The Flatiron Building, or Fuller Building, as it was originally called, is located at 175 Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, New York City and is considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper. Upon completion in 1902 it was one of the tallest buildings in the city. Designed by Daniel Burnham, the Flatiron Building is one of the most recognizavble early steel skyscraper constructions in the United States. It is known for its triangular structural composition which also gave the building its name.
The building anchors the south (downtown) end of Madison Square and the north (uptown) end of the Ladies' Mile Historic District. The neighborhood around it is called the Flatiron District after its signature building, which has become an icon of New York City. The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
The Flatiron Building was designed by Chicago's Daniel Burnham as a vertical Renaissance palazzo with Beaux-Arts styling. Unlike New York's early skyscrapers, which took the form of towers arising from a lower, blockier mass, such as the contemporary Singer Building (1902-1908), the Flatiron Building epitomizes the Chicago school conception: like a classical Greek column, its facade - limestone at the bottom changing to glazed terra-cotta from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company in Tottenville, Staten Island as the floors rise - is divided into a base, shaft and capital.
Early sketches by Daniel Burnham show a design with an (unexecuted) clockface and a far more elaborate crown than in the actual building. Though Burnham maintained overall control of the design process, he was not directly connected with the details of the structure as built; credit should be shared with his designer Frederick P. Dinkelberg, a Pennsylvania-born architect in Burnham's office, who first worked for Burnham in putting together the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, for which Burnham was the chief of construction and master designer. Working drawings for the Flatiron Building, however, remain to be located, though renderings were published at the time of construction in American Architect and Architectural Record.
Since it employed a steel skeleton - with the steel coming from the American Bridge Company in Pennsylvania - it could be built to 22 stories (285 feet) relatively easily, which would have been difficult using other construction methods of that time. It was a technique familiar to the Fuller Company, a contracting firm with considerable expertise in building such tall structures. At the vertex, the triangular tower is only 6.5 feet (2 m) wide; viewed from above, this "pointy" end of the structure describes an acute angle of about 25 degrees.
The "cowcatcher" retail space at the front of the building was not part of Burnham or Dinkelberg's design, but was added at the insistence of Harry Black in order to maximize the use of the building's lot and produce some retail income to help defray the cost of construction. Black pushed Burnham hard for plans for the addition, but Burnham resisted because of the aesthetic effect it would have on the design of the "prow" of the building, where it would interrupt the two-story high Classical columns whch were echoed at the top of the building by two columns which supported the cornice. Black insisted, and Burnham was forced to accept the addition, despite the interruption of the design's symmetry. Another addition to the building not in the original plan was the penthouse, which brought the building to 21 floors. It was constructed after the rest of the building had been completed to be used as artists' studios, and was quickly rented out to artists such as Louis Fancher, many of whom contributed to the pulp magazines which were produced in the offices below.
New York's Flatiron Building was not the first building of its triangular ground-plan: aside from a possibly unique triangular Roman temple built on a similarly constricted site in the city of Verulamium, Britannia, the Maryland Inn in Annapolis (1782), the Gooderham Building of Toronto (1892), and the English-American Building in Atlanta (1897) predate it. All, however, are smaller than their New York counterpart.
The Flatiron Building has become an icon representative of New York City, but the critical response to it at the time was not completely positive, and what praise it garnered was often for the cleverness of the engineering involved. Montgomery Schuyler, editor of Architectural Record said that its "awkwardness [is] entirely undisguised, and without even an attempt to disguise them, if they have not even been aggravated by the treatment. ... The treatment of the tip is an additional and it seems wanton aggravation of the inherent awkwardness of the situation." He praised the surface of the building, and the detailing of the terra-cotta work, but criticized the practicality of the large number of windows in the building: "[The tenant] can, perhaps, find wall space within for one roll top desk without overlapping the windows, with light close in front of him and close behind him and close on one side of him. But suppose he needed a bookcase? Undoubtedly he has a highly eligible place from which to view processions. But for the transaction of business?"
But some saw the building differently. Futurist H. G. Wells wrote in his 1906 book The Future in America: A Search After Realities:
I found myself agape, admiring a sky-scraper the prow of the Flat-iron Building, to be particular, ploughing up through the traffic of Broadway and Fifth Avenue in the afternoon light.
The Flatiron was to attract the attention of numerous artists. It was the subject of one of Edward Steichen's atmospheric photographs, taken on a wet wintry late afternoon in 1904, as well as a memorable image by Alfred Stieglitz taken the year before, to which Steichen was paying homage. Stieglitz reflected on the dynamic symbolism of the building, noting that it "...appeared to be moving toward [him] like the bow of a monster ocean steamer - a picture of a new America still in the making," and remarked that what the Parthenon was to Athens, the Flatiron was to New York. When Stieglitz' photograph was published in Camera Work, his friend Sadakichi Hartmann, a writer, painter and photographer, accompanied it with an essay on the building: "A curious creation, no doubt, but can it be called beautiful? Beauty is a very abstract idea ... Why should the time not arrive when the majority without hesitation will pronounce the 'Flat-iron'a thing of beauty?"
Besides Stieglitz and Steichen, photographers such as Alvin Langdon Coburn, Jessie Tarbox Beals, painters of the Ashcan School like John Sloan, Everett Shinn and Ernest Lawson, as well as Paul Cornoyer and Childe Hassam, lithographer Joseph Pennell, illustrator John Edward Jackson as well the French Cubist Albert Gleizes all took the Flatiron as the subject of their work. But decades after it was completed, others still could not come to terms with the building. In 1939, sculptor William Ordway Partridge remarked that it was "a disgrace to our city, an outrage to our sense of the artistic, and a menace to life.