The Skyscraper Without a Window

May 25, 2016 5 comments

Standing at 33 Thomas Street in the Civic Center neighborhood of New York City is a 550-foot tall monolithic, granite-clad, concrete building. Even in a city like New York, where tall buildings are typical, people passing by would look up to gaze at this intimidating structure —their attention drawn not by the building’s height but by its fortress-like appearance. Aside from a couple of ventilation openings on the sides, the building’s bare concrete slab fa├žade is without a single window.

The Long Lines Building is owned by the multinational telecom company AT&T, and is indeed an impenetrable fortress. When it was built in 1974, AT&T asked architect John Carl Warnecke to design a structure that could withstand a nuclear blast and protect its occupants from fallout for up to two weeks after the attack. Such concerns were not uncommon at that time, and AT&T wanted to be sure that their expensive equipment stayed undamaged.


Photo credit: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

The building was originally built to house AT&T’s solid-state switches and other equipment for the company’s long distance telephone lines, hence the name Long Lines Building. These switches required a high level of security and space, so the floors of the building are taller than average. Each floor is 18 feet high, so even though the building is as high as a 40 story tower, it has only 29 floors. The floors are also designed to bear an extremely large amount of weight.

The building continued to function as AT&T’s long distance telephone exchange until 1999. After that AT&T vacated the building and moved to another a few blocks away. The building is still used for telephone switching by some local exchange carriers, but some of the space is also used as a high security datacenter.

Since AT&T moved out, the building has been referred to by its street address 33 Thomas St., like many major New York City commercial buildings.


Photo credit: Jordi E/Flickr


Photo credit: Alan Benzie/Flickr


Photo credit: Christian Peter/Flickr

According to New York Times, AT&T built several (almost) windowless buildings to function as telephone exchanges. There is another one at Houston, for instance.


AT&T Building at Houston. One wall is completely devoid of windows. Photo credit: Wolfgang Houston/Panoramio


AT&T Building at Houston. Photo credit: Bobby “Burning7Chrome” Quine/Panoramio


  1. Only if the building is not very close to ground zero.
    If it is close enough, it is not going to survive.

  2. When I was growing up in the '60s in Delray Beach, Florida, there was a similarly-windowless structure that was also built and inhabited by "the phone company," at that time Bell. It was commonly believed by the operators who worked in the building that it was designed that way to remove the distraction of an outside view from the operators who worked long hours on round-the-clock shifts. It seemed plausible at the time, not unlike the strategy in casino design to keep the gamblers insulated from fun-killing external cues ... like the sun rising.

  3. Our local Ma Bell building was only about 4 stories tall but had no windows until it got sold.

  4. I know this had to be a telecom building before I read a word of the text. Except on older telco buildings, all buildings with switching equipment have been built without windows. That's not because of operators, but because windows are the weakest spot in a wall. No windows means better protection for central offices and the critically important communications equipmet from problems such as severe weather, vandalism, terrorism, etc.

  5. Watch "The president's analyst"


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