Thursday, October 8, 2009


In recent years, things have tended to get worse with Trump, for the most part. It may be that his reputation precedes him with architects and he can't even get an audience with the stars. It may be that, from the start, he places so many restrictions on them--namely, the bottom line--that they refuse to compromise their integrity and back out. Or it may be that he's so difficult to work with that the architects who do go forward with these projects, even the truly talented ones, are prevented from doing anything of real merit. Whatever the explanation, a big part of Trump's responsibility is to produce an atmosphere that's conducive to creativity and excellent architecture. Clearly, he doesn't.

Las Vegas, Nevada

--Photo courtesy Daylife.
I'm willing to admit that the coppery hue of the glass does give this building a little bit of appropriate Vegas glamour, especially in sunset light. But from looking around at BW&A's other work, it becomes clear it wasn't a particularly original idea. They're a Las Vegas firm that mostly does incredibly bland, insipid work all around that city. They helped on the Mirage and Treasure Island. They also had a great opportunity in designing the towers for Caesar's Palace, which could have been a very interesting Postmodern study of ancient Rome: Which Caesar are we talking about and what architectural features categorized his reign? How did the Romans build upward? Instead their solution was to slap on a few awkwardly placed columns and pediments, showing they did very little homework. They're also responsible for the Paris. I can think of no less imaginative project than to simply recreate monuments from some other city. It's sort of like an art school student copying Rembrandt to perfect his or her technique: a questionably good learning tool, but not real work of any substance.

One of the best things BW&A did, in my opinion, never got built. It's a study for a Hilton hotel with a wonderfully paper-thin profile and sort of exploded, Pop, vaguely Edward Durrell Stony decorative motifs reinterpreted structurally. It's somewhat clever and appropriately kitschy for Vegas.

New Rochelle, New York

This is a wreck, I'm sorry. It's like they squashed the Empire State Building, then stole the crown from some different building from 1932 that was demolished for being too ugly, and slapped it onto the top. There may even be something mildly exploitative, if one asks why on earth New Rochelle would have allowed this thing to go up. Sadly at the expense of even great works of architecture, New Yorkers will fight developers to the bitter end (and usually do). The answer likely is that New Rochelle was just pleased to have such a prominent bit of development going up in their town. I'm imagining city government just rolling out the red carpet for Trump and allowing him to do whatever he wanted. And Trump's thinking "hmm, New that's a town that'll let me get away with architectural murder. They need me."

So he goes with Lessard Group. They did a pair of towers next door to this called LeCount Square that are a bit better, but not by much. They designed a Ritz-Carlton for Stamford, Connecticut that looks like it might be fairly interesting. They're also putting up a building at 42-31 Union Street here in Queens which I'll confess is really not such a bad building, although it was necessary to tear down a delightful little free-standing house probably built around the 1930s or 1940s to do it.

Sunny Isles Beach, Florida

I suppose I could've cropped that panorama, but I decided I liked it, click it for larger.
As much as I could rave about Sieger Suarez for their previous Trump project, this one kind of makes me say, "oh, well." Don't get me wrong, these are some nice enough buildings, but apparently they only designed one of them and then built it three times. Jane Jacobs warned quite eloquently about this kind of visual repetition, and I think it's a bit lazy. Perhaps Sieger Suarez were getting bored and annoyed about working for Trump and convinced him the grouping would have solidity and force. That may be true, but this has none of the dynamic rigor of their earlier work for him.

Hollywood Beach, Florida

--Image courtesy Serge Kay.
I appreciate the elliptical footprint, I suppose, but it's not particularly original. The proportions are fat and unfriendly and show very little finesse. It almost looks like it was originally supposed to be about thirty stories higher, but they ran out of funding and capped it off. It's the kind of building that gets a less-than-flattering nickname from people who have to look at it every day. Swedroe's prolific work in cities all over the place goes from ultra-tacky and gaudy down to boring and uninspired, and all too often verges on downright ugly. He also blatantly ripped off Sieger Suarez to put up towers in Las Vegas in 2007 and 2008 almost identical to their Palace and Royale for Trump, except without any of the artistry.

And Zaha Hadid has built one building in the United States, one.

Trump Las Olas Beach Resort (2008)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Oscar Garcia

The reserved praise I was able to bestow on Garcia did not include this monstrosity. I'm fairly certain I don't have to go into detail as to what this lacks. It looks like the administrative offices for a garbage treatment plant. As I said, in Garcia's defense, it is very possible that working with Trump saps the creative energy out of anyone with an imagination. But that's the whole problem. Garcia clearly put only the most minimal amount of effort into this project. He was probably just trying to get it finished so he could forget about it.

Jersey City, New Jersey

Despite the fact that I share a similar last name with one of the architects (and here I said it was uncommon), it makes my brain hurt just to look at this monotonous pile of crap. Looking through their work, I can kind of get what DTA is trying to do, but I think it seldom works for them. For some unimaginable, perverted reason, the entire construction history of this thing has been lovingly documented on New York Sixth. Any sense of artistry is totally absent from this project. It's not sleek enough to be Minimalist, and there's no detailing to make it remotely interesting. Its extreme, unforgiving verticality is entirely wasted by the numbingly conventional windows. The crown is a joke, showing not the slightest understanding of proportion and lacking any sense of drama whatsoever. I'm not the type to hate on New Jersey, quite the contrary, but Jersey City definitely didn't need this crime added to the rest. To add insult to injury, it's the tallest residential building in the state.

William Alesker for Alesker & Dundon Architects (A&DA)

Here, instead of just the base being an inhospitable parking garage as in Jersey City, someone decided the entire building should look like a parking garage. This is all the more appalling considering what a glorious and prominent site on the Delaware River this occupies. A&DA has done some particularly awful things, mostly in the low-budget airport motel mold. Studying the brilliant work of Richard Meier all afternoon, I just could not bear to look through their depressing website anymore. Their "portfolio" is no selling point. There's no question in my mind they were chosen solely because they put in the lowest bid.

Having hit rock bottom, happily, I can end on a high note.

I adore SOM, obviously, and not surprisingly, this tower is absolutely magnificent. I'm terribly glad Trump went with them for this, because just look at where it's sited:
Click that, it's pretty big.
I can't imagine many other places in the country more ideal for a tower than that spot in the bend of the river in one of our greatest cities. It's also one of the greatest architectural cities, on top of it. The tower is glorious. It's dramatic, contextual, responsive to its site, sleek and sculptural, and completely fascinating. Perhaps Trump is a nightmare for architects to work with, but SOM is a force all their own. They've been around much longer than Trump. They've consistently built the tallest, most beautiful, most widely recognized buildings all over the world. They have the best talent at their disposal. They've got integrity and clearly take their reputation very seriously. Furthermore, for a firm this big, presumably they can divide the labor between those with a creative spirit from the businesspeople who can handle a destructive force like Donald Trump and run rings around him. How could he ever hope to keep them down?

Stay tuned for the last hand.

©2009, Ryan Witte

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