Setback (architecture)

setbackssetbackset backarchitectural setbacksfloor areas decrease progressivelyless floor area than the ones beneath themrecessionsset-backsetback featuresstep back principle
A setback, sometimes called step-back, is a step-like recession in a wall.wikipedia
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Step pyramid

stepped pyramidNsude Pyramidsstepped
The most prominent example of a setback technique is the step pyramids of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, such as the Teppe Sialk ziggurat or the Pyramid of Djoser. As architects learned how to turn setbacks into an architectural feature, most setbacks were however less pronounced than in step pyramids and often skillfully masked by rich ornamentation.
Ziggurats were huge religious monuments built in the ancient Mesopotamian valley and western Iranian plateau, having the form of a terraced step pyramid of successively receding stories or levels.

Equitable Building (Manhattan)

Equitable Building120 BroadwayBankers Club
Thus, the 38-story Equitable Building, constructed in New York in 1915, produced a huge shadow, said to "cast a noonday shadow four blocks long" which effectively deprived neighboring properties of sunlight.
Built as the headquarters of the Equitable Life Insurance Company, the Equitable Building was controversial because of its lack of setbacks, which in turn does not allow sunlight to reach the surrounding ground.

New York City

New YorkNew York, New YorkNew York City, New York
Thus, the 38-story Equitable Building, constructed in New York in 1915, produced a huge shadow, said to "cast a noonday shadow four blocks long" which effectively deprived neighboring properties of sunlight. For example, in high density districts, such as Manhattan in New York, front walls of buildings at the street line may be limited to a specified height or number of stories.
The 1916 Zoning Resolution required setbacks in new buildings and restricted towers to a percentage of the lot size, to allow sunlight to reach the streets below.

1916 Zoning Resolution

first zoning regulationsZoning Resolution of 19161916 Zoning Act
It resulted in the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which gave New York City's skyscrapers their typical setbacks and soaring designs.
It was a measure adopted primarily to stop massive buildings from preventing light and air from reaching the streets below, and established limits in building massing at certain heights, usually interpreted as a series of setbacks and, while not imposing height limits, restricted towers to a percentage of the lot size.

Manhattan

Manhattan, New YorkManhattan, New York CityNew York
For example, in high density districts, such as Manhattan in New York, front walls of buildings at the street line may be limited to a specified height or number of stories.
The Woolworth Building, and its distinctive Gothic architecture, took the title in 1913, topping off at 792 ft. Structures such as the Equitable Building of 1915, which rises vertically forty stories from the sidewalk, prompted the passage of the 1916 Zoning Resolution, requiring new buildings to contain setbacks withdrawing progressively at a defined angle from the street as they rose, in order to preserve a view of the sky at street level.

Wall

Partition wallpartitionwalls
A setback, sometimes called step-back, is a step-like recession in a wall.

Center of mass

center of gravitycentre of gravitycentre of mass
Importantly, a setback helps lower the building's center of mass, making it more stable.

Masonry

masonstonemasons
Setbacks were used by ancient builders to increase the height of masonry structures by distributing gravity loads produced by the building material such as clay, stone, or brick.

Mesopotamia

MesopotamianMesopotamiansAncient Iraq
The most prominent example of a setback technique is the step pyramids of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, such as the Teppe Sialk ziggurat or the Pyramid of Djoser.

Ancient Egypt

EgyptEgyptianAncient Egyptian
The most prominent example of a setback technique is the step pyramids of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, such as the Teppe Sialk ziggurat or the Pyramid of Djoser.

Tepe Sialk

SialkTappeh SialkTeppe Sialk
The most prominent example of a setback technique is the step pyramids of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, such as the Teppe Sialk ziggurat or the Pyramid of Djoser.

Pyramid of Djoser

Step PyramidStep Pyramid of DjoserDjoser
The most prominent example of a setback technique is the step pyramids of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, such as the Teppe Sialk ziggurat or the Pyramid of Djoser.

Architect

architectsarchitectural firmmaster builder
As architects learned how to turn setbacks into an architectural feature, most setbacks were however less pronounced than in step pyramids and often skillfully masked by rich ornamentation.

Ornament (art)

ornamentornamentsornamentation
As architects learned how to turn setbacks into an architectural feature, most setbacks were however less pronounced than in step pyramids and often skillfully masked by rich ornamentation.

Steel frame

steel-framedsteel-framed buildingsteel framing
The introduction of a steel frame structural system in the late 19th century eliminated the need for structural setbacks.

Elevator

liftliftselevators
The use of a frame building technology combined with conveniences such as elevators and motorized water pumps influenced the physical growth and density of buildings in large cities.

Pump

water pumppumpssteam pump
The use of a frame building technology combined with conveniences such as elevators and motorized water pumps influenced the physical growth and density of buildings in large cities.

City

citiesUrbanCivil (City)
The use of a frame building technology combined with conveniences such as elevators and motorized water pumps influenced the physical growth and density of buildings in large cities.

Jurisdiction

jurisdictionsjurisdictionallegal jurisdiction
Today many jurisdictions rely on urban planning regulations, such as zoning ordinances, which use setbacks to make sure that streets and yards are provided more open space and adequate light and air.

Urban planning

Planningurban developmenttown planning
Today many jurisdictions rely on urban planning regulations, such as zoning ordinances, which use setbacks to make sure that streets and yards are provided more open space and adequate light and air.

Zoning

zonedrezoningzoning laws
Today many jurisdictions rely on urban planning regulations, such as zoning ordinances, which use setbacks to make sure that streets and yards are provided more open space and adequate light and air.

Terrace (building)

terraceterracesterraced
These setback terraces are prized for the access they provide to fresh air, skyline views, and recreational uses such as gardening and outdoor dining.

Skyline

can be seen
These setback terraces are prized for the access they provide to fresh air, skyline views, and recreational uses such as gardening and outdoor dining.

Firefighting apparatus

fire apparatusfire enginesfire engine
In addition, setbacks promote fire safety by spacing buildings and their protruding parts away from each other and allow for passage of firefighting apparatus between buildings.

United States

AmericanU.S.USA
In the United States, setback requirements vary among municipalities.