Flatiron Building in New York is coming up for auction soon. I learned about that when I posted a photo of the Flatiron Building being constructed on a social network. It triggered a chain of thoughts about permanence in what we build as a society. 

The building was started in 1901 and was finished in May 1902. The architect, Daniel Burnham, not only created a beautiful design to utilize what was not an attractive plot of land but also turned it into an urban icon. Since then, it has become as much a part of New York cityscape as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. 

Seeing how beautiful it still looks and inspires even today, is a testament to its good bones. One hundred and twenty years later, it is still standing tall & good. There is a lesson: good bones sound good quality is timeless! Flatiron Building is one of the most Instagrammed locations in North America, if not in the world. 

“The Flatiron Building and the picture postcard seemed made for each other,” Miriam Berman, an urban archivist and designer, once said. “The shapes were just right.” Of course, not everything in the building was perfect. There were issues galore, but the building has survived. How many of today’s buildings can stand the test of time? 

People argue that the speed with which our buildings are put together today is why we don’t have many iconic buildings. Speed to market isn’t new — Flatiron Building also went up in just over a year. If you look around today, all you can see are hastily thrown-up boxes devoid of personality, useful only as disposable fashion. 

We have lost a willingness to create something beautiful and lasting. Built to last is not part of this post-Internet society, and our ethos as a society has changed. And it is not just buildings but everything else around us — they are designed with intentional obsolescence. Whether it is modern cars, fashion, or conveniences, the marketplace is optimized for maximum profitability and immense scale. What a terrible way to think about our urban spaces and our future! 

March 17, 2023. San Francisco