Our new neighborhood to be…
I WENT TO BILBAO just to see the Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. I’m glad I did. Gehry may be our greatest living architect, and the Guggenheim is the best of the 6 or 7 of the buildings designed by him that I’ve seen.
The museum is a wonderful example of a Modernist Civic Building. It is sited well, and everything that is best about it contrasts with the old city around it. That’s not necessary, and it would be bad for an ordinary building in the middle of an ordinary block, but Gehry made it all work in Bilbao.
One thing that struck me was that the people visiting the museum loved it. That’s worth a lot.
I’VE NOTICED this new building a few times from the Hudson River Greenway. It always gets an automatic, “Oh, that’s pretty good.” Other architects have told me they’ve had similar “blink” reactions.
Why? It’s well proportioned, it has pleasant massing, and the balance and play of glass and brick is interesting. It’s a good fabric building that doesn’t completely fade into the background or demand all the attention.
When you get a little closer, you find maisonettes on both side streets, and at the opposite end of the block a respectful attitude towards affordable housing that Jane Jacobs helped build.
I’m usually not a big fan of putting the bulk of the massing in the center of the block when there’s a broad avenue (or in this case the Hudson River), but Cook + Fox turned the zoning regulations into a handsome building. New York could use more like it.
MANY ARCHITECTS will call this design “kitsch,” “pastiche,” or “nostalgic.” Pastiche means “an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period,” so it’s not really a criticism, although they mean it to be. For that matter, nostalgic means “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations“—happy associations seem like a good thing.
New Orleans is a great American city, with residents who love their jazz, old and new—the old is frequently called “New Orleans style”—and the French heritage of their food, which until the foodie revolution was hands down the best in America. More than any other Americans, perhaps, they love their old neighborhoods and the characteristic buildings that define those neighborhoods. New Orleanians will have no problem with this building.
You can also see that the architect drew the building with love. That’s always a good things. Buildings made with love will draw the most happy associations.
OVER AT CURBED—or after the jump—you can see these with sliders that go between the new and the old:
UPDATE: I rode a bike from Lafayette Street to the Hudson River today. At the beginning of the ride I looked up Broadway and saw the top of the Chrysler Building. At Fifth Avenue the Empire State Building came into view. Seeing those two towers was like seeing old friends.
At Seventh Avenue, One World Trade Center hove into view. It was an alien intruder, photobombing Greenwich Village. There is a place for glass buildings in New York, and Two World Trade Center will be the best of the bunch at Ground Zero, but the behemoths already built make so many parts of New York suffer from their monotonous bulk.
Since this is my second post in two days about this building, let me point out up front that I’m not saying BIG are bad architects. They’re obviously clever and frequently have interesting ideas. If this building were in Singapore or perhaps the Pudong section of Beijing, I might like it. I might even like it if it were part of Hudson Yards, but in the context of downtown New York, I think it’s an alien intruder.
The buildings in the front of the photo above have human scale, craft, and a simple beauty that comes from composition, rhythm, proportion, and ornament. The deep masonry walls have a play of light and shadow: the result is a firmness and solidity that effectively contain the space between the buildings and shape the street into a comfortable place to be. Together, the buildings make a public realm where we enjoy being and interacting.
UPDATE: The good news is that this has been to the Community Boards, which endorsed the plan—I don’t know why I didn’t find that in my searches or calls around this morning. It is good that there is some public process, but I still don’t like ceding the public realm to the control of private developers.
There is a popular theory that the city has decided to spend most public improvement money in the outer boroughs and is actively taking the strategy of letting developers pay for changes in Manhattan. I understand that public spending has not been equitable, but I hope the second half of the sentence is not true, although since I tweeted this morning I’ve heard about a plaza design in Tribeca that may be paid for by a developer, there’s the extra tower height that came in return for the $220 million infrastructure fee collected from the developer of One Vanderbilt, and as I mentioned, the $125 million donation for Diller Park. It does seem like the public realm is for sale. Put them all together, along with the tax places and other subsidies at places like Billionaire Row, and it’s a disturbing trend.
More proof, if proof were needed, that Starchitects are very good at that.* Daniel Libeskind is even better than Ingels—although Ingels is obviously great at it too.
Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.
– Tom Goodwin, The Battle Is For The Customer Interface
ONE-HUNDRED YEARS AGO, when the New York Municipal Building was one year old, McKim, Mead & White were known across the country as the best architects in America (Carrère & Hastings were number two*). They were known as the best, even though McKim and White, the design partners in the firm, were both dead. Continue reading
UPDATE: When I first published this quick post in September 2014, for some reason it attracted comments from young architects who not only wanted to defend the building, but who saw my comments as ridiculous. In retrospect, it’s obvious that most New Yorkers, many non New Yorkers, and many architects agreed with me. Some support for that is listed at the end of the post. This month’s Architectural Record on Architecture & Money: The New Gilded Age produces more agreement, particularly in Michael Sorkin’s Too Rich, Too Skinny.
THIS IS Robber Baron 2014 Style: Conspicuous Consumption literally taken to unprecedented heights. You can see it many miles away in Queens, the Bronx, and even Brooklyn, which means millions of New Yorkers have to look at it’s graceless form every day. You get some idea of the problem here (and to a lesser degree here).
And for what? One-hundred and twenty-five apartments on 89 floors (a number that will probably go down as Russian billionaires buy multiple units to combine into large pied-a-terres on the highest floors). Most of the occupants won’t live in the building (What New Yorker would want to live completely surrounded by undistinguished midtown office towers?) and they won’t pay much in the way of local taxes, but their empty nests (called “bullion pots in the sky” in London) will forever disfigure the skyline and steal sunlight as far away as Central Park.
THE EXCELLENT NEW BOOK SWEDISH GRACE has this interesting sidebar:
I’m just starting the book, but it looks great. And note that the streets that look like cul-de-sacs actually connect through the buildings to the next street.
EARTH DAY reminded me of my old friend Konrad Oberhuber, an art historian at Harvard when I met him, who later became the Curator of the Albertina in Vienna. In 1983 I went on a Fogg Museum trip to Prague with Konrad. Czechoslovakia was the first Communist country I visited,* and I thought the citizens of Prague were the most oppressed people I had seen.
Our group started talking about the mood of the city one day, and Konrad told us about his theory of cycles in history, which enabled him to predict that at the end of 1989 “every Communist government in central Europe” will fall. I had never heard anyone say anything like that: the US Ambassador to the UN, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, was saying almost exactly the opposite, in a theory known as the Kirkpatrick Doctrine which said that it was inherent in the nature of the totalitarian Communist governments in central Europe that they would never voluntarily give up their power unless we forced them to, and that was official US policy under Reagan. But 6 years later, when every central European Communist government but one shut down, Konrad was looking like a genius.
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