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New York's Skyscraper Museum Tells Story of World's Tallest Buildings - 2004-04-25

New York City is famous for the skyscrapers that make up its jagged skyline. Now a new museum in lower Manhattan documents the history of skyscrapers, both in New York and around the world.

The Skyscraper Museum, which opened its doors on April 2 at the southern tip of Manhattan, is the first museum in New York devoted to high rise architecture. The museum's initial exhibit, entitled "Building a Collection," is an eclectic selection of photos, models, and blueprints of skyscrapers from all around the world.

Carol Willis, the museum director, says that the museum's mission is to interpret the evolving history of the skyscraper.

"It looks back to the beginnings of skyscrapers, but it looks at more than architecture and engineering or technology," he said. "It also looks at development, financing, and builders, construction management, the way that spaces are occupied as places of work and of residence. So there's a very horizontal embrace of all the professions that make and work in high rise buildings and commercial architecture."

Ms. Willis says one of her favorite displays is a book of photographs that depicts the construction of New York's Empire State Building, a great engineering feat that was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1931.

"Behind me is a photograph of the topping out ceremony from the Empire State Building. It's got about a dozen workers climbing up the little superstructure and hoisting an American flag, and smiling and shouting their pride at being at the very tallest pinnacle anywhere in the world," she said.

The Skyscraper Museum is small, with only two galleries. But its striking design, which features a polished, stainless steel floor and a high, reflective glass ceiling, creates an illusion of space.

On opening day, a handful of curious visitors wandered through the galleries. Vincent Shaw, a New Yorker, came with his friend Beate Helmus, a visitor from Frankfurt, Germany. Vincent Shaw said the museum gave him a new historical perspective.

"It's great, seeing all the buildings in one building, let's say, seeing all the different buildings of the past, present, and the future, it's really great," he said.

Beate Helmus praised the museum for its international flair. "I think it's about skyscrapers not only in New York but all over, the skyscrapers of the world," he said.

Tishman Construction Corporation donated its services to construct the Skyscraper Museum. Tishman is the same company that built the original World Trade Center and is under contract to build the new Freedom Tower at the site.

"This is a rendering of Freedom Tower, the new building that will replace the World Trade Center towers in one location," said Richard Kielar, a representative of the company, was on hand at the museum opening.

Mr. Kielar also offered his thoughts on the role of skyscrapers since the September 11, 2001 attacks. "Since 9/11 there has been more interest in high rises because of what happened, and what the reaction of society will be, and how we are going to make them safer. And obviously we are going to continue building them," he said.

The Skyscraper Museum will mount a special exhibit in tribute to the fallen World Trade Center Towers, starting in June. Carol Willis says the September 11th attacks changed the way people perceive skyscrapers, and she says the museum's goal will be to provide a historical perspective.

The museum expects to attract New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world who are interested in architecture and urban studies, or who are simply fascinated by humanity's urge to build ever taller buildings.