor Thomas Edison was designed to function similar to gas lighting. For reasons of safety and simplicity it used direct current (DC) at a relatively low 110 volts to light incandescent light bulbs. Voltage in wires steadily declines as distance increases, and at this low voltage power plants needed to be within about 1 mile (1.6 km) of the lamps.

 

Edison’s generator patent, 1881

 

That was anti-scale, and though Edison worked it indefatigably, he was never able to crack it.

 

This voltage drop problem made DC distribution relatively expensive and gas lighting retained widespread usage with new buildings sometimes constructed with dual systems of gas piping and electrical wiring connected to each room, to diversify the power sources for lighting.

 

Edison wasn’t the sole inventor of wired on-demand power, and during the 1880’s he and Nikola Tesla “waged a ‘War of Currents’ in the 1880s over whose electrical system would power the world — Tesla’s alternating-current (AC) system or Edison’s rival direct-current (DC) electric power.”

 

Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant

 

Niagara Falls’ electricity-generating turbines

 

The plant plaque listing Tesla’s patents

 

Alternating current proved the winner:

 

The development of new alternating current power transmission systems in the 1880s/1890s by companies such as Ganz and AEG in Europe and Westinghouse Electric and Thomson-Houston in the US solved the voltage and distance problem by using high transmission line voltages, and transformers to drop the voltage for distribution for indoor lighting. Alternating current technology overcame many of the limitations of direct current, enabling the rapid growth of reliable, low-cost electrical power networks which finally spelled the end of widespread usage of gas lighting.

 

Though Tesla has recently gained fame as the foremost proponent of alternating current, nobody could see the future, even those in the best position to do so:

 

In the end, the money chose the companies, if not the technology

 

Unfortunately, Tesla’s grand scheme failed when his financial backer, J.P. Morgan, became fed up with years of failure.

 

“I don’t care that they stole my idea – I care that they don’t have any of their own.”

Nikola Tesla, late in life

 

 

Sources used in this post series

 

Arthur Pound, “Of Mills and Markets”, 1926, cited here; teal font)

Life before artificial light, Guardian (October 31, 2009; methane-blue font)

Sarah Woodbury, the invention of the chimney (December 15, 2011; creosote brown font)

Mike Rendell, Georgian Gentleman (February 13, 2012; coprophagic brown font)

The secrets of ancient Roman concrete (June 21, 2013; galvanized zinc font)

Elevators, the vertical utility (April 1, 2014; 5 parts; mud brown font)

Tesla v. Edison: Who was the better inventor? (July 20, 2014; mumble font)

The father of the fireplace insert – Benjamin Franklin (brick red font)

Sewer history, Toilets, earth closets, and house plumbing (undated)

 

Within a few years, the power grid arrived in the 1890’s, and as soon as it did, everything that gas lighting had done, electric lighting did better: cheaper to install, safer, more controllable. 

 

“No you can’t.”  “Yes I can.”  “No you can’t!“  “Yes I can, yes I can, yes I can

 

As a result, electricity’s birth was gas lighting’s death knell:

 

In the early 20th century, most cities in North America and Europe had gaslit streets. However, around 1880 gas lighting for streets began giving way to high voltage (3,000 to 6,000 volt) direct current and alternating current arc lighting systems. This time period also saw the development of the first electric power utility designed for indoor use.

 

Aided and abetted by the telephone, electricity remade the urban environment, because between the two of them, management could centralize and capital could rapidly and flexibly deploy, and with that New York City leaped ahead of other US cities to become the nation’s dominant metropolis:

 

We’re the boss city, we do what we like

 

Modern cities are so dependent on electricity that when the power goes out, our lives are put in suspense or worse:

 

The night the lights went out in six states

 

The stuff of horror movies?

 

When almost all of the infrastructure goes out

 

The proliferating wired networks that brought light and voice everywhere in America not only required huge sums of long-term capital but also created the same network-effect benefits we saw before with water and sewer, but also accelerated the rate of urban growth via annexation (both Chicago and New York).  After a half a century of this, America emerged into the early twentieth century with behemoth corporations and behemoth cities, and the two then did legal-political battle:

 

During World War I, the government nationalized telephone and telegraph lines in the United States from June 1918 to July 1919, when, after a joint resolution of Congress, President Wilson issued an order putting them under the direction of the U.S. Post Office.

 

A year later, the systems were returned to private ownership, and AT&T resumed its monopolistic hold.

 

By 1934 [The Depression and Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ – Ed.], the government again acted, this time agreeing to allow it to operate as a “regulated monopoly” under the jurisdiction of the FCC.

