Ironically, it was in the speedy proliferation of the skyscraper form that its greatest potential for harm finally laid. Whether scaling the heights of elegance, as Seagram and the Equitable did, or trolling the aesthetic depths, as did so many lesser versions, they were ultimately perceived as repetitive, impersonal, and authoritarian. Not coincidentally, those very qualities attracted the attention of the country’s expanding corporate community, which saw in these large new forms an opportunity to affirm the power of financial success. In this, the commercial patrons of the 1950s differed not at all from the great Renaissance merchants of Florence and Rome, who had embraced the palazzo form for much the same reason, or indeed the Woolworths and the Singers.
And for all the insistence by the Modernists that they were originally inspired by social goals, the architecture to which they gave birth had less to do with the lessons of the machine in service to society than with an underlying urge for mechanistic order. There was little concern for context, and a clear aversion to the old architectural fabric. In a memorable scene from the film version of Ayn Rand’s 1943 paean to individualism, The Fountainhead, the architect Howard Roark, declares: “My ideas are mine! Those who accept them must do so on my terms!”