February 8, 2011

Skyscrapers v. campuses

Economist Ed Glaeser writes "How Skyscrapers Can Save the City," making all the obvious points about how building high lets you cram more people together on small pieces of land, which makes it easier for business people to get together and do deals over lunch.

It's certainly undeniable that skyscrapers can be a cheap way to warehouse people, as, for example, Cabrini Green demonstrated in Chicago. Glaeser complains that Napoleon III's height limitations on Paris (basically, the core of the city is all six stories high) has meant that tall buildings have gone up only on the periphery. But he seems to miss the point that goal of the rulers of Paris is to keep peripheral people on the periphery, where they can amuse themselves setting fire to cars without pestering the real Parisians.

In general, it's hard to get American middle class families to live in high rises because, outside of Manhattan, without restrictive zoning it's hard to get a high enough percentage of middle class children together in one spot to dominate a public school. For example, Glaeser celebrates the reasonably cheap highrises along Chicago's lakefront, but they seldom have "good" schools, in contrast to certain thoroughly gentrified districts of three story buildings. Restrictive zoning is crucial to "good" public schools, but you aren't supposed to talk about that.

As for business, yeah, sure. And yet ...

I once had a corner office in a skyscraper across the street from the Sears Tower in Chicago. It was great for going out to lunch with other corporate types or wowing them with the view from my windows. But, I think my performance suffered in roughly the same way as, notoriously, did those of the Sears executives across the street. Sears is a company built around selling in the suburbs, but it penned up all its headquarter executives in a bubble 100 stories off the ground, a long cab ride from the nearest suburban Sears store. 

In contrast, Wal-Mart was headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, a town that, back then,  was just like the typical town that had a Wal-Mart. And, Sam Walton didn't want his employees going out to lunch with salesmen from his big suppliers. He wanted them to have zero friendly feelings toward salesmen.

It's interesting how the single most important economic center to emerge in my lifetime -- Silicon Valley -- has resolutely resisted Glaeser's logic. Apple, which has all the money in the world, didn't just announce it was going to build a giant skyscraper, it instead bought a 100 acre site for a campus. And here are pictures of the Google campus.

I don't know how much manufacturing is still done in Silicon Valley, but, historically, there were huge advantages in having the executives right next to the factory floor.

Moreover, most people seem to like the campus layout best. In particular, engineers seem to like nature a lot. I'm having a hard time thinking of any skyscraper famous for being full of engineers. I'm sure there must be some, but it's funny how few there are.

Similarly, how many high end American colleges have imitated Stalin's brainstorm of making Moscow State University one giant building, 750 feet tall, containing 5,000 rooms?

It's also interesting that the highest high end of Wall Street, the hedge funds, have largely decamped from Manhattan for suburban Greenwich.

Also, at the very high end of the entertainment industry in Hollywood, the ideal is not to be in a skyscraper -- that's fine for lawyers -- but to have your own one or two story bungalow on the lot. At the big studios, you walk down these charming little streets with Spanish-style houses on them and out front the parking places say stuff like "Mr. Eastwood." When Clint Eastwood comes down from Pebble Beach, he holds meetings in what looks like a modest-sized, tree-shaded house next door to a lot of other modest-sized houses full of other famous people holding meetings. The highest prestige in Hollywood is to have your office in what looks like a village in Catalonia.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

High rises are good for residence and corporate big shots.

Anonymous said...

They want skyscrapers for the same reason that they want mass-transit*: They're insane.


*Ace: Wait, it wasn't a joke? I swear, it sounded like a joke.

Anonymous said...

Yeah making efficient use of things is bad times

Half Sigma said...

Engineers don't work in skyscrapers because it's a low prestige occupation. Corporations don't want to waste expensive skyscraper office space on engineers.

The type of "office park" where engineers typically work is sterile and depressing. The movie Office Space takes place in such an office park. Clint Eastwood wouldn't be caught dead working in such a place.

Colleges located in cities with skyscrapers tend to be housed in taller buildings. Penn had three 24-story dorms, for example. But rich people like charm of old things (read Paul Fussell), so the best colleges try to look like they were built in the 1800s.

Hedge fund managers moved to Connecticut to avoid paying New York City taxes.

alexi de sadesky said...

You may be interested in Nikos Salingaros' work. Here is an interview with at 2blowhards:

http://www.2blowhards.com/archives/000726.html

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can have both. The towers in both BLADE RUNNER and BUBBLEGUM CRISIS are both tall and wide.

PV van der Byl said...

Clint Eastwood lives in Pebble Beach.

No skyscrapers there, nor very close to L.A. (>300 miles).

PV van der Byl said...

