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Manhattan building codes won’t repeat the past, only heighten it

The eye in the sky is now just someone in a 108th floor living room
  • 40 percent of Manhattan's buildings violate at least one current building code.
  • New skyscrapers are built on smaller property lots but extend to reach higher altitudes.
  • Complex building codes in New York City make it difficult to understand or forecast the future of the city's skyline.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," wrote George Santayana in The Life of Reason, Vol. 1 in 1905. Santayana was talking about the inevitable changes that take place in the world, like how pre-building code Manhattan helped shape a burgeoning metropolis. Now, though, thanks to building and zoning codes, those properties would never make it past the brainstorm session. Right around the same time Santayana was publishing those famous words, developers in Manhattan were laying the foundation for the Big Apple. Nearly 75 percent of the current square footage was constructed around or just after the turn of the 19th century. A New York Times video render shows how new construction of taller, thinner skyscrapers can disrupt the view. In a New York Times article titled "40 Percent of the buildings in Manhattan could not be built today" (a catchy title, but one that could easily apply to any metro area with grandfathered construction citing histo...