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In architecture, a steplike recession in the profile of a high-rise building. Usually dictated by building codes to allow sunlight to reach streets and lower floors, the building must take another step back from the street for every specified added height interval. Without building setbacks, many of New York City's streets would be in constant shadow. In the 1920s architects drew attention to their setbacks with decorative devicesmosaics; Chinese, Mayan, or Greek motifs; or geometric blocksbut later architects deemphasized them. The International Style glass-wall skyscraper was typically built without intermittent setbacks, but architects met zoning requirements by creating one huge setback at ground level that created a plaza. The late 20th century saw a return to decorative setbacks.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on setback, visit Britannica.com.