 

As I’ve written before, catastrophe is a precondition to fundamental financial reform, and doubtless the patrician-turned-philosopher-President Roosevelt saw an unholy alliance between big business, big technology, and big banking, an

 

AHI’s housing technology series

 

March 14, 2006: The earliest apartments, Roman insulae

April 14, 2006: The evolving modern home

April 28, 2006: The cradle of apartment living: New York City

August 13, 2007: Cities and scale, 3 parts

March 25, 2008: The economics of water, 7 parts

June 19, 2008: Urbanizing requires formalization, 2 parts

March 20, 2009: When and where modern housing was born

April 5, 2010: Preaching the gospel of water infrastructure, 2 parts

April 20, 2011: The high-rise’s mahout

January 28, 2013: Grandma in a can?

July 20, 2013: The new urbanism of Tiny Tower

April 1, 2014: Elevators, the vertical utility, 7 parts

August 4, 2014: Vertically obsolete?, 3 parts

February 17, 2015: Form forces function, 8 parts

April 15, 2015: A tale of two cities (Chicago), 12 parts

June 20, 2016: Pre-municipal cities, four typologies, 10 parts

December 5, 2016: The first housing commissioner, 10 parts

 

Now, as money and communications powered the economics of developing the sky, nothing held back the verticalization of cities but the physics and engineering of going ever upward. 

 

Champions of the Charleston dance competition, 1927

 

The stage was set for the next technological breakthrough.

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 9.]

The technology of urban verticality: Part 7, The inescapability of vertical wiring

August 7, 2017 | cement, Cities, Electricity, Elevators, Housing, Infrastructure, Innovation, plumbing, Rome, Sanitation, Speculation, Technology, telephone, Theory, Toilets, Verticality | No comments 62 views

 

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.]

 

As we saw in the preceding Part 6, the telephone was a seismic-event invention, with so many consequences I couldn’t cover them all in the previous part.

Sources used in this post series

 

Life before artificial light, Guardian (October 31, 2009; methane-blue font)

Sarah Woodbury, the invention of the chimney (December 15, 2011; creosote brown font)

Mike Rendell, Georgian Gentleman (February 13, 2012; coprophagic brown font)

The secrets of ancient Roman concrete (June 21, 2013; cement gray font)

The father of the fireplace insert – Benjamin Franklin (brick red font)

Sewer history, Toilets, earth closets, and house plumbing (undated)

Elevators, the vertical utility, 5 parts; mud brown font)

Arthur Pound, “Of Mills and Markets”, 1926, cited here; teal font)

 

Against the cautious prognostications of many, demand for telephones was instantaneous and rose exponentially, endlessly outstripping even the most optimistic projections:

 

In 1877-78, the first telephone line was constructed, the first switchboard was created and the first telephone exchange was in operation.

 

Three years later, almost 49,000 telephones were in use. 

 

Bigger value every day: 1949 Bell Telephone ad

 

By 1900 there were nearly 600,000 phones in Bell’s telephone system; that number shot up to 2.2 million phones by 1905, and 5.8 million by 1910. In 1915 the transcontinental telephone line began operating.

 

The telephone remade the corporation, in two ways: centralization and conglomeration.

 

In New York City sits the president of a corporation engaged in making quantities of highly intricate goods, perhaps the most intricate goods manufactured in quantity and distributed to the general public — automobiles. The long lines [Long distance – Ed.] system puts his desk on Broadway into prompt communication with the company’s plants in a dozen states. He can talk to a factory manager in Michigan as easily as he can talk to his secretary in the next room.

 

With a centralized operation, supply chains and manufacturing value chains could be spatially separated. 

 

All business, big and little, uses the telephone to good purpose. Day after day for many years Bell’s invention has been saving the time of more and more millions.

 

No longer did the power, raw materials, manufacture, shipping, and sales all have to be in one place (as in New Lanark, which I previously profiled): instead you could mine in one place, manufacture in another, sell in a third, and control from a fourth. 

 

If he desires to talk directly to any foreman in company employ, the connection can be established during the time I have been writing this paragraph; thousands of telephone stations, in hundreds of separate buildings, are at the disposal of this executive.  

 

His personal touch carries, in the twinkling of an eye, across tremendous areas; he can gather information, give orders and hold others responsible man to man, voice to voice. 

 

The telephone and its handmaiden radio would also remake politics and enable the same centralization and conglomeration to come to dictators and empires.

 

His master’s voice: the new chancellor address Germany, 1933

 

Germans listening to Goebbels

 

One control became an abstract thing, spatially distant form manufacture, then it made sense to have corporate control located where the money was, and that was a happy day for Gotham City.

