(FORTUNE Magazine) – Please listen carefully, Mr. Roark," newspaper mogul Gail Wynand instructs the architect hero of Ayn Rand's 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. "I wish to undertake the construction of the Wynand Building at once. I wish it to be the tallest structure of the city."And now...the new gleaming powerful Apple Headquarters:
Wynand's skyward spirit still animates his fellow media barons. Last month, the massive Time Warner Center grabbed the commanding heights above New York City's Central Park. Directly to the east, Bloomberg L.P.'s telescoping tower is nearing completion. A few blocks to the south, Hearst is topping its 1920s headquarters with a steel-and-glass prism, while the New York Times breaks ground on a giant that will rival Rockefeller Center in height. At 3 and 4 Times Square, Reuters and Conde Nast theatrically announce their presence with a pair of deconstructivist skyscrapers.
Together these buildings announce the dawn of the Media Age--yet the very fact of their construction could indicate that the companies' bright noon has already passed. A quick architectural tour suggests that when trophy buildings go up, companies' fortunes go down. Across the street from the Time Warner Center is the 1969 Gulf & Western Building, which boldly declared the Age of the Conglomerate until its conversion to Trump International Hotel & Tower. Chicago has no Sears in its Sears Tower, no John Hancock in its Hancock Tower, no Ward's in its Montgomery Ward Tower. Many of Houston's landmark skyscrapers--Transco Tower, Republic Bank Center, Texas Commerce Tower--have been renamed for companies that still exist.
Real-life publisher Joseph Pulitzer knew none of that, of course, when his 1890 World Building placed him higher than the spire of New York's Trinity Church and, more important, above the Tribune Tower next door. If he was among the first to tap the power of tall buildings, it was the 1908 Singer Building--whose slender New York tower marked the high point of the sewing-machine company's fame--that was the first trophy skyscraper. "Wherever I went," Frank Woolworth said after a trip to Europe, "[people] asked about the Singer Building and its famous tower." Metropolitan Life Co. would briefly eclipse Singer's 612 feet with its 700-foot clock tower on Gotham's Madison Square. But with the push of a button in 1913, President Wilson illuminated a new Gothic spire whose 792 feet would remain unchallenged until Walter Chrysler entered the picture in 1930: Woolworth had built a tower of his own.
Ego wasn't the only force summoning these structures from the ground. New construction techniques, soaring land prices, and competition for light and air all conspired to push them higher. But the corporate trophy building was above all an identity statement. "This is who we are," it said. "This is why we're powerful." The black-and-gold crown of American Radiator Co.'s New York headquarters glowed like a radiator coil at night. The decoration on American Piano Co.'s 57th Street headquarters was the medal it had won at an 1867 Paris competition--taunting rival Steinway down the block.
The Singer Building didn't survive. Demolished in 1968 to make way for the boxy U.S. Steel Building (now the former U.S. Steel Building), it was also, fortunately, an exception. Under the turbulent gales of capitalism, the glass, steel, and stone of America's pyramids have proved far more durable than the corporate Pharaohs who built them. Intended as symbols of bedrock permanence and power, they survive instead as giant tombstones--many of them beautiful.
When I see this... it makes me sad. I wonder...when will the For Sale signs or For Lease signs start to pop up? 2024? 2026? 2028?
I can already see Apple employees reading this, saying to themselves "What an idiot. How could he write something like this? Apple will never go away. They will always reinvent themselves.:
Reinvent themselves? I never doubted that. But....will they reinvent themselves...smaller?