High Rise Hell

Manhattan: Esplanade Apartments and Lake Shore Drive Apartments

American urban architecture is, for the most part, a series of rectangular Kleenex boxes fronted by rows of large glass windows, requiring scandalous amounts of electricity for air conditioning. When Mies van der Rohe and other postwar architects pioneered their glass towers, they little thought that they were creating unhealthy environments for companies and their workers, and even more so for the dwellers of apartments and condominiums built in that style.

For a quarter of a century, I worked in two such glass towers in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, just south of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). They were right across Westwood Boulevard from each other, and both had what I feel is a baneful effect on my health.

It was only when I retired that I discovered I was not always coming down with colds and headaches. The way that air is circulated in these towers reminds me of giant free-standing Petri dishes.

With global warming, it is becoming more expensive than ever to cool these buildings, at a time when the air outside is requiring even more juice for the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. In Los Angeles during the frequent heat waves, I remember dreading going down to the parking lot to get my car. It was almost like crawling through a sewer.

All these architectural fads are based on what seems cheap and feasible at the time they are introduced.

I Spent 16 Years Here

I remember once taking a course in commercial real estate at UCLA. One of the things I learned is that building owners could request—and get—higher rent for suites which have corner offices. Just the sort of thing for a CEO with a swelled head! And that’s one of the reasons for all the Kleenex boxes.