JF Ptak Science Books
Before satellite imagery, before airplanes, before balloons, and before photography, the only way of obtaining large-scale and factual panoramic views was to get to a good observation point and draw away. Thomas Hornor (a surveyor and panoramist, 1785-1844) did just such a thing in 1821: taking advantage of the cross being removed for cleaning from the top of St. Paul's (London), he somehow convinced the powers-that-be to allow him to construct an observation post for himself in its place for a long term, uninterrupted and altogether fabulous view of the city of London. He set up shop up there, about 400 feet above the ground, and stayed, making minutely detailed drawings of the cityscape, working with a telescope and a great deal of reserve. And some amount of courage--we can see from this detail of his story published in The Mirrour in 1823 that his shack was, well, not the safest-looking shack that has ever been built atop a cathedral.
The end result was an enormous, fantastically detailed acre-sized painting which was installed and displayed in Decimus Burton's Colosseum. The installation was as much an artwork as the painting--it was affixed to the walls and people would view it from a multi-story observation deck in the middle of the building. For those who didn't want to climb the stairs to get to the viewing room, an "ascending car" was fabricated, making the structure one of the earliest buildings to have an elevator. There is some sort of irony in that: people would pay to see a painting using London's (perhaps)
first elevator to get to the top of a small structure inside another structure to see a painting made from the top of a large structure of a scene that could be viewed for free by walking outside. Nonetheless, the fantabulous painting was viewed by more than a million people before moving on.
I have a feeling that this may be an interesting category to develop (a "room with a View" that is), pursuing other rooms in other tall places.
For example the last little triangular window is the hole in the sky for something at the Chrysler Building in NYC. I had heard that it was initially a bathroom that was built for the avuncular Mr. Chrysler, so that he could do his
business higher than anyone else in the world, which seems to have fitted his personality. After all, he did his fair share of this behavior, having dumped on people of all shapes and sizes, not the least of whom included thearchitect for his spectacular building, William Van Alen. He was stiffed by Chrysler because of mysterious and misbegotten ideas arising from old Walter's temperamental and stingy belly--that dear readers takes a lot of ____, not paying the architect who designed the world's tallest building and then to put his name on it.
I should mention that this little room in the Chrysler building pops up every now and then, perhaps most famously in Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird, where beautiful Kurt stuffs the head offices of the American Harp Company.
Check out Stephen Oetterman's The Panorama, a History of a Mass Medium (1997) and Bernard Comment's The Panorama (1995).