Friday, December 28, 2007

Gehry Takes New York

I know everybody's already seen this, but I needed to go see it for myself.  I'm so excited that Gehry finally has something built here.  I'd been wanting to see his cafeteria at the Conde Nast Building, but you have to like be a head of state and get fingerprinted just to get in the damn door of that building.
--Photo Arcspace

So I went over to see his new building for InterActive Corp, which owns, amongst other things.

I had been sort of planning to go the day before this, which was bright and sunny, and I just never made it down there.  In the end, I'm sort of glad I saw it on a day that was so gray and overcast.  It made the whole experience of it very moody (click on the images for larger views).

I loved how through the silvery-blue skin one gets peeks of this red-orange light from the offices inside.
There's also this really cool lighting effect in the ground floor lobby, somewhat visible from out on the sidewalk.  The interior walls are all lit with LEDs that slowly change colors, traveling through the color wheel.  It's really awesome.  I went inside, but the security guard told me they were "closed early for the holidays."  I found that exceedingly irritating, because I was just one person with a camera, and there was security on duty.  I really don't see why he couldn't have just allowed me to take a quick look around.  But I wasn't going to argue with him about it.
Overall, I think it fits quite well into the fabric of the city landscape, and also on the West Side Highway.  Its sculptural forms almost recall a blurred skyline as seen from a fast moving vehicle, optically speaking.  Metaphorically, I think it brings up the idea of the city in constant movement and flux, which of course New York most certainly is.
One might also see something of the sails of ships, and while there aren't those kind of ships out on the water so much anymore, the building does sit right on the Hudson River.

That old building in the foreground is the former Roxy nightclub, may it R.I.P.  I'm not convinced I ever saw that building in the daylight LOL.  At 11PM, one was all too distracted by the crazy drag queens and club kids and bridge & tunnel crowds of people all clamoring to get inside.  In the early morning hours, when I'd be leaving all sweaty from too much dancing, I would've been walking the opposite direction.  

I wanted to get a shot of the club's front door for posterity's sake.  It holds a lot of memories for me, and what with the crazy amount of development surrounding the Highline and the fact that it's not a particularly large or glorious structure, I can imagine it probably won't be there for very much longer.  It kind of makes me sad.  I'd run out of film, though, at that point, and I was cold, so I said "forget it."  I'll most likely go back again when Jean Nouvel's building is finished around the corner.

There was another woman kind of walking the same route as I was, getting pictures of it also, so I stopped and chatted with her a little while.  She mentioned that she admired Gehry's restraint here, that although it's a relatively unusual building, it doesn't come off as gimmicky or ostentatious like Bilbao or some of his other highly sculptural work.  I thought aloud that if this building had been a museum (which in west Chelsea, it very easily could have been), that it might have been more flashy and obnoxious after all.  But being an office building, and for a corporation like IAC I think may have helped guide its final form into something more subtle.

I think it's a great work of architecture, personally, and I'm so glad we have it.

InterActive Corp Building (2007), Frank Gehry

All text and IAC Building photos ©2007, Ryan Witte

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Brutalist Masterpiece

I had said I was going to make a post illustrating my love for Brutalism, and ironically, this is not the building I was thinking to discuss.  Nonetheless, I'm sort of excited about this post.

Back when I noticed people had really started talking about Paul Rudolph--namely a number of articles in the New York Times about how so many of his buildings are at risk of demolition, and they still are--I decided to Google around and collect a number of images to post on another architecture forum.  I've long admired his work, and in addition to the building here, I also had a friend for a long time from Goshen, NY, where I had the opportunity to pass by his Orange County Government Center (1967) countless times.

--Photo Daniel Case

Of course I'd been to New Haven, as well:

But I was somewhat disturbed to find practically no images--and even fewer good ones--of this building of his.  I grew up very close to it, and have always loved it.  The author of one of the first Times articles I noticed on Rudolph also praised it as being magical, which it truly is.

