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The New York Times yesterday reported that Conde Nast would be the anchor for 1 World Trade Centre, the first and largest of the four office blocks destined to replace the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11 in 2001. Conde Nast, by the way, publishes some of the most well-respected magazines in America including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Bon Appétit and Architectural Digest

Apparently, there had been some speculation as to whether the NY Port Authority (which owns the WTC site) could attract major corporate tenants for the WTC. Personally, I can’t see how there could ever have been any doubt in this regard. Whilst Australians don’t treat their historic office buildings with much respect, Americans (or at least New Yorkers) always have.

Australian commercial firms tend to love the biggest and most modern skyscrapers. That’s why Chifley Square, the tallest office tower in Sydney, holds many prestigious firms including UBS, and why newer towers like Governor Macquarie Building hold many of the others. By contrast, the MLC Centre which was designed by the famous Australian architect, Harry Seidler, was just as prestigious in its day and stands upon Martin Place has important firms but, perhaps, with slightly less prestige overall. Whilst I am describing this in quite broad, subjective terms, this is reflected in the rental yields for office blocks. Australians don’t care about the historical nature of their great buildings.

In sharp contradistinction, Americans love their old, historic buildings. Americans know their architectural history (obviously, not all Americans, I mean elite Americans who care what building a firm has its offices in). They know about the Gridiron Building. To look at it, the Gridiron Building is rather ordinary. It’s short by modern standards, its incredibly cramped; wedged between two roads at the intersection of several roads.

The Grid Iron Building

But the Gridiron Building was the world’s first skyscraper. The architect, confined by the narrow strip of land he had to work with, decided to maximise that land by building upwards. To date, high buildings were built with thick walls which could withstand the stress of the building’s weight. Instead, the Gridiron Building was built, literally with an iron grid; a lattice of steel girders which would bear the weight of the building. That lattice formation sits at the heart of every modern skyscraper. The Empire State Building is another classic building, the tallest building of its time; built during the Great Depression, it gave work to the tens of thousands of poor working class people in the New York of the 1930s. Rockefeller Centre, named after the oil magnate John Rockefeller, is another great symbolic building. So much so that they named a TV show, 30 Rock, after it.

The general point remains; older, historic buildings actually demand a rent premium because of their historic nature. Not every building can command such a rent, but in Australia not any building commands it.

Which is why I find it confusing to hear arguments that the WTC would be filled only with government offices. Why wouldn’t you want an office in the most historic buildings in the modern USA? How many companies could leverage off the fact that they are the anchor tenants to the most patriotic towers in the nation?

That’s why its pleasing Conde Nast is moving into the World Trade Centre. Whilst the American economy (particularly cities like NYC dependent upon the finance sector) is flagging and demand for office space is down, it would be shocking indeed if the NY Port Authority could find no tenants for the World Trade Centre.

Edit: I should also add that the Rockefeller Centre is itself a very beautiful building, with a history of its own. It’s a delightful example of Art Deco architecture. Equally, the Empire State Building is quite a stately building. You can’t really tell just by seeing it in photographs, but its quite beautiful up close.

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