Clint Eastwood lives in Pebble Beach. There are no skyscrapers in that vicinity. LA is over 300 miles away.

eh said...

Adobe occupies two connected towers in downtown San Jose.

Having once lived there, I'd prefer these companies do as Adobe did, rather than go the 'campus' route. Especially outrageous was Cisco's plan years ago during the dot com craziness to build a huge campus in the beautiful Coyote Valley south of San Jose. You could just picture it filling up with Chinese and Indians. Disgusting. Cisco is a very heavy user of H-1B.

Anonymous said...

The type of "office park" where engineers typically work is sterile and depressing.

I think a certain type of personality finds the idea of office parks sterile and depressing. It's the type of personality that apes whatever poses are fashionable with the glitterati of the moment. I've been reading about suburban angst for decades. In truth, my experience is that urban angst is a lot common, not mention grounded in reality. And understandably so - living in glorified rabbit hutches does tend to create and nourish any number of neuroses.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Steve Cabrini green showed that certain people make messes of everything.

When Henry Cisneros began his destruction of such warehouses, all he did was move those people into my community and my neighborhood, turning decent places into suburban Cabrini Greens.

Government bureaucrats don't give a damn about people who work for a middle class living. This White House and its bureaucrats are among the worst.

PV van der Byl said...

Steve,

The Connecticut suburb with many hedge funds is Greenwich.

Severn said...

The ghost of Le Corbusier has yet to be laid to rest.

Jeff Singer said...

This post also made me think of Lucas' ILM and other studio operations at the Presidio:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letterman_Digital_Arts_Center

Here in Chicago, SOM, which designs a lot of skyscrapers, is located in an older version along Grant Park:

http://www.som.com/content.cfm/chicago

They employ engineers and architects. In fact, I know a lot of civil engineers who work downtown here in Chicago, so I'm not sure why Half Sigma thinks they avoid skyscrapers.

Chicago has also seen a boom in our downtown colleges, which have renovated or built smaller high-rises in the South Loop, creating a sort of mini-campus feel to parts of the South Loop.

Anonymous said...

The Connecticut suburb with many hedge funds is Greenwich
and more a function of a. nyc taxes b. laziness of execs COnn used to have low taxes and was nominally repub, but it was swamped by immigrants

DitkaIsMyPersonalJesus said...

Pitt has the 42 story"Cathedral of Learning", in my cold-war halcyon days it was always pointed out that "the Cathedral" was the tallest educational building in the "free world" (Moscow State is taller). Today it's the tallest Ed building in the western hemisphere. Architected by the same guy who did UPenn's majestic Franklin Field, a pretty building in a bad spot. The "Cathedral" is odd because even though it's in a city, it stands almost alone in a 15 or 20 acre field. Pitt's campus isn't that urban actually, think UChicago in a "less vibrant" environment with v e r y steep hills.

Anonymous said...

Since my name was mentioned, let me point readers to a lecture I gave on Tall Buildings.

Best wishes,
Nikos

Anonymous said...

"Similarly, how many high end American colleges have imitated Stalin's brainstorm of making Moscow State University one giant building, 750 feet tall, containing 5,000 rooms?"

Actually, it's housed in many buildings. The iconic tower contains a tiny percentage of the overall square footage of the Moscow University. Most of it is in less eye-catching buildings situated near that tower. As far as I remember, those tend to be roughly 8 to 12 stories tall.

dearieme said...

"..it's hard to get American middle class families to live in high rises because, outside of Manhattan, without restrictive zoning it's hard to get a high enough percentage of middle class children together in one spot to dominate a public school."

That's a striking observation: but is it true? Is it a consequence of the huge sizes of American high schools?

Anonymous said...

"It's also interesting that the highest high end of Wall Street, the hedge funds, have largely decamped from Manhattan for suburban Greenwich."

And yet Goldman Sachs just finished a new skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, directly behind the WTC site.

albert magnus said...

About a third of the skyscrapers in Houston are partially full of engineers. (My dad is an engineer and works in one.)

691 said...

Hedge funds moved to Greenwich so that the managers could live in Greenwich and have a 10 min commute to work. The young 20-something analysts all live in Manhattan and take the train out to Connecticut, instead of the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Paris is a terrible model to emulate. The low-rise central part of the city is famously a decaying ghetto, utterly lacking in beauty, vitality or desirability as a place to live ... right?

Anonymous said...

Skyscrapers are architectural French Revolutions: reasoned from first principles, pitiless, and designed to optimize the General Will rather than individual happiness.

Whiskey said...