So Christmas Day, I decided once and for all to go out and get some photographs of it myself.  I reserve all rights to the following images (except where noted), but please do ask me if you want to use any of them; I'm a reasonable sort of guy.  I also have these and a good many more in higher-resolution: again, please do ask if you're interested.  It's a very image-heavy post, so I hope it doesn't screw up anyone's bandwidth.

Anyhow, it was originally built for Endo Pharmaceuticals and completed in 1964.  The address is in Garden City, but it actually falls closer to Uniondale than Garden City proper, by the border of Eisenhower Park.  It went on the market several years ago, and it's now corporate headquarters for Lifetime Brands, which develops kitchen products for companies like Cuisinart, KitchenAid, and Calvin Klein.

I don't have floor-plans, of course, but Google Maps is a wondrous thing.  Here's the satellite image so you can see the footprint:

Inside that stretch of curving glass is the most incredible front lobby:

Right smack on the front facade, completely visible from Stewart Avenue, is this big cluster of pipes:
Considering, for one, that Rudolph liked exposing certain mechanical/ structural elements as a stylistic maneuver, and also that they would have been so easy to conceal leads me to believe they were exposed on purpose, and I'll admit I find them oddly beautiful.

From the front, there's this wonderful landscape created by rooftop gardens connected by all these meandering, shallow staircase ramps.

Inside that structure on the right is what appears to be a sort of conference room/ entertainment space for special events opening onto a little rock garden in the foreground.  This little terrace also had a number of shiny aluminum ventilation shafts sticking up in the middle as if meant to be a decorative element.

On the level below the rock garden is a much larger terrace.  This level has been completely laid with thick Astroturf.  Not quite as nice as it might be with real grass, but I suppose that would be a maintenance nightmare.

Those are loading docks, and above them, a pair of giant, hollow concrete cylinders the only function of which would appear to be cosmetic.  Looking up through them:
My first thought was that the top of it was a small terrace, but it would be too shallow (with no bannister), and I also couldn't see that there was any doorway there, just windows.

The southeast stair tower.  I loved his use of glass block here:
Beautiful how the sun shone through the glass block.  It's a robust structural material that seems to disintegrate, such a delightful counterpoint to the massive concrete towers.

The rear facade, with a no doubt more heavily trafficked entrance from the parking lot:

The southwest tower:

There were these drain-spouts all around the building:
There was really nothing for the water to spill into except the lawn itself, probably a nightmare for the groundskeepers; a very Corbusian treatment, though.

I'm in awe of the west facade.
Brutalism in general has this quality of an ancient Scottish fortress, so powerful and imposing (what I love so much about it), but there's something very much like a classical colonnade to this, as well.

Endo Pharmaceutical Building (1964), Paul Rudolph

©2007, Ryan Witte

Friday, December 21, 2007

Out of the Frying Pan...

I'm seriously conflicted as to how I feel about this.

On the one hand, the tri-state area doesn't really need as many of those uber-tacky 1950s-60s ranch houses as it has.  Still, I was a little bit uncomfortable to learn how very few of the Levittown houses have remained in their original state.

--Photo AP

Photo courtesy Redwood Coast.
On the other hand, everything is looked upon with disdain once its heyday is over.  I'm sure even the overwrought pomposity of a Victorian was seen as disgusting by someone or another.

At one time, somebody loved that little ranch house.  Selling their grimy old townhouse in Brooklyn where they grew up, they loved the clean, new, plastic, aluminum-sided illusion of suburban homeyness it provided them for the first time in their lives.  They had a lawn to plant flowers and barbecue!

There's also the argument that very few houses don't have good enough bones that they couldn't be rehabilitated to preserve their charm without having to tear them down.  And I'd be very surprised to learn many of those homeowners are recycling any of the materials from these teardowns.

--Photos Christine Fontana, Douglas Healey

But the point is, really, look at what they're putting up in its place! Every once in a while I see a McMansion that I actually do think is done well.  Oddly, a neighborhood development I had the opportunity to visit in Columbia, SC surprised me with the overall quality of its architecture.

But this one (above)?  That is some of the most pathetic, disgusting "architecture" I've seen (if you can even call it that--since I'd bet you 3.5 million dollars they got the floorplan out of one of those stupid floorplan books).  Do you really need all those damn gables?  I mean, really?  And just how many different sizes and types of window do you need on the front of one house?  Seriously, who buys these pieces of crap for 3.5 million dollars?  