 

It is difficult to picture a large industrial enterprise of the present functioning without means of vocal communication.

 

Lower Manhattan, 1878

 

Finance went national, and that favored New York. 

 

Money flowing in, buildings rising up: lower Manhattan, 1903

 

Boom go the high-rises: Wall Street, 1925

 

This web of corporate communications is tied into a far greater whole; the corporation can reach out, as it were, almost instantly, to its banks, agents, dealers, supply firms and customers.

 

The logic sequence is long, but each link is strong:

 

1.     Communications and centralization.  The telephone enabled organizations to be centrally managed, promoting the emergence of a managerial class (see later links).

 

New York stock tracing trading floor, 1920s: the lights are electric now

 

A single unit in this vast manufacturing system may comprise a hundred buildings scattered over two hundred acres. It would take a week to explore the area thoroughly on foot.

 

2.     Centralization and consolidation.  Centralization of management enabled the more able or aggressive (think Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt) to consolidate their industries by buying out or merging with their competitors.

 

Not everybody thought consolidation a good thing

 

One reason big business is big is because modern communications permit growth. The keen, aggressive manager can extend his control of men and things further than his predecessors could. Business enterprises expand as improved communications broaden the market into which trade may be effectively pushed.

 

3.     Consolidation and capitalization.  Consolidating was possible only if the tycoons could tap large and large blocks of capital.

 

Pierpont Morgan and the power of money

 

4.     Capitalization and vertical construction.  As capital became intangible (from gold to paper, and then later to symbolic paper like bonds, stocks, and bank statements), its manipulation became the exchange of information (in the form of contracts).  That required having lots of people in close proximity to each other – which meant buildings had to go up.

 

The world’s most valuable real estate: Wall Street Stock Exchange trading floor, 1920s

 

5.     Vertical construction fed on communications.

 

A photo op for construction: Rockefeller Center going up, 1932

 

Though many were the trustbusting editorial writers and cartoonists raising alarm at this sudden accretion and concentration of wealth in a series of billionaires they found uncouth or imperious, our author Arthur Pound from 1926 saw this as the march of technological industry:

 

Communicating the information necessary to effective production in such a plant would be immensely more difficult if the telephone were crossed off the slate.…

 

He’s also the only source I have found who recognized that the accumulation of vast wealth was possible mainly because an even more immense amount of wealth was being created:

 

The tremendous growth in the national wealth, which has been a striking feature of the last half century, could not have occurred if processes had remained stationary.

 

Wages have been raised

Hours shortened

The standard of living raised

 

because many time saving systems and machines made those advances economically possible.

 

Mr. Pound also connected the wealth creation to urbanization and verticalization:

 

[Without the telephone] street layouts, street car lines and city maps, the geographical settings which condition millions of lives, would be quite otherwise than they are.

 

As I said in an earlier part of this post, I find Mr. Pound’s 91-year-old article little short of astonishing, because, in a way that I have found no one else to express, he connected wealth creation with communication and verticalization. 

 

AHI’s housing technology series

 

March 14, 2006: The earliest apartments, Roman insulae

April 14, 2006: The evolving modern home

April 28, 2006: The cradle of apartment living: New York City

August 13, 2007: Cities and scale, 3 parts

June 19, 2008: Urbanizing requires formalization, 2 parts

March 20, 2009: When and where modern housing was born

April 5, 2010: Preaching the gospel of water infrastructure, 2 parts

April 20, 2011: The high-rise’s mahout

January 28, 2013: Grandma in a can?

July 20, 2013: The new urbanism of Tiny Tower

April 1, 2014: Elevators, the vertical utility, 7 parts

August 4, 2014: Vertically obsolete?, 3 parts

February 17, 2015: Form forces function, 8 parts

June 20, 2016: Pre-municipal cities, four typologies, 10 parts

December 5, 2016: The first housing commissioner, 10 parts

 

Initially the vertical structures were office buildings, not residences: while one might live on the ground to work in the sky, few in 1900 would live in the sky to work on the ground.  (For one thing, the cost of building those skyborne floors meant they arose only in high-land-value locations, which by definition were financial/ managerial.)  Hence the skyscraper was first of all an office building to house workers whose output is information, not manufacture, and that meant big business.

 

The Flatiron Building, completed 1902

 

And even more than big business, finance.

 

Something big going up:

The Equitable Life Insurance Company’s headquarters, completed 1915

 

[The skyscraper itself isn’t a technological breakthrough; rather it’s the combined result of several technological breakthroughs that we’re oh-so-close to reporting about.  Be patient! – Ed.[

 

[Continued in Part 8.]