The Woolworth Building: Engineering Height

Wed, May 15, 2013

Completed in 1913, the 792-foot Woolworth Building doubled the height of the tallest skyscraper of 1900, the neighboring Park Row Building, and surpassed the 1908 SInger Building by 180 feet. The rapid rise in height, from Park Row, to Singer, to the 700-foot Metropolitan Life Tower in 1909, reflects the arrival of mature steel-frame technology.

Gunvald Aus, the chief engineer of the Woolworth Building, was one of a group of turn-of-the-century structural engineers who were designing ever-larger steel-frame buildings and openly debating the best engineering methods for high-rise design and construction. At a time when the building codes and engineering education was still catching up to the reality of skyscrapers, this professional debate on the proper methods of dealing with foundations, wind loads, and supporting masonry curtain walls served as a method of technology transfer that allowed engineers who had not previously designed tall steel-frame buildings to understand key issues.

Donald Friedman

Donald Friedman, a structural engineer, is the president of Old Structures Engineering and lives in New York City. He is the author of Historical Building Construction; After 9-11: An Engineer s Work at the World Trade Center; The Investigation of Buildings; The Design of Renovations, with Nathaniel Oppenheimer; and Building the Empire State with Carol Willis.