Interview: The Skyscraper Museum
At DHPSNY, we love to learn as much as we can about collecting institutions of all kinds around the State, and we also enjoy meeting the people behind the scenes who work to carefully document and preserve the State’s rich history. Our mission, of course, is to reach every single one of these organizations with free programs and services, and though we’ve conducted nearly 50 Planning & Assessment site visits since last fall—and detailed those travels in our monthly e-newsletters and DHPSNY News brochure—there’s still so much of the State left for us to explore.
This month, we’re launching a new series of brief conversations with library, museum, and archives professionals and volunteers from around New York. Our first chat is with Josh Vogel, Gallery Manager at the Skyscraper Museum in New York City. Just the name of this museum, located at the southwestern tip of Manhattan, piqued our interest, and we appreciate Josh taking a moment to tell us more about the museum’s programs and collections. Thanks to Peter Sohmer, the museum’s Office Manager, for putting us in touch.
What’s your role at the Museum? How long have you been there?
I am the museum's Gallery Manager and have been here for five years. I oversee everything from exhibition prep and design to special web projects and overseeing work on upcoming exhibitions.
Tell us a little about the Skyscraper Museum. Where is it located? What’s your mission?
The Skyscraper Museum is really one of a kind. Founded in 1996, the Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future - the only institution in the city to be wholly focused on architectural history.
Our mission is to celebrate the rich architectural heritage of New York City, the world's first and foremost vertical metropolis, and examines the historical forces and individuals that have shaped its successive skylines. Through exhibitions, programs and publications, the museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. We have an international focus as well and periodically explore the forces propelling skyscraper construction across the globe.
In 2004, we moved into our permanent home in lower Manhattan's Battery Park City at 39 Battery Place, just a few minutes’ walk away from the historic skyscrapers of the Financial District.
What’s your favorite item in the Museum’s collection and why?
I'd say the museum's most prized item in the collection is the "Erection Views of Empire State Building," a hand-bound photograph album, organized and compiled by the general contractors of the Empire State Building, Starrett Brothers and Eken, documenting the construction of the iconic skyscraper.
What can you tell us about the Museum’s web project TEN & TALLER?
TEN & TALLER is one of our most exciting web projects in recent years. It uses three interfaces to examine the rise of 19th century Manhattan skyscrapers. The map illustrates all the buildings in the exhibition, allowing you to click on each one to explore historic data and images related to the building. You can also transition from a modern to a historic base map to go back in time and see the buildings on a period street grid. A slider allows the user to animate the buildings onto the map in chronological order. We made some incredible historical observations from the data by interpreting it through these interfaces.
What kinds of programming does the Museum present?
The Museum holds monthly author’s talks on new books about architecture, urbanism, and New York City history. Recently, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting authors including Mike Wallace, a preeminent historian of New York City, and Leslie E. Robertson, the decorated structural engineer. Periodically, we organize Skyscraper Seminars for a professional audience and in-depth symposiums with experts, often in conjunction with our exhibitions. We also host bi-weekly Saturday Family Programs, which let children experience a hands-on approach to architecture.
What upcoming programs does the Museum have on the horizon?
We are excited to host the photographer Barbara G. Mensch on Tuesday, December 5th, to discuss her book South Street, a visual essay about the last years of the Fulton Fish Market. There are plenty more talks and symposia in the works for the new year!
Photos, from top: View of the Skyscraper Museum gallery; a selection from "Erection Views of Empire State Building;" TEN & TALLER interactive map. All images courtesy of the Skyscraper Museum. Visit skyscraper.org to learn more.