I'm actually of the opinion that very few human beings don't have some innate aesthetic sense.  There are some qualities that are so primary: order, symmetry, proportion, that they must be ingrained.  The grandmother of a friend lives on a street where the neighbors complained about the exterior color of one of the houses, so in defiance, the owners painted it the most awful shade of blue, like a periwinkle, but way too dark.  These people aren't necessarily artists or designers, but everyone just knows it's ugly.  If the house in that photo had columns sized for the Parthenon slapped onto the front of it, people would just know they were way too large.

So why do people buy these things, and not only that, but pay SO much money for them?  Has the symbolism of that "suburban homeyness" become that valuable of a commodity?  Has the gaudy, overblown use of those symbols become that much of a measure of status?  Perhaps the specifically unsophisticated use of architectural forms has, itself, become codified.  In other words, wearing blue-jeans with your suit jacket, rather than the pretentious (alienating) "tuxedo" of a well-designed (especially if Modern) architectural marvel.

To be fair, the new home pictured lower down in the article is really quite nice, but I'm pessimistic that it's merely the exception to the rule:

--Photo Kirk Condyles

Perhaps the Green Movement, as it gains momentum and popularity, will have further-reaching affects on aesthetics.  For one thing, I don't think you can take a floorplan out of a book and really do much that's ecologically sound with it.  You need an architect to prescribe something unique to your individual household requirements and site.  We can only hope.

©2007, Ryan Witte

Monday, December 17, 2007

Out of the Resin

This is another company doing work that just completely blew my mind when I first saw it and learned what it was all about.  They're Materialise from Leuven, Belgium.

Materialise is using this technology where they have a pan filled with liquid polymer resin. A computer modeling program tells a laser how to swipe across the surface of the pool of resin. The laser congeals the resin in layers, and seals it to the layer below it. Then the object very precisely moves down like a millimeter and the laser makes the next pass.

They also have a process (I believe what was used for that piece there), that uses a pan full of powdered resin instead, but otherwise the process is the same.

What this means is that they can create an object of any conceivable shape. And they're not messing around. The crazy, cyber geometries these people are coming up with are just insane.

When I saw this one, I thought my head was going to explode:

This is also completely insane:

But it doesn't stop there. Get this: the guy was telling me that their belief is that material objects in this world are degradable and fleeting. Information, on the other hand, is ageless. So when you buy a light fixture from them, for instance, they give you a CD with the computer rendering and the laser map to create it again, the idea being that the piece could always be recreated.  Even if there was a nuclear holocaust or the world exploded, the piece would still exist as information.

I'm not sure, but I think because this is one continuous piece of resin going inside itself, that there's really no other way a shape like this could be manufactured:
I mean, if it were made out of glass, for instance, it would need to be two pieces of glass fused together, wouldn't it?


I'm sorry, but this is just completely out of control:

That is so totally some alien city in outer space.

This is also pretty cool:

I was asking the guy how large of an object could be produced using this laser resin technology, and he explained that they actually started out making life-size prototypes of car bodies for the auto industry. I'm like "Oh, wow, that's huge!" but he pointed out that of course they do it in individual panels. But anyway, they can also get these really fluid, almost organic shapes out of it, too, if they want. 

This one's called "Bunny":

See the shape of the top of it? In'at cute? But then, it ends up looking almost like billowing fabric at the same time.

I also really liked how at times, they're able to employ these really complex, perfect geometries, but yet create something that looks so natural and organic:
Extremely elegant.

This one of course isn't so much about the fabrication technique:
But I thought that was so brilliant. It's called "RGB" so it's actually three different colored lights, and since they all point in the same direction, they combine to make pure white...with a little of each spilling out the sides. Really gorgeous. All about technology, but also the nature of optics and color theory.

They're also doing amazing things with furniture:

This is especially incredible:

It's like the ghost of a chair fading off into the netherworld.

Materialise, Belgium

©2006, Ryan Witte