The Skyscraper and the Suburb: Architecture’s Territorial Ambitions, ca. 1921

watsonDuring the early twentieth century, the unlikely pairing of the skyscraper and the suburb transformed the cultural, political, economic, and physical landscapes of the United States. Of particular interest is how the same building type—the skyscraper—was used to simultaneously advocate for increased urban density and greater suburban dispersal. The extremes of these arguments are embodied in two projects: Rockefeller Center and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City. This study explores the changing relationship between city and suburb in the United States, as well as the role architecture plays in defining the limits and possibilities of urban thought.

Rockefeller Center and Broadacre City have often been understood as singular events in the history of the American built environment, as representatives respectively of a patron’s largesse and an architect’s ideals or, conversely, as prefigurations of postwar urban megastructures and suburban sprawl. They occupy pivotal, competing positions within late nineteenth and early-twentieth century attempts to reorganize the built environment around a rapidly expanding industrial economy, new modes of transportation, innovations in communications technology, and attendant sociocultural transformations. In other words, the juxtaposition of these two projects positions them within changing relationships between the city and region in the United States. As such, this project revisits the history of urban and regional planning by considering these projects as crucial, albeit idiosyncratic, contributions to the latter.