When visiting Manhattan, tourists often look up in awe of the giant buildings. The city has breathtaking skyscrapers along its landscape. It is a city really known for its big buildings and busy residents. But among the cityscape, there is a building that may make you double-take. It is not noticeably tall, but the building does have an odd feature. It is a windowless skyscraper.
Standing at a mere 550 feet, the 33 Thomas Street building does not stick up as much as other buildings. Not short by other cities’ standards, but not tall by New York standards. The building was designed to meet a specific purpose. Known as the Long Lines Building, it only has 29 floors. That is because the height of each floor is almost double that in standard buildings.
The Long Lines building was a brainchild of AT&T, built for function and not for beauty, giving New York a curious feature in the skyline.
Working without Windows
Working in a building without windows sounds dreadful. No natural light, no access to fresh air, just stuck inside of a concrete box. The outside of the building is just a giant slab of concrete. People in there must have no distractions from their work. Maybe it is like a dungeon inside.
The Long Lines Building is not a normal building though. There are few workers who go inside. Well, not on a normal basis anyway. The Long Lines Building is called that because it is actually just a massive house for telephone switching gear for AT&T.
Architecture History of Manhattan
In the height of the industrial revolution, cast iron was pretty cheap. Steel had not been created yet, so cast iron was used in most buildings in both the United States and Britain.
The building at 33 Thomas Street was no exception. The building that was there before AT&T made their improvements had, much like all the neighboring buildings, a cast iron façade on the outside. While the original building was demolished, as all things seem to be to make room for the new, the cast iron façade was not destroyed. They used the existing cast iron pieces to make the core for the building that is there today.
The Purpose of a Switch Building
While switching points are a thing mostly of the past, that was what the Long Lines Building was made for. At its height, the building helped with about 175 million calls a day.
What happen is that the computers inside would take the human voice and use electronic pulses to move it to its destination. Almost like a human nervous system, the telephone signals work by reacting to pressures.
When the idea of the building came about, the thought was to build a structure that could house computers and telephone lines. Built for function, the Long Lines Building does not need windows as the only people in there go to serve the computers.
More than that, AT&T wanted a building that could handle anything, especially a nuclear attack. In the event that Manhattan was bombed, AT&T wanted to be sure that the phone lines would not go down. So the architect made a building that was heavy-duty. Windows would make the structure weaker. They have estimated that the building would continue to operate without interruption for about two weeks after a nuclear bomb.
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The Tallest Blank Walls
The architect behind the strange building was William H. Whyte who stated that the AT&T building had the biggest blank wall in the world. Made with concrete panels on the outside, they used flame-retardant granite to ensure that the building could handle a fire…or a bomb.
Of course, with all those electronics running on the inside, things can get pretty hot on the inside. Since the building has no windows, they did add in a couple of ventilation openings to help push out the hot air. The building also has six giant air ducts to keep things cool.
While the building was made to handle bombs, it could not be protected from humans. A human error made in the early 1990s ended with 5 million blocked calls as well as air travel disruption. It was a perfect storm of failure of equipment, management, and a human mistake. The FAA had private phone lines that ran through AT&T, so when the system went down, so did their ability to talk to one another. That affected 398 airports around the country, causing much trouble.
The mistake was that the back-up generator that had always worked in the past did not turn on that day. The people who were supposed to maintain it did not. Then, no one heard or noticed the alarms.
The Building of Today
In the modern world, we don’t use telephones the way that we used to 30 years ago. Most people have a cellphone now, making the intricate telephone line system obsolete. A good amount of the switches in the Long Lines Building have already been moved somewhere else.
But that doesn’t mean the building is useless. Instead of just being a phone line building, the Long Lines Building has made a great home for new technology. With the need of computer data servers, as everything has moved digital, the Long Lines Building has found a new purpose.
Nuclear Fears Affected Building Design and Architecture
The nuclear fear that caused the building of AT&Ts building was not unique. It was built during the Cold War Era where a lot of America was concerned about being ready in case a bomb was dropped. With weekly air raid drills in the major cities, people were ready to go.
With bomb shelters popping up all over the country and safe houses stocked full of canned goods, the nuclear fear was in full-swing. There were cover stories running well into the 1960s about surviving nuclear fallout, making AT&Ts bomb concerns seem pretty logical.
The NYC Skyscraper Without Windows
This is one of the coolest videos we have on BogglingFacts.com! Why aren’t there any windows in this NYC skyscraper? Well the story involves nuclear war, mass surveillance, and secret agents. Located in 33 Thomas Street New York, NY. This is the AT&T Long Lines Building.
Sources: nyc-architecture.com, nytimes.com, slate.com
I’m Natalie Garcia and I started this website to share my love of trivia, facts and fun knowledge tidbits. We cover things like celebrity gossip, historical facts, tv shows, world leaders and just odd and random fun things. I started this site to have some fun with my hobby and share some useful information with you, our community. Please feel to send me your suggestions and feedback through the contact form. And if you have suggestions for things to write about, please shoot me a message!