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The Weird and Windowless Skyscraper

Weird Windowless Skyscraper

If you have ever visited Manhattan, you have probably looked up in awe at the tall office buildings. New York City is known for having breathtaking skyscrapers as part of its iconic skyline. The city is well known by everyone for its fast pace, skyscrapers and skyline and its busy residents.

But there is one building that many people have walked past and either done a double take or not even noticed. The building is not super tall but it has a very odd feature – it has no windows! It is a windowless skyscraper.

Where is the building? It is at 33 Thomas Street and also known as the “Long Lines Building.”

The building is 550 feet tall so not nearly as tall as nearby buildings, so it doesn’t stand out among the skyscrapers. This windowless building was designed for a very specific purpose. It only has 29 floors. But the height of each floor is almost double that in a standard building so if it was a regular office building it would be over 50 stories tall!

The Long Lines building was created by AT&T and  built for function and not for beauty, giving New York a unique building in its skyline.

Working in a Building Without Windows

Working in a building without windows sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Can you imagine no natural light, no access to fresh air, and just being stuck inside of a concrete box?

I can’t – that sounds horrible!

The outside of the building is just a giant slab of concrete and looks very basic. It does seem like an extremely minimal office space.

The Long Lines Building is not a normal building though since few people work inside or even ever go into the building.  Turns out the building is really just a massive house for telephone switching gear for AT&T.

How Materials Affected Building Design in NYC

In the height of the industrial revolution, cast iron was rather inexpensive. Because Steel had not been created,  cast iron was used in most buildings in both the United States and Britain.

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The building at 33 Thomas Street was no exception. The building that was there before AT&T made their improvements had an iron facade on the outside like the other nearby buildings at the time. 

The original building was demolished, but the cast iron façade was not destroyed. The architects created a design that used the existing cast iron pieces to create the core for the new building that is there today.

What is the Purpose of a Switch Building?

Today, switching points are a thing mostly of the past, so most people haven’t heard of them. But at the time, this is what the Long Lines Building was made for. At its height, the building helped with about 175 million calls a day!

The computers inside a switch building would take human voice and electronic pulses to route calls to their proper destinations.

Built to Withstand a Nuclear Attack

When the idea of the building came about, the thought was to build a structure that could house computers and telephone lines. Because it was built for function, the Long Lines Building does not need windows as the only people in there go to serve the computers.

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.

As a result, the architect made a building that was heavy-duty.  And since windows would make the structure weaker, they were eliminated from the building’s facade. It has been estimated that the building could stay functional for at least 14 days after a nuclear bomb!

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William H. Whyte Designed the Building

The architect behind the strange building was William H. Whyte. He 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.

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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 ventilation openings to help push out the hot air. The building also has six giant air ducts to keep things cool.

The Building Has Experienced System Failure

While the building was made to handle bombs, it has had some issues with its actual function in routing calls. For example, 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 oversight, and a human error.  It turns out the FAA also had private phone lines that ran through AT&T, so when the system went down, it impacted the FAA’s communication. This affected 398 airports around the country, causing much trouble with flights for some time.

Turns out that the mistake was that the back-up generator that had always worked in the past did not turn on that day. And the people who were supposed to maintain it did not. Finally, there were alarms, but no one noticed them.

What’s the Function of the Windowless Building Today?

As everyone reading this knows, most people have moved away from “landlines” (phones in your house) and so the intricate ground wiring of telephones used in the US many decades ago is now obsolete. Nearly everyone has a cellphone. So many of these switches in the Long Lines Building have already been moved somewhere else.

So the building has evolved its purposed. Instead of just being a phone line building, the Long Lines Building has become a home for new technology and moved toward using digital data servers and hosting online information.

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Nuclear Fears Affected Building Design and Architecture

The nuclear fear that caused the building of AT&Ts building was not unique and was common during the Cold War era in America when the US was focused on readiness in case of a nuclear attack.  Some major US cities had regular air raid drills so that made people focused on the possibility an attack could occur.

Also there were bomb shelters popping up all over the country and safe houses stocked full of canned goods as part of the preparation efforts in case of a nuclear bomb attack. Stories about nuclear war and nuclear bombs and surviving nuclear fall out were also common in the media.

All of this made AT&Ts bomb concerns seem pretty logical.

Video: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

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