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How the Flatiron Building transformed cities

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Did you know NYC’s Flatiron building is not only iconic for its architecture, but also its technology?!

Here’s the story of how one of the world’s most recognizable buildings - which also just so happens to be a Runwise building - has changed the landscape of cities - multiple times.

And is about to do it again RIGHT NOW. 

A BIG Problem

When noted architect Daniel Burnham was commissioned to design the Flatiron Building in 1901, he quickly realized there was a major, perhaps insurmountable, issue.

The building was to be constructed at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street, an area known as the "Flatiron" due to its triangular plot, mimicking the shape of a clothes iron.

At its narrowest point the building would only be 6 feet wide, yet had to also be a staggering 285 feet tall.

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The narrowness of the plot meant that traditional building methods and materials wouldn't work, especially given the ambition to make it one of the tallest buildings of its era.

Fortunately for Burnham (and cities across the world) two radical new innovations in construction were about to intersect at that exact moment.

Concrete + Steel = Tall Buildings

The first was the use of steel frame construction. This method involved erecting a grid of steel that would support both the weight of the structure and the forces exerted upon it by wind and gravity. This was particularly important for the Flatiron Building due to its proposed height and exposure to strong winds funneled down the avenues.

The second was rapid technological advancement in concrete technology. Concrete was used for the floors, which were supported by the steel framework, creating a fireproof structure, an important consideration following several large urban fires in the late 19th century.

The successful construction of the Flatiron Building using these materials and methods marked a pivotal moment in architectural history. It demonstrated the viability of steel-skeleton concrete construction, which enabled buildings to reach unprecedented heights. This technique became a fundamental part of the design of skyscrapers and led to the proliferation of high-rise buildings in cities around the world, effectively changing the urban landscape forever.

From Carbon Heavy Office to Green Residential Building 

Fast forward to today, the Flatiron building again has been on the cutting edge of technology. Post covid remote work has substantially reduced the need for office buildings. At the same time cities across the world have passed legislation targeting carbon emissions. This has put a unique crunch on older commercial buildings throughout the country.

In a pioneering move, in 2023, the Brodsky Organization, the current owners of the Flatiron building, announced they are converting the building into residential condos. At the same time, the 125+ year old building will be quietly transforming itself into one of the greenest buildings in the country by implementing a number of energy efficiency measures including smart controls with wireless sensors.

There are many thousands of century-old office buildings stretching across the US. And, just like the Flatiron, they were not initially designed for the environmental standards or use cases of today. The Flatiron building has shown, with the ingenuity and the right technology, we can preserve historical architecture, reduce carbon output, create new homes, AND cut the cost of living in the cities we love.

The Flatiron Building's story is not just one of innovation but also a tale of how necessity drives innovation. The unique challenges of its site and construction in 1900 AND today, fostered creative solutions that would ultimately influence global standards in construction and building operations for hundreds of years to come.

Energy Efficiency Rebates Make It Possible For All Historic Buildings To Improve

The path to reducing carbon emissions and becoming more energy efficiency can't rely only on new buildings made with modern design and materials. It requires older buildings to improve as well.

Most local utility companies offer generous rebates to help cover the costs of reducing energy use. You can check to see what your building qualifies for here