Monday, September 21, 2009

We Will Rock U--Part Four

To get to the southern end of the campus, you walk through this somewhat narrow corridor:
Click for larger.
--All photos ©2009, Ryan Witte.
From left to right that's the Hospital extension, Gasser Hall, the Rockefeller Research Building (which I'll get to below), the Faculty House (Horace Ginsburg & Associates, 1974), and the Bronk Lab building. Turning right around that corner is another wonderful moment of discovery. First of all there's this amazing terrace outside the Rockefeller Research Building:

It has the most amazing view of the Queensboro Bridge, too, by the way:

Even better, below this is the Peggy Rockefeller Plaza, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates and completed in 2000:

The fountain and grove of trees is a lovely feature, although it seems to be inviting you inside it and not allowing you at the same time.
They added a ton of greenery to what had previously been a mostly barren patch of concrete. Balsley, incidentally, also designed Balsley Park (formerly known as Sheffield Park), which I've passed by probably 5000 times. I believe it's at the corner of 57th Street and Ninth Avenue? Somewhere around there. They did Chelsea Waterside Park, Gantry Plaza State Park (where my profile picture was taken, and where I was to shoot the passing of the Lieb House), Riverside Park South, the East River Esplanade Park, and countless plazas all over the city. They also designed plans for Laguardia Airport, originally by Harrison & Abramovitz, and for St. Louis Gateway Park, the landscaping of which was originally by Dan Kiley.
In the background there you can see the next building that went up, in 1971, the Benjamin & Irma G. Weiss Research Building by Nelson W. Aldrich from the firm of Campbell, Aldrich & Nulty. Aldrich was a cousin of the Rockefellers, which is no doubt how he got the job. It's been called a sort of bad copy of Philip Johnson's Henry L. Moses Research Institute Building (1965) in the Bronx, but I think it's a fantastically dramatic work of Brutalism in its own right:

Incidentally, Campbell, Aldrich & Nulty were consultants to Kallman, McKinnell & Knowles on one of the most controversial structures in the entire United States, bitterly despised by ninety-nine percent of its neighbors, and an absolutely magnificent work of Brutalism, on par with anything Paul Rudolph did. Ada Louise Huxtable agrees with me, by the way. I'm referring, of course, to Boston City Hall (1969):
--Photo courtesy PreservationNation.
This is the one on all of the "ugliest buildings in the world" lists. I think it's a veritable jewel.

The main lobby of Weiss is fairly cool, too. The cafeteria creates these layers of tinted glass from interior to exterior and back again:
The view of the south side of the Bronk Lab building across the plaza is breathtaking:
And there's even a Frank Stella piece called The Tail (1988), from a series of pieces all named for chapters in Herman Melville's Moby Dick:

Another Brutalist building by Raymond F. Stainback, the Comparative Bioscience Center, was built in 1975 and works beautifully with Weiss:

I suppose it doesn't appear that it would be too friendly a place to work on the interior, although for sure you'd be free of any distractions, but I do love the detail of the window ribbons turning vertical at the end piers:

It was actually New York Hospital--Cornell Medical Center that in 1971 worked with the city to purchase air rights over the FDR Drive so they could expand to the east. This made possible Abramovitz, Kingsland & Schiff's (AK&S) John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and David Rockefeller Research Building, designed in 1984 and completed in 1992 (Harrison passed away in 1981).
I spoke briefly with Jerry Schiff, who worked on this one, a very nice gentleman. He said this building has an entire saga behind it, which is why it took so long to complete it. They did multiple studies to determine the best site for the building (they determined this was it). The scientists were in the midst of their work in Gasser Hall, which was a bit larger before AK&S demolished part of it, so temporary lab space had to be created. He said it was like a domino effect trying to get this built and keep the scientists in business throughout the process. Each of the scientists was interviewed and no doubt each had his or her own individual requirements for the interior work spaces. They had to pull a barge up to the shore to get some of the materials up and to use as a working platform. They could only close down FDR Drive from about 1 to 4AM and not for very many nights. Essentially the piers and the sort of plinth at the bottom were built in a single night, which then gave them a base on which to build the rest of the building.

Stay tuned for the grand finale.

©2009, Ryan Witte

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