Oddly enough ... HGTV had an episode about a suburban Illinois couple moving to Dubai! Where they took a high rise apartment. Of course, their kid was too small to go to school. And being in the city center, it was safer from various terrorists/mobs.

Skyscrapers date from around the 1880s, in Chicago (not NYC), and were basically office spaces in the sky. We don't need an army of clerks (automation) so the need for skyscrapers has passed.

Aerospace and Silicon Valley all are based on the campus model (or were). So too, bio-med. Its more efficient.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, those who propose greater use of public transport and that we cycle about with baguettes and onions, are often the ones most opposed to skyscrapers.

Johnson said...


You could just picture it filling up with Chinese and Indians. Disgusting.


What the hell is this, Steve. I believe in HBD, but this blatant white supremacy shouldn't be encouraged on your website. You should focus more on differentiating between productive immigrants and unproductive immigrants in your blog posts.

Ray Sawhill said...

Just so it's clear, Glaeser (who irritates the hell out of me) isn't one of those baguette-eating, bike-riding New Urbanists. As far as I can tell, he's an economist of the efficiency-is-everything, pack-'em-in, use-numbers-and-charts-to-explain-everything variety. And (at least in his work) he seems to have a totally deaf ear and blind eye to anything having to do with quality of life. I almost always read him thinking, "What an ass."

More about him:

http://nyti.ms/dzO8jO

Anonymous said...

And yet Goldman Sachs just finished a new skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, directly behind the WTC site.

You do know the difference between a hedge fund and an investment bank, no?

Many hedge funds have moved to Connecticut.

Many investment banks have moved uptown from Lower to Midtown Manhattan.

GS has stayed downtown.

agnostic said...

I'm starting to wonder if libertarian economists aren't more harmful than middle-of-the-road ones.

They do stress less state intervention, less of a welfare state, etc., but really that train has already left the station. The interventionist-welfare state has only grown over time and shows no signs of stopping, notwithstanding a dip below the trendline here and there.

So, while ideologically we'd agree with them here, their stance is of little practical value.

What about their views on things that *are* relatively up-for-grabs like immigration, housing, education, drugs, etc.?

Most of them seem pretty nuts on most of these issues. Not just crazy, but stubbornly crazy -- haven't even looked at consequences, can't tell what matters to real people, and so on.

That's more frightening than a crazy person who is just winging it and knows it.

Anonymous said...

Wow Steve. Disgusting Indians and Chinese? I doubt you would have allowed a filthy Jew comment to slip through moderation.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that the Pixar campus is amazing.

One thing about the campus though is that you're isolated from the rest of your peers working at other companies. I can see how engineers would be corralled like this and lawyers less so.

This isolation probably has it's own benefit in company loyalty, with the downside being cult like mass delusion.

Has to be said...

"It's interesting how the single most important economic center to emerge in my lifetime -- Silicon Valley -- has resolutely resisted Glaeser's logic."

it's not like they any real choice. You probably aren't even allowed to build a skyscraper in Silicon Valley. Or if you are, it would take you decades to get all the permissions, etc. This being California.

Much simpler to build a bunch of barns and call them "campus".

slumbrer_j said...

I guess I'm alone here, but I really like skyscrapers. I find the skylines of Chicago and New York viscerally exhilarating: the first sight of them from the air or driving into the city just excites me. How strange for me to find a bunch of smart people, many of whom strike me as like-minded in a lot of ways, who seem to see no value in this phenomenon. On a purely aesthetic level, I can't imagine preferring an office park to this alternative. I'm baffled.

slumber_j said...

@Nikos:

Thanks for the link to your talk, which is interesting.

You're almost certainly right in your excoriation of the concept of the "green" skyscraper. In fact, as you probably know, for many years now people have done analyses that seem to show that skyscrapers are not reasonable to build from a purely internal economic standpoint--even disregarding the externalities: more height=too much core, etc. Fair enough.

Nevertheless, when you start discussing the social pathology of tall buildings, I can only imagine that you're unfamiliar with traditional ideas about how skyscrapers should interact with the street. The fact that people are building a lot of *bad* skyscrapers nowadays does not necessarily gainsay the practical and theoretical work of Louis Sullivan, for example.

The notion of the skyscraper and its place in the urban environment neither started nor ended with the depredations of Le Corbusier, no matter what he or his acolytes wanted us to believe.

Anonymous said...

"You could just picture it filling up with Chinese and Indians. Disgusting."

I thought this was quite obviously a troll.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

"Yeah making efficient use of things is bad times"

Efficient use of what, land? The US has lots of land. Lots and lots and lots of it. 3.8 million square miles of it. If high rises are "efficient," then how come they're so damned expensive?

