December 27, 2014

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New York City Tours & Sightseeing | M2M Tours – NYC Water Towers

Form or Function: The History of NYC’s Iconic Water Towers

One of the things M2M tour guests usually notice half way through their trip around Manhattan is the very large tanks that sit perched a top many NYC buildings. What are they? What purpose do they M2M NYC Tours | Water Towers - What are they?serve?

To begin with the tanks hold water (some potable, some not) and they are not only a century and a half way of transporting water around the New York City area, they have grown to be as much an icon of the NYC area as the Empire State Building or even Statue of Liberty. It’s often only after we describe their history in fact that many people begin noticing just how many there are!

The tanks first came about in the early 1900’s as city planning offices required their installation on buildings higher than six stories for the distribution of potable water and to provide emergency storage for fire protection. Today, many New Yorkers don’t realize that they drink and bathe from the water stored in them.

M2M NYC Tours | Water Towers - Types

Kinds of NYC Water Towers (Click to Expand)

About 99 percent of New York City’s 10-20 thousand residential water tanks are constructed out of wood, either cedar or California redwood. The remaining one percent are constructed out of steel; however, most of the steel tanks that have reached the end of their useful lives are being replace with wood tanks. Wood tanks are cheaper, they don’t corrode, and they don’t give water a metallic taste. Plus, wood tanks do a better job of minimizing the effects of seasonal temperature fluctuations.

In 2013, a large scale public art project transformed 300 of these tanks into public art installations for all New Yorkers to enjoy. The only prerequisite of the design was that they be about water, aiming to increase public awareness of the need for water conservation. The project mixed the work of world class established artists, celebrities, emerging artists and even high school students from the New York City area.

With its sleek and modern build, you might never guess that the 1 World Trade Center actually contains 16 hidden water tanks! The tanks are strategically placed about every 20 floors, granting steady water pressure to all areas of the building.

In recent years the many New York City area water towers have become blank canvases for local artists to add splashes of color to the NYC skyline in a unique and fun way. In 2013, a six-week event, The Watertower Speakeasy in Chelsea – that’s right, a speakeasy IN a water tower – invited urban buffs for an up close and personal evening inside those ubiquitous M2M NYC Tours | Water Towers - Public Artcharacters of the city skyline. The event was produced by N.D. Austin under the organization The Night Heron.


For more information on water tower projects visit:

Iain Cameron

Category: Architecture, Behind the Scenes, History, NYC Skyline

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