The issue of building height is becoming a hot political topic all around the country. Folks have some pretty strong thoughts about how tall things should be. What are those ideas based on though? Do we really have a good sense of what sized buildings do and don’t make sense in our cities? Here’s a little experiment to play with bias. And also make some dumb pictures.

SPARC Design in Asheville produced this interesting exploration of building height in downtown Asheville. I am pretty excited about this approach. A picture can be worth a thousand words and visualizing the implications of policy decisions is absolutely invaluable. More to the point it’s just fun to see what it would look like to drop a few unusual buildings into Asheville. There are some particularly great scale diagrams out there.

Borrowed from the SPARC post. I like that they included some unorthadox comparisons like the Titanic and a big tree.

SPARC went with some iconic world landmarks to provide perspective on the height of downtown Asheville. It’s somewhat startling to realize that pretty much all of downtown could seemingly fit within the Empire State Building (which is no longer even that high on the list of world’s tallest buildings). It’s equally amazing to see how the Great Pyramid would dominate the cityscape despite being thousands of years old. They’re totally right too in that the Space Needle looks at home in Asheville.

They used the BB&T building as a benchmark for measuring height. BB&T is technically not the tallest building in Asheville but, because of topography and its design, it stands out like a great dark monolith looming over the city. It’s also an opportune comparison since it will soon transition into a hotel complete with facelift. Ironically, it is somewhat fitting that BB&T become a hotel since the current building itself took the place of the old Langren Hotel. It’s a shame the site didn’t just stay the Langren in the first place. Had it been completed, the tower on the Grove Arcade would have been taller.

Their work inspired me to drop my own set of tall things into downtown and see the result. My choice of comparable height icons is somewhat less iconic but I tried to pull together some historically significant structures though. I used a combination of Sketchup, GoogleEarth, and Photoshop to put together these life-changing graphics.

Alternate Histories of Downtown Asheville

I’m told its full of wigs now…

What might Asheville look like if the 1982 World’s Fair had been held in Asheville rather than Knoxville? Would Asheville have ended up with the famous “Sun-Sphere?” It’s no Space Needle but it’ll do for crushing cars or maybe I.M. Pei buildings I guess.

The Bank of America HQ in Charlotte is the tallest building in NC and the 161st tallest in the world. 

For a brief time in the 1920s, I’ve been told, Asheville had taller buildings and more tall buildings than any other city in the state. This boast now belongs to Charlotte, but what might Asheville look like with its own banking high-rise? All of a sudden tall takes on a different meaning.

Oh the humanity. Only the French Broad Chocolate Lounge‘s parabolic chocolate roasting mirror can save us now.

In 1982’s Ghostbusters this monstrosity was animated by the demon Gozer (and Dan Ackroyds’ reckless imagination) to wreak havoc on the streets of New York. Somehow I always imagined him being taller than half of the BB&T. What kind of havoc could he cause if he made his way right through pack square and into the wigsphere?

Finally here are all of these additions together. It’s a very different Asheville. And then again, not one that looks too out of place. It turns out you can still pack a lot into downtown.

Downtown Buildings by Height

Moving left to right or shortest to tallest here are the relative heights of some important structures mixed in with Asheville’s buildings. Height is in meters.

SPARC’s height chart definitely looks better than mine, but I think it makes the point. 

Though not as massive as either the Statue of Liberty or the Great Pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes is considered one of the great wonders of the ancient world. Asheville’s own Flat-Iron building presents an interesting opportunity to compare it to its much larger cousin in New York City. Besides architecture, I was curious about how the vertical promontory portion of Chimney Rock compared to tall buildings. North Carolina, it turns out is home to the tallest tree east of the Mississippi: the “Boogerman Pine” of Haywood County. It’s actually just 13 meters shy of the height of the BB&T. The BB&T is about the same height as a Boeing 747 turned on its end and it’s also just a bit shorter than the Reynolds Building in Greensboro which was a dry-run for designing the Empire State Building.  Back in 1883 the completed towers of the Brooklyn Bridge became the tallest structures in New York (and the entire western hemisphere). I thought this might be pertinent given Asheville’s desire for a landmark bridge over the French Broad. The Jefferson Standard building overtook Asheville’s Jackson Building to become the tallest building between Washington D.C. and Atlanta.

Migrating Skyscraper Game

Wanna cram weird buildings into a city? Here’s how: Go get Sketchup and GoogleEarth if you don’t have them. Go to the 3D warehouse and download a special building. I went with the world’s tallest: Burj Dubai. The Stay-Puft-Marshmellow-Man is another excellent choice. Follow these instructions to add a geolocation to your model. Move your building somewhere it doesn’t belong and export it to KMZ. Go open that file. Now you can see what it looks like in GoogleEarth. 

I put Burj Dubai in NYC. I wanted to see exactly how much taller it is than everything else. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look that out of place in Central Park.

Originally Written June 2015