Honestly, I'm in love with skyscrapers and bullet trains, but I'm not sure there's generally a lot of economic sense in either.

ogunsiron said...

2/08/2011
slumbrer_j said...

I guess I'm alone here, but I really like skyscrapers....
----
Same here.
I like city living in general. I like well designed, clean mass transit too. What matters the most if whom you're sharing the city with.
-----
slumbrer_j said...
... smart people, many of whom strike me as like-minded in a lot of ways, who seem to see no value in this phenomenon.
------
A lot of right wing people reflexively look down upon anything that's closely associated with swipples. Just because I enjoy skyscrapers, lattes and walking around my city ( it's pretty safe)doesn't mean that I should be posting at the huffington's post instead of here :)

SouthernAnonyia said...

"I guess I'm alone here, but I really like skyscrapers. I find the skylines of Chicago and New York viscerally exhilarating: the first sight of them from the air or driving into the city just excites me. How strange for me to find a bunch of smart people, many of whom strike me as like-minded in a lot of ways, who seem to see no value in this phenomenon. On a purely aesthetic level, I can't imagine preferring an office park to this alternative. I'm baffled."

You're not alone slumberer_j....I mean, I prefer rural landscapes over any other type of setting, but if I'm going to be in a city, I at least want it to look like a city, and not my old high school. I agree with whoever said office parks are sterile. Many of them seem like warehouses (in my section of the country at least). Who would want to work in a warehouse.

Anonymous said...

I find the skylines of Chicago and New York viscerally exhilarating

Interesting to look at and pleasant to live and work in are different things. The pyramids are interesting to look at but were not so much fun as a work site.

Life in skyscrapers is ideological. Odds are you're going to be sucked into some damn committee about how to allocate space or organizing common services. You wind up living a life designed in broad outlines by the architect, and I'm inherently suspicious of smart people telling me how I should live.

I suspect the campus approach has economic advantages as well. For example, you can incrementally add or rehab buildings with less disruption to the rest of the company.

Big buildings are the reflections of big, centralized, top-down organizations. No thank you.

Dahinda said...

Both skyscrapers and campusus are white elephants that are costly to operate and maintain. Companies would be better off to rent or own non-descript buildings in industrial parks or other like spaces. How many people really identify a company with it's headquarters anyway? Buildings like skyscrapers and office campusus are just ego boosters to the corporate board and architects.

Rohan Swee said...

Johnson: I believe in HBD, but this blatant white supremacy shouldn't be encouraged on your website.

While we're at it, could we leave the stupid and sloppy use of "supremacy" and "supremacist" to the NYT and the SPLC? I have no idea if "eh" is a supremacist of any sort, and neither do you. "Ethnocentrist" or "racialist" or even (in this restricted context) "racist" would be accurate and sufficient.

You should focus more on differentiating between productive immigrants and unproductive immigrants in your blog posts.

Or maybe readers should wean themselves from question-begging. (I don't know if not making a distinction between ethnocentrism and supremacism is a cause or a consequence of that tendency.) Since there is wide and lively disagreement about whether economics should be the chief or only criterion for immigrant selection, why should he? (Not that I've noticed that Steve has any aversion to that particular aspect.)

JSM said...

"You could just picture it filling up with Chinese and Indians. Disgusting.


What the hell is this, Steve. I believe in HBD, but this blatant white supremacy shouldn't be encouraged on your website."

Little touchy, aren't we?

I didn't read it as saying the Chinese and Indians themselves are disgusting, but that it IS disgusting to see America filling up with foreigners. That makes me White Supremacist? No. It makes me a loyal American.

Chinese and Indians aren't disgusting, per se, but being colonized is.

Has to be said...

"Big buildings are the reflections of big, centralized, top-down organizations."

As someone who worked both in skyscrapers and in suburban "campuses" I can tell you that you are full of ______.

A typical layout of a suburban office is a giant, flat, soul-crushing cubicle farm. Skyscrapers on the other hand are relatively skinny, which makes for a small, more private floor plan. A floor of a skyscraper typically has private offices around the perimeter, with only a few cubes here and there. This is why the lawyers, the investment bankers, the high-powered salespeople like skyscrapers so much. It's perfect for a kind of small business or department that have mostly "important" people plus a few of the supporting personnel. If you put engineers in skyscrapers you'd have to give most of them private offices and this is simply not done.

Incidentally, I am amazed at this hostility to skyscrapers. Skyscraper is a quintessential part of American cultural heritage. They are a symbol of this country, one of the first things that the foreigners think about when they hear about America. Yes, I get it, the skyscrapers are in cities, and cities are full of people you don't like. But still.

