Tuesday, November 23, 2010


We all had our favorite things in New York.  Setting aside the NBA Store as a standard other things can't hope to reach, we have Sarah and Asian art at the Met, Suz and dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, Kathy watching her nieces, and me . . . looking at water towers.

Yes, pretty much all the world at my feet, and I am smitten by what are essentially large barrels on the tops of buildings.  What is with that?  The humble water tower, like this one on a building directly across from our hotel, is something human in a city that seems to thrive on mechanized.  Its scale is all out of proportion to its usefulness.  All buildings are required to have water towers, in order to maintain water pressure.  Required.  So on top of every building, great or small, hidden or not, there is a water tower.

Some of them, on the newer buildings, are either concealed as part of the architecture, or made to look like squat pieces of machinery, like the innumerable HVAC systems that sprout everywhere.  But many of them are charmingly similar to barrels, great copper-bound wooden tanks, that apparently leak until the wood swells and seals them.  These look like little primitive huts on the tops of great buildings.  They're a small, organic touch in a city of colossae, unlikely African villages sprouting on the roofs, or yurts that have evolved to appreciate urban life. 

When I think of New York, the first thing I remember is not the cabs or the crowds, the press of humanity or the energy, but the water towers, perched on the roofs, benevolent little Buddhas, forgotten, but more necessary than the women in tall boots and the men in overcoats.  The city would not miss one human in ten million, alas, but it would miss water pressure pretty quickly.

No comments: