AV's Influence on Design

Are you afraid of heights? Picture an unsharpened pencil standing on end. Now imagine that pencil is more than a quarter of a mile tall. How soundly would you sleep if your bed were located somewhere near the top?

It sounds absurd, but this illustration will soon be a reality for a select few people with strong stomachs and very, very deep pockets. Topped out this past fall in New York, 111 West 57th Street, also known as the Steinway Tower, is among the tallest residential skyscrapers in the world—and perhaps the most daring one ever conceived. Soaring 1,428 feet high from a foundation just 60 feet wide, it’s the slenderest building on the planet, with a height-to-width ratio of nearly 24:1. And while it’s staggeringly impressive (and in my opinion, beautiful) it’s also a brazen monument of impracticality.

Unlike the gaudy extravagance of cities like Dubai, New York’s skyline has historically been dictated by function more than form. Skyscrapers began proliferating there in the early 20th century out of necessity: the dearth of real estate on the crowded island of Manhattan forced development upward. And though these early years saw the rise of some of the greatest works of architecture ever created—think of the Chrysler Building’s shimmering Art Deco crown—these buildings’ intrepid heights were determined as much by economic sensibility as aspirations of ascendency. 

Like most of the tall buildings in the city, the slender skyscrapers of 1920s and 30s New York were modeled to suit their purpose: to house offices. In the days before air conditioning and fluorescent lighting, workers needed to be seated close to windows for air flow and natural light. Once those technologies became widespread, the shape of office buildings changed. In the 1950s and 60s, most commercial structures didn’t need to be as tall, as they could be constructed with sprawling floor plans. Form followed function, and the spirit of these steel-and-glass boxes persists largely to this day. Practicality reigns supreme (with a few exceptions, of course). 

Where am I going with this? Well, with the shifting shapes of buildings came changes in the cultures of how we work. From closed offices in narrow towers to seas of cubicles in broad mid-century buildings, function has also followed form, in a way. But today, thanks to systems under the purview of the technology manager, companies can craft their workspaces to fit their precise needs, while also making a statement.

In AV Technology, among other things, we examine AV’s role in maximizing businesses’ return on real estate. From unified scheduling systems that provide insight into occupancy and work habits, to sensors that increase comfort and help save energy, today’s connected technologies are enabling a new wave of intelligent design—a wave that’s creating buildings that achieve their goals with monumental efficiency. 

Matt Pruznick

Matt Pruznick is the former editor of AV Technology, and senior editor for Systems Contractor News and Residential Systems. He is based in New York.