The Learning Curve

Dec. 4, 2006
A review of Buildings magazine throughout its 100 years of operation illustrates that the commercial buildings industry - although decidedly mature - is ever-changing and dynamic

In my 2-plus decades at Buildings magazine, and as evidenced by a review of the publication throughout its 100 years of operation, the commercial buildings industry - although decidedly mature - is ever-changing and dynamic. So, too, are the professionals charged with its progress.

In January 1906, under The Building Manager and Owner masthead, the magazine described the fast pace of building operation: steel-framed construction, electric lights, and elevators. Not surprisingly, great emphasis was placed on the mechanical operation of facilities during Buildings magazine's first few years, as well as the industry's belief that in unity and cooperation lay the key to increasing profits. Among reader concerns: Is $2 per square foot a fair price to charge a tenant for rent? Are buildings adequately fireproofed (especially in light of the devastating fires that followed the earthquake in San Francisco)? Will this new trade journal succeed in helping organize the profession nationwide?

Fast forward 25 years to 1931, when reader Lee T. Smith announced: "Twenty-five years ago, it was pretty much every man for himself. Each one was solving his own problems alone - or solving as many as he could of them. We had nobody to go to for information or counsel. Today, we meet in committee and tackle common foes." This was written, of course, after the crash of 1929. When the Empire State Building opened in May 1931, office building vacancy rates nationwide were at 17 percent and climbing (to an eventual 27 percent nationwide average by 1934). Ironically, in the midst of those dark years, Buildings celebrated its silver anniversary, citing key technological developments that truly heralded the arrival of "modern times," specifically fluorescent lighting and air-conditioning.

Jump ahead another 25 years to Buildings magazine's golden anniversary in 1956. "Since the end of the Depression, businesses began to drift slowly from the central cities toward the cheaper, less-crowded suburban areas; with the end of WWII, many cities felt that gradual movement had become a tidal wave." Buildings touched upon the issue of decentralization, and this early flight from the cities brought with it two distinct developments - both of which remain in the building industry. "Decentralization spurred another boom in building modernization ... as building owners once again hustled to keep pace with newer facilities. And, just as importantly, the move to suburbia saw the rise of another now-familiar phenomenon: the shopping center."

As we celebrate the close of the 100th-anniversary year in this December 2006 issue, it's impossible to summarize a century of history within a few words.

But, some things do stay the same. Just as my predecessors did 25 years ago in Buildings' 75th-anniversary issue (September 1981), I'll leave you with this simple message: We are part of a very important tradition. Value that, and carry it on.

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