The Bedrock Myth

Jason M. Barr

in Building the Skyline

Published in print July 2016 | ISBN: 9780199344369
Published online June 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780190231736 | DOI:
The Bedrock Myth

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One of the most-cited facts about the Manhattan skyline is that there are no skyscrapers north of the City Hall and south of 14th Street because of a bedrock valley in this area. This chapter documents how this conclusion is wrong; it is a misreading of history and a confusion of causation with correlation. The chapter begins by chronicling the history of building foundations in the city and how they evolved as buildings became taller; the invention of the caisson allowed for skyscrapers. Next several strands of evidence are provided that disprove the “Bedrock Myth,” that bedrock depths influenced skyscraper locations. First engineering evidence shows that very tall buildings were constructed over some of the deepest bedrock in the city; next the economic and theoretical evidence demonstrates that there were no economic supply barriers to constructing tall buildings in the valley. Rather, the problem was one of demand; developers had little incentive to build them in the dense tenement districts because they were not profitable there.

Keywords: bedrock; bedrock depths; building foundations; caissons; skyscraper locations

Chapter.  14537 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History ; Economic Development and Growth

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