Going Down: The Tallest Buildings Ever Demolished

This is a portion of an infographic that explains the CTBUH’s TBIN report, “Tallest Demolished Buildings,” which is available in the “CTBUH Journal, 2018 Issue II.”

Here at ELEVATOR WORLD, we think a lot about new skyscrapers going up. After all, it was the invention of the elevator that made anything much taller than three or four floors feasible as a place to live or work. Plus, every time a tall building is announced, it means more work for the elevator industry, so of course it’s of interest.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) naturally thinks about new skyscraper construction, as well, but in a new “Tall Buildings in Numbers” (TBIN) research study, the organization has identified the 100 tallest buildings ever to be purposely demolished. The resulting report examines these structures, as well as some of the reasons for bringing them down. The study also confirms that, if plans proceed as reported, 270 Park Avenue in New York City (NYC) will become the tallest building ever conventionally demolished, as well as the first building over 200 m in height to be peacefully razed.

Currently, the tallest building ever conventionally demolished is the Singer Building in NYC, which stood at 187 m and 41 stories tall until 1968, when it was torn down to make way for One Liberty Plaza. In fact, the study shows that the majority of the world’s 100 tallest demolished buildings were torn down to make way for new skyscrapers. Land constraints in dense cities and the potential for greater financial return than the current building offers can factor heavily in the decision to demolish a high-rise building, the report notes.

“In many cases, it does make sense to tear down and replace a high rise, especially if it’s outlived its practical usage,” said CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood. “However, there are currently more than 1,300 buildings of over 200 m in height around the globe, and counting. Considering the tallest demolished building to date was only 187 m tall, there’s really no precedent for tearing down 200-m-plus towers. We should perhaps thus be thinking of tall buildings as perpetual entities with lifecycles potentially exceeding 100 or 200 years, while designing them in such a way that they can be creatively adapted for potential future uses.”

According to the study, the average lifespan of the 100 tallest demolished buildings is only 41 years. North American cities account for 53 percent of the buildings, and more than a quarter of the 100 tallest demolished buildings were built between 1890 and 1920. At 24%, nearly as many of these high rises were built in the 1970s.

The full report is in the CTBUH Journal, 2018 Issue II.

Love Elevators? YouTube Has a Video for You

A screen grab of a DieselDucy video showing a manually operated Otis elevator.

Just about anyone with an Internet-connected device has at one time or another watched a video on YouTube, the Google-owned service that allows users to post short films featuring everything from cats to catastrophes. Some of the content is truly interesting and informative, some of it is a way to kill time, and some of it is just junk — not worth the smartphone on which it was shot. Some of the videos, however, can be real gems, and writer Justin Peters at Slate found a few that a lot of us can relate to: what he calls “YouTube’s vast subculture of elevator connoisseurs.”

Peters, writing for the Slate feature “Watching YouTube,” discovered several fascinating posts where folks who love elevators have shared their passions. One, entitled “Schindler 300A Hydraulic Elevator – Barnes & Noble – Foothills Mall, Tucson, Arizona,” takes viewers on a ride/tour of a two-stop lift inside a retail store. In another, presenter Andrew Reams (a.k.a. DieselDucy) posted a before and after look at a modernized freight elevator at North Carolina State University. Reams, who has been filming elevators for decades, wasn’t too happy with the upgrade.

“Modernized. Yuck,” he says. “If this were a new install, I would like this, but I do not like what it replaced.”

Some of the videos Peters linked to have salty language, and one makes totally unjustified criticism (without explanation) of a certain type of elevator, but if vertical transportation is what gets you out of bed every day, YouTube has an elevator video for you.

A Working Museum Piece

David Filippe, head operator of the manual elevator at the historic Oregon Bank Building, opens the lift’s collapsible gate earlier this month; Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small, the Herald and News.

Technology, like time itself, marches on, and this truth is no more evident than it is in the vertical-transportation industry. Over the course of recent years we’ve seen improvements that have allowed super-high-speed elevators, destination control and (soon) cars that can move without ropes, allowing them to travel in non-traditional directions. And, who’d have thought just a few years ago that it would be possible to summon an elevator with the phone in your pocket? Yet, for all the conveniences of the modern world, we can still celebrate the old know-how that enabled greater building heights back in the day. One place you can appreciate vintage elevator technology firsthand is the historic Oregon Bank Building in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Here, visitors can be taken for rides up and down the six-story office building, courtesy of a manual lift complete with uniformed operator. A recent feature article by the Herald and News notes that the elevator is nearly 87 years old but continues to operate flawlessly. The lift has, of course, undergone upgrades to meet current safety standards, but head operator David Filippe told the Herald and News that the building’s owners have done their best to retain its authenticity. Parts that had to be removed have even been put on display in a glass case in the building’s main lobby. Seems like a fitting tribute to the tech that helped get us where we are today.