Monday, April 9, 2012

Just By Looking Up

Blue Tile Trim, 2012

Most people take pictures at eye level. This makes sense because that’s how we see things. But there is so much more to see just by adjusting your elevation or even more simply by just moving your eyes.
You can miss a lot by not looking up, especially if you’re in a city. Architects, especially those of the early Twentieth Century, gave a lot of thought to the tops of their buildings. They looked upon them as architectural crowns, finishings that gave importance or class to what was going on inside.
Think about it. What would the Chrysler Building be without its stainless steel terraced arches at its top? I dare say most people couldn’t pick the Chrysler Building out of a lineup without that distinct crown.
Cass Gilbert’s New York Life building would be just a mass of unfocused moderne without its distinctive gold tower on top.
Not every building is so majestic. But in New York it’s hard to walk down most any street without having a variety of ornate cornices, turrets or towers to look at.
One morning not long ago I had a couple of minutes to walk before meeting my client. I didn’t think this particular stretch of Park Avenue South had much to offer. Then I raised my eyes and started noticing how building that didn’t seem interesting at eye level held all sorts of interesting architectural details at their peaks. The morning light was just right for catching some of these details.
Classical Steps, 2012

Red, 2012

Bring Your Own A/C, 2012

Arches on Top, 2012


  1. You are so right. The tops of buildings hold beautiful architectural elements. When we are traveling in Europe, my husband always says to remember to look up.....especially when we are in a cathedral. Think what you would miss if you didn't!

  2. Wow--you caught some excellent examples here. I was outside here at Duke at an event lately, and someone asked me what the rocket-shaped thing was on top of our building--I'd never even noticed it before, and I think it was just some sort of flue--but I came very close to saying "oh, that? That's there because of our collaborative efforts with NASA..." Then, of course, I was good, and I zipped it and said nothing of the sort.