Flatiron Building
description analytical profile

The Flatiron has become a symbol of New York and twentieth century civilisation as a whole. Since the time of its construction, it has been viewed as an example of pure modernity and, at the same time, of tradition and continuity with the past. To the first incredulous observers its shape resembling a ship heading Uptown was disconcerting.

It is often practical problems that lead designers to come up with strange and astonishing solutions and so it was for the Flatiron. The ground lot was an unusual triangular shape, a difficulty Burnham turned into a challenge which would unite the past and the future. Instead of trying to mask the problem, he emphasised and magnified the very feature which> presented the difficulty. The impression the building had on everyone was one of audacity and then of an astonishing shape made possible by its steel skeleton and endowed with a noble sense of classicism. It was the beginning of the twentieth century and the whole world awaited modern art forms that would propel the lives of the city dwellers towards expectations of development and progress never seen before.

The Flatiron came to life in just that way. It leans forward as if wanting to encourage an enthusiasm for the discovery of new opportunities. At the same time it has an air of solemnity and robustness reminiscent of an ancient tower dominating the city, looking ahead and enabling everyone to have a positive approach to the future.

It was destined to be a modern classic and that's what it became. It naturally had its enthusiastic admirers as well as its detractors. Everyone sensed the strong dramatic quality in the building. It was regarded as a sentry, a witness and a solid tower of strength which had stood up to the laws of equilibrium and overcome them like a true Titan controlling the two hearts of the city situated as it was between its business area and that of the technical revolution. It was the pride of the inhabitants and a temple to the contemporary world, almost like a new Sphinx scrutinising the future to come. There were those who saw the building as a modern Parthenon, towering over the tumultuous city as a guarantee of stability and solemnity. And it is this impression that in some ways holds to this day and justifies its almost classical dimension which is clearly perceivable in the shape and the materials used in this illustrious building.

For a long time it was the tallest and most dominant building in New York. It was naturally overtaken from this point of view but its splendid beauty takes us back to the majesty of the Italian Renaissance and to the dynamic quality of Paris in the nineteenth century.

It is, however, the expression of a style that by now has become familiar but remains endowed with a strength and energy which never fail to amaze anyone passing the crossroads between Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

By Prof. Claudio Strinati,
Superintendent for Museums of Rome, for the book "Flatiron. The world's first steel frame skyscraper" by Peter Gwillim Kreitler, a publishing collaboration betwee Sorgente Group SpA and Leonardo International. ake no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.... Make big plans... aim high in hope and work. "How could Daniel Hudson Burnham, the architect who designed the revolutionary Flatiron building in the heart of New York at the start of the 1900s have thought any differently? Standing 87 meters high with a total of 22 floors, it is sharp as a> razor's edge and looks north towards the wealthy and aristocratic districts of New York, leaving the bustling business district of Wall Street and the busy world port, behind it.

Built in 1902 on the triangular plot bordered by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, 23rd and 22nd Streets, the eccentric Fuller Building which resembled a household flatiron and thus acquired its name, was the object of conflicting opinions regarding its solidity and the innovative steel skeleton with its contrasting neo-Renaissance style façade. Today, however, it is unanimously recognised as one of the great examples of the city's early skyscraper architecture even if it doesn't belong to any style to be found in the textbooks.

Besides fascinating people with its exterior, Burnham and his no less brilliant partner, John Wellborn Root, also revolutionized the idea of the office block which, besides being quintessentially functional, could also be a solid symbol of pride for the company or a monument to future ambition.

It was Burnham's ideas and the determination of entrepreneur, George Fuller, to build what, at the time, was to be the tallest and most innovative office block in the country, that persuaded Colorado gold miner, Winfield A Stratton, who had already invested in sumptuous abodes to join in the revolutionary initiative.

Conceived as a tower-like structure extending forwards towards development and progress, the Flatiron would not have been able to withstand the strongest winds had it not had a robust steel framework and solid deep foundations set in the rock on which New York stands. Described in the "National Register of Historic Places", as a veritable towering column, the Flatiron is divided into three sections: the base, the shaft and the capital.

The five lowest floors make up the base and are again divided up into three heavy stone entablature sections. The central sections of the Fifth Avenue and Broadway façades stand out for their double height and an entrance with an arcade of inlaid columns that support a full entablature. These columns and colossal pilasters that separate the windows of the first floors are made up of alternate smooth and decorated blocks. The third and fourth floors are plainer with screed string courses and tympanums in roughhewn limestone whereas the fifth floor is heavily ornate with abstract floral motifs and medallions figuring faces and fleurs-de-lis.

The whole surface of the twelve floors of the shaft are richly decorated with terracotta tiles while the protruding entablature of the roof is decorated with a denticular motif. Around the roof of the entire building is a stone battlement.

As was highlighted in the early advertisement issued by the Fuller Company, the building is equipped with six high speed Ortis hydraulic elevators and its own steam and electricity generators which still provide free heating and lighting for tenants. Moreover, according to the advertisement, the wood used is mahogany and oak quarter circles all fireproofed in order to eliminate the possibility of fire.

And it is perhaps this very co-existence between its old charm and character and its new energy and splendor that is the secret of the Flatiron's wide and mystical attraction of which, in its hundred years, have made it one of the best loved buildings in New York. It is also the most photographed and has been captured in many different ways by major American photographers like Struss, Steichen and Stieglitz. So much so that the latter explained his maniacal interest in the celebrated Manhattan skyscraper by saying that the Flatiron is to the United States what the Parthenon is to Ancient Greece.

The Sorgente Group has become the owner of the Flatiron and to highlight how closely the management concurs with the values the building conveys, in coproduction with publisher Leonardo International, it has published an elegant single volume in English and Italian of Peter Gwillim Kreitler's collection of photographs "Flatiron. The world's first steel frame skyscraper". The collection, the result of 15 years of research, describes the building from its construction to the present day as seen through the lenses of big names and, more simply, keen amateurs.

SORGENTE GROUP

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