Constraints, metaphor and beauty

Ray Hood’s RCA/GE Building is the the tallest tower in Rockefeller Center.

Constructed in the depths of the depression the building derives beauty from a simple metaphor for the worker — carrying people efficiently and safely to a well-lit space.

“As each elevator shaft ended,” Hood explained in Architectural Forum, we cut the building back to maintain the same 27 feet from the core of the building to the exterior walls. By doing so we have eliminated every dark corner. — Great Fortune by Daniel Okrent

Hood’s design emerged from a set of constraints: the number of elevators required, the achievable height of an elevator shaft, and the distance one can sit from a window in New York and still receive natural light. The resulting setbacks thin the tower as it rises achieving elegance without ornament and lightness despite a massive stone facade.

What an achievement for a man who died at 53 while Rockefeller Center was still under construction.

But even the most expressive, inevitable metaphor loses coherence across implementers and over time. His fellow project architects crafted some blocky companion towers. Inside “30 Rock”, I’d bet seventy years of renovation have thrust some employees into the shadows.

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.