MODERNIST SKYLINE, 1961-2000
Lower Manhattan at the end of the 20th century is captured here by photographer Richard Berenholtz in a sweeping panorama taken from a pier near Liberty State Park that embraces the Statue of Liberty and the skyline along the Hudson all the way to the Empire State Building. The inevitable focus of the image is the World Trade Center; the massive height and scale of the Twin Towers, designed and constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, overwhelmed the surrounding mixed historical context. At 1368 and 1362 feet (417 and 415 meters), these giants were more than three times the height of the Park Row Building, the tallest skyscraper in 1900, and each tower contained more than thirteen times the floor area.
In 1999, Downtown was still a powerhouse of the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) economy, even as those sectors were changing. The bright lights that transform modern towers into glowing lanterns, especially in this vibrant sunset view, signal that, even at dusk, everyone is still working. This was a district dedicated to business.
In form and materials, the modern skyscraper departed completely from the masonry-clad towers of the earlier eras. The International Style “glass box” had been popular since the 1950s, following the influential models of Lever House, the Seagram Building, and One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Through the Sixties and Seventies, architects designed innumerable variations of pure rectangular volumes, enveloped by a glass curtain wall, air conditioned, and brightly illuminated by ceiling planes of fluorescent light. Often the simple slabs were set in an open space, a tower-in-the-plaza model that was encouraged by incentives introduced by the 1961 zoning law that gave bonus interior floor area for public space created around the building.
Richard Berenholtz has photographed the Manhattan skyline for more than thirty years. He is partial to the vivid, saturated colors of deep blue skies and pinks and yellows of the setting sun reflected on facades. Like Feininger, he favors a distant view, and he often returns to the same vantage over the years. This practice has allowed the museum to use his images, shot from Exchange Place in Jersey City in 1999, 2002, and 2018, to create a poignant sequence of the World Trade Center site — with and without the Twin Towers, and as rebuilt in June 2018. This series can be viewed on an interactive “slider”