It was the Queens Plaza Municipal Parking Garage (1975) by architects Rouse, Dubin & Ventura at the corner of Queens Plaza South and Jackson Avenue. I was able to find practically no information at all about RD&V, presumably because everyone just wished this building would go away for the past twenty years.
Had I known it was slated for demolition, I absolutely would have gone down and taken some last pictures of it. I didn't even see the demolition right when they first started; by the time I noticed, it was pretty much just a big pile of rubble.
Luckily, Google Maps is in many areas around five years old, so I was able to catch it there before they refreshed their views. Unfortunately, these screen-grabs from Google's street views aren't that great. I have no doubt that had I been able to go down there, with my own camera, on a beautiful bright sunny day, and spend an hour or more capturing it myself, that I'd have been able to make it very clear what I loved about this building, and that you'd have been able to see it, too.
I'm honestly not all that terribly broken up about it. I know the building was wildly unpopular and the poor thing was looking extremely grim during its final days. It never would've gotten renovated in a way that would have improved things much. There's going to be some big Tishman-Speyer monstrosity going up in its place. I can certainly admit that whatever goes up there will very likely be relatively better for the site and easier on the eye. I'd have been pleased if they'd gone with their first choice of architects, FXFowle, but evidently Tischman rejected their design. Who knows what they'll finally choose.
I think what disappoints me is that it was an extremely interesting and determined work of Brutalism. Again, I get a lot of flack for my love of Brutalism, most everyone thinks it was fascist, unfriendly, and miserable. But this building was so bold, uncompromising, futuristic, and monumental, all the elements that made Brutalism so wonderful. It held nothing back, it had muscle; it was just a cool building. And if you look carefully, it truly had great lines and massing, for the most part.
Because the style continues to be so unanimously despised, even in retrospect, I fear that over time, very few Brutalist works will be spared the wrecking ball. This whole fascinating period in the late evolution of Modernist Architecture may ultimately be lost forever, with only a few token Pei and Rudolph structures left as a lonely reminder.
Furthermore, in finally taking a very close look at it, I see all kinds of opportunities. Gut it, polish it up, reclad it in some really sleek, high-tech materials, add lush plantings and animated water features, replace a good amount of the overbearing concrete with huge expanses of glass and open other walls entirely, crack it open with glorious sun-drenched atriums. You'd end up with a gorgeous foundation for the tower set to rise above the site. If I had the time, energy, and the necessary blueprints, I'd do the drawings myself. Even five years ago, I'd have known that never would've been possible. No one would ever have humored the idea of saving this building, but I suppose I just always consider protecting our architectural heritage to be of great importance whenever it's reasonable to do so.
The proportions here are just stunning. The turret on the left is perfectly placed to give the section to its right a pleasing length. I just adore those powerful windows piercing through the second story like a space ship on steroids. The rhythm of the bays is wonderfully poetic. I also love how the internal structure is forthrightly expressed by the sort of pilasters in the concrete on the outer wall.
The top two stories don't need to be parking garage, in fact they'd make great office space. The open slots could be sealed off with some delicious silvery blue glass:
While I love the robustness of the rusticated concrete, it is oppressive here. There's just too much of it. It couldn't have been anything else at the time the building was built. Now I envision rough rusticated Neutra-esque stonework for the base, maybe interspersed with smooth, bright pale, poured concrete, and aluminum tile cladding for the upper stories (think Richard Meier's Bronx Developmental Center), but very carefully composed to work with the existing volumes.
The architects did this at a lot of key locations around the building. There is no reason they couldn't both be curving walls of glass. It's difficult to gauge the exact dimensions of the balcony, but with, say, a restaurant or café there on the third story, doors leading out to the terrace, and some concealing shrubbery around the perimeter (the adjacent elevated train notwithstanding), that's a great little outdoor space.
The terrace appears larger, and this is further away from the noisy elevated subway. The moments at these corners are amazing, though. The way all these different lines and curves converge is not only interesting and dynamic, but there's something really space-age about them, as well.
Imposing and downright dangerous, they'd have made Jane Jacobs start foaming at the mouth. Something would have to be done with them.
Okay, so that metal gate hidden around that corner is a wreck, the recess is probably entirely saturated with pee, and at worst it's the most lovely hiding spot for a serial rapist. But just replace the entire bay with glass, top to bottom, and make this corner a soaring, bright, shiny new entrance to a couple of storefronts or similar. It could work beautifully.
They're absolutely horrid and should just be removed altogether. But the proportions of this end wing are stunning, and I won't apologize for saying so:
Those awful planters also have to go, but the sidewalk could totally be planted with manicured trees and flower beds to great success.
The massing of the two sort of turrets that form it has the most impeccable sense of scale in relationship to the wing.
It's a wonderful punctuation mark on this extending arm of the building. It also has a sense of intimacy that creates a fascinating counterpoint to both the colossal main building volume and the fortress-like forms of its two turrets.
The grille seems to indicate that the right-hand portion is mainly mechanical. But again, knock out that center section, replace it with gleaming, silvery glass, and you'd have a fantastic entrance lobby here. The weeds on the roof are all I need to imagine the most magical landscaped gardens up there.
Though no doubt problematic where pedestrian safety is concerned, I love how the concave curve makes this corner on the left look so very sharp:
A circular fountain set into the corner with seating around it would easily solve any safety problems.
Replace the whole thing with a cylinder of glass, and cut a narrow, soaring, sunbathed atrium deep into the building. Plantings and waterfalls cascading down one side, a grand, monumental staircase on the other. I'm sorry, but that would be a truly majestic interior space.
I won't miss them.
I'll be happy to admit that the other end of this very long façade, the Jackson Avenue frontage, needs a lot of help:
At the middle of this long stretch to the left is a section of smooth pale concrete that advances about a foot out from the rest of the wall. Obviously it was intended to break up the monotony. While it's a refreshing break from the dark rusticated concrete, it's misplaced and awkward. But the location of it is absolutely right. What I want here is the main grand entrance to the tower rising above this existing base. Silvery blue glass the full width of that section, starting at the foot of the building, bulging out at about the third floor, then sloping back in again to about 15 to 25 feet behind the front wall, and curving on up into a soaring glass tower. Maybe a two- or three-story-high rectangular volume carved out of the curving glass to form the entrance.
Agree with me or not, I think anyone with a little imagination could find moments here that could work, if addressed with some finesse. In any case, I think it's very unfortunate when a building gets such a horrible reputation as this one had. People tend to just eagerly jump onto the bandwagon of hating, so they can no longer see what's actually there. I will reiterate my disdain for Lewis Mumford: that miserable curmudgeon didn't like anything. I have no idea why he even did what he did. I'm in this business because I truly love architecture, and for me that love absolutely has to include a poor soul like this building.
Queens Plaza Municipal Parking Garage
Rouse, Dubin & Ventura
©2008, Ryan Witte