Thursday, June 12, 2008


Good old Frank Gehry made a brilliant observation in a recent lecture at Yale.  He said "cities are filled with bad buildings and nobody complains, but if I do a building, there's all sorts of protests."

It's so true.  Where are our priorities here, people?  We'd rather have bland, artless, endless rehashings of the same old crap going up everywhere than something brand new, challenging, and interesting?  Okay.  

So we don't like the new stuff, but really do care about the historical stuff, right?


I am so glad somebody finally asked this question.  Why exactly did everyone hate Edward Durell Stone's building so damned much???  No, seriously, I'd really like an answer to this.

It was iconic and interesting.  It had monumentality and a sense of context.  To draw a symbolic parallel between Columbus Circle and one of the world's greatest, grandest public spaces like the Palazzo San Marco is just exactly what this city deserved.
For any architect to even consider pulling inspiration from Renaissance models was completely unheard of as early as 1964 (with the exception perhaps of Philip Johnson and a few others buzzing).  It was revolutionary, and with the help of Venturi a couple years later, these ideas would change the face of architecture for the next two decades.  This is where it all begins.  If that isn't worth saving, then what in heaven's name is worth saving?  Furthermore, I don't care what you say about the lollipops.  I'm going to miss them.  They made my walk around the circle just a little more delightful.

And for real, now--if anyone who's taken so much as one art class in their lifetime tries to tell me that this, THIS?  Is an improvement???

I'll say they seriously need to check themselves into the looney ward.

Now that it's been pretty much completely unveiled, I need to have a rant.  I have to see this piece of crap practically every day on my walk to work and it makes me want to puke.  You can't see so much in the image there, but in place of the gleaming white marble, they've clad it in these sickly yellow tiles that look like the whole building has terrible oral hygiene.  Pathetic.

Stone's name is all over the place, mostly mentioned with some degree of sympathy.  But oddly, there's very little talk about the asswipe who did this.  It was Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture.  I personally think Brad Cloepfil's name should be mentioned at every turn so builders might avoid hiring this talentless hack in the future.  To add insult to injury, the way he dismisses the work of one of this country's greatest 20th-Century architects is just disgraceful.  He's proud of his utter lack of respect, too, and it's written all over this redesign.

In my own mind, I saw many ways this building could be improved, made more useful and whatever else, while at the same time respecting the original design and proportions.  Maybe the embellishments up the corners are unfortunately dated--okay, that's a shame, but replace them with seamless glass corners to bring in more natural light.  Replace the whole top of the building with glass and hint at the original arches some other way.  Carve an atrium down through the center of the building to bring that sun down into it.  The old campanile often had small windows, to light the staircases leading up to the top, so borrow from that by punctuating the front facade with little slivers of fenestration.  Use that to your advantage to create an interesting rhythm and texture on the building, while keeping the soul of structure intact.  It's called Respect.  As a by product, you get Continuity, which I believe is one of this city's greatest architectural assets.

I think part of the problem is that most of the people who remember what an unbelievable travesty it was to lose the old Penn Station are now dead and gone.  So now we're back to just indiscriminately ripping things down to the ground.  Did we learn nothing from Robert Moses going insane?

2 Columbus Circle
Edward Durell Stone, 1964

©2008, Ryan Witte


bronxelf said...

As you know, I have more than a little insight into this particular building. I think the problem with it overall was the lack of windows, especially since the location faces the square and the park beyond. It came off as brooding and strange, rather than quirky and iconic. The fact that it was allowed to sit for so long surrounded by scaffolding certainly didn't help.

We have a lot of ugly buildings in this city, and many of them were designed by famous architects. But if they're actually *in use* no one seems to care that they're ugly. This one was allowed to wither away until its destruction seemed like it wouldn't be challenged by anyone.

That being said, the new building is an absolute monstrosity, and Landmarks West should be ashamed of themselves for jumping onto the preservation bandwagon for the original ten years too late, even though it was well within their jurisdiction. (and yes, I have told the head of LW that, actually.)

There are also stories (considering my source, I believe them) that there was a lot of underhanded shit that went on regarding this building, even when Giuliani was mayor. I think some people wanted it gone at any cost.

Ryan Witte said...

That's why I say it could certainly have been opened up with a lot more windows. Just not like THIS.

I don't think I necessarily would have been so appalled, either, if something truly spectacular had gone up in its place. I mean, when you see what Norman Foster did with the International Magazine building, I don't think anyone could possibly have a problem with that transformation, it's stunning...I just wish I could get up inside it to look around.