Mr. Anon said...

"Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Honestly, I'm in love with skyscrapers and bullet trains, but I'm not sure there's generally a lot of economic sense in either."

I suspect that high-speed trains would make a lot of economic sense, if the planning and construction of them were not stymied and interfered with by lawyers and environmentalists, and if the TSA did not take over the terminals and turn them into the same kind of 4th-amendment free zone that the airports have become. In short, if America today were more like the America of 50 years ago, it might make sense.

Mr. Anon said...

"ogunsiron said...

Same here.

I like city living in general. I like well designed, clean mass transit too. What matters the most if whom you're sharing the city with."

Exactly so. The thing that makes for a good mass-transit system is the same thing that makes a "good school" good - the people who use it.

Anonymous said...

Washington DC also has a height limit.

Skyscrapers did indeed come from Chicago. The Monadnock building was the last of the compressive tall office buildings. It had masonry walls 12 feet thick. There wasn't much office space left on the ground floor what with all the load bearing walls.

Skyscrapers are a product of structural steel. In Washington the office buildings aren't allowed to to be more than 12 stories lest they over shadow the Washington Monument the world's tallest all masonry building.

So the limitations of stone are visited on the buildings made with iron skeletons - recursive irony?.

Albertosaurus

Kylie said...

"'You could just picture it filling up with Chinese and Indians. Disgusting.'


What the hell is this, Steve. I believe in HBD, but this blatant white supremacy shouldn't be encouraged on your website. You should focus more on differentiating between productive immigrants and unproductive immigrants in your blog posts."


Funny guy. But leave the dry wit to Steve. He really does do it best.

Anonymous said...

" Engineers don't work in skyscrapers because it's a low prestige occupation. Corporations don't want to waste expensive skyscraper office space on engineers."

Engineering a low-prestige
occupation? How could Americans
consider engineering like that?

Half Sigma said...

"Incidentally, I am amazed at this hostility to skyscrapers. Skyscraper is a quintessential part of American cultural heritage. They are a symbol of this country, one of the first things that the foreigners think about when they hear about America. Yes, I get it, the skyscrapers are in cities, and cities are full of people you don't like. But still."

Insightful observation.

Also, Ayn Rand seemed to like skycrapers.

In the New York Area, the important people work in Manhattan, the engineers work in office parks in New Jersey.

The engineers are not considered important because they are Chinese and Indians, and as you know, our high-level executives are RACIST.

sfer said...

The population density of paris is greater than any US city:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_proper_by_population_density

You don't need skyscrapers to have a dense city.

Anonymous said...

I can see how people who have never left the United States would dislike mass transit, since mass transit in the US is either shitty or nonexistent. But spend some time in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Singapore and you'll never want to live in a city without a decent metro system again.

volokh lurker said...

Possibly interesting sidelight to the SV campus thing: about 10 yrs. ago, a company that built many of those low rise tech campuses, Berg & Co., sued Schwab. Berg's bookkeeper, a vibrant mestiza, had embezzled $14 million and, after buying the ferrari and some land in Hawaii, had used much of it to play the market with Schwab. Berg's theory was that Schwab should have known a bookkeeper wouldn't have that kind of cash to "invest." To me this looked like a summary judgment loser, but Schwab settled for $4 mil.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

As a former Chicagoan, I thought you'd want to know that there are now a lot of office parks outside of downtown made from old warehouses and factories. The most successful are probably the Ravenwood lofts on Ravenwood and Lawrence. These have a campus-y vibe to them. The Wachowski brothers even have a studio located in one of them.

Urban living is Generation Y's ultimate signal so expect a lot more of it in the future.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers and financiers work in high-rises because downtown is traditionally where such work is done, because they're in service businesses and need to be near clients, and because downtown is where courthouses tend to be. Engineers aren't generally directly serving customers, and such companies aren't traditionally in city centers, nor do they need to be. Engineers are more likely to be involved in research or in manufacturing, and that's not something you'd generally do in a high rise.

"In Washington the office buildings aren't allowed to to be more than 12 stories lest they over shadow the Washington Monument the world's tallest all masonry building."

I thought it was the Capitol they weren't allowed to rise above? Anyway, Charleston, SC has a similar height restriction, with the maximum height being that of the steeple of one of the old churches.

The problem with big buildings is that they leave a very huge footprint on a city when 5pm rolls around and all those workers hit the streets. In cities where most of the resdidents live in single-family homes - and that's most cities - public transit isn't a viable option and all the workers are in cars. A city of low rises at least seems mor efficient: dense enough to maintain vibrancy, but not so dense as to have a lot of bottlenecks.