Wednesday, June 29, 2005
All New Freedom Tower
UPDATE:* Former DPZ honcho Jeff Speck, appointed by the Bush White House to be Director of Design at the NEA, e-mailed a letter today criticizing the Freedom Tower: ""We must ask ourselves what it says about our nation to produce a 'Freedom Tower' hiding behind twenty-stories of solid concrete. Better to build nothing than such an alienating monument to surrender." More here (I'll put their recent comments down to a bad day -- must be a Sox fan).
Here's the all-new Freedom Tower. It has all the charm and humanity of an 85-story piece of folded graph paper and looks a lot like the old Freedom Tower to me. Over at the Wired New York Forum, someone points out it also looks like a previous design for a different client by the same architect (who's in court, accused of stealing the design for the previous Freedom Tower from one of his former students).
Have you noticed that computer renderings for the hundreds of new mirror glass towers proposed around the world always show their buildings as though they'll look like sparkling diamonds? Have you noticed that none of the many actual mirror glass buildings in the photo rendering above actually look like sparking diamonds? At least this rendering shows the way the Freedom Tower will fry Governor's Island around the same time every day. Shades, or reflections, of Frank Gehry's Solar Death Ray.
Below, the Grand Mason gives thanks to the Monument to the Phallus of the Sun God.
More phallus worship, here.
* The letter from Jeff Speck:
To whom it may concern: As a registered city planner and current Design Director at the National Endowment for the Arts, I would like to publicly address the latest design for Freedom Tower. I am writing this as a private citizen, however, and not in my official capacity.
Never in my most pessimistic imaginings could I have anticipated what we are now being shown: a beautiful tower rising above a solid concrete base with no windows. We are told that this 20-story bunker will be clad in a "shimmering metal curtain that will give the impression of movement and light." The operative word in that phrase is "impression." The first rule of planning for pedestrians is "eyes on the street:" windows and doors connecting inside and out. No one will happily walk past a blank wall, no matter how much it shimmers.
This is one of the main tenets of urban design taught to all of the mayors who attend the NEA's Mayor's Institute on City Design. It is undisputed. That a proven design failure is being proposed for such a prominent site only confirms how far from reason the security mandate has taken us.
There are many more subtle and sophisticated ways to provide bomb-blast security. The Freedom Tower's talented architects know them. One solution would be to line the blast walls with external lobbies or shops facing the sidewalk. Such alternatives must be discussed publicly, and quickly, so that we can turn away from this dead-end path.
We must ask ourselves what it says about our nation to produce a "Freedom Tower" hiding behind twenty-stories of solid concrete. Better to build nothing than such an alienating monument to surrender. Winston Churchill said that "the American people can be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives." It is time to eliminate this exhausted alternative from the discussion.
Sincerely, Jeff B. Speck
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Nicolai Ouroussoff: blinded by ideology
CLICK ON THE PICTURE ABOVE so you can see a larger version of this rendering of a new design for the Lower East Side. Now look at what the New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote about it:
Along with the High Line - which transforms a section of gritty elevated tracks in downtown into a public garden - it represents a clear and much-needed break from the quaint Jane Jacobs-inspired vision of New York that is threatening to transform Manhattan into a theme park version of itself, a place virtually devoid of urban tension. It proves that there are still some in the city who are culturally daring, even if their numbers at times seem to be dwindling.
The "culturally daring" design has earth berms next to a highway, broad, innocuous swaths of grass, and some sort of Asian trees picturesquely placed -- could it be more suburban?
It's not really bad. It is bland, boring and suburban. Why can't Ouroussoff see that? Because like his predecessor at the Times, who hand-picked him, Ouroussoff is an activist advocate for a small group of Starchitects. For Ouroussoff, ideology trumps experience. The critic who writes for "the nation's newspaper" looks with blinders on.
Ouroussoff would tell us the architects he admires are daring, revolutionary, avant-garde architects. But this is an avant-garde with a sell-by date which expired around 1963, when Richard Rogers was just finishing school.
Since that time, Rogers has received (and accepted) two aristocratic titles from Queen Elizabeth, designed one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris, become a rich man because of the demand for his buildings, and become the architectural adviser to the Prime Minister of England and Chairman of London's government panel for architecture and urbanism. He is popular at every leading architecture school, and regularly praised by the New York Times. How revolutionary is that?
"Culturally daring" is architecture-speak for "most people won't like this." It is an elitist excuse for promoting very narrow architectural criteria.
It's an excuse for not tearing down the FDR Drive: "Initially they considered lowering parts of the elevated freeway to ground level, but the cost was prohibitive."
But when it comes to our platinum-plated highway system, the most expensive construction project in the history of the world, nothing is too expensive. Massachusetts and the Federal government just spent $15 billion dollars on the Big Dig, a project which buried 7.8 miles of in-city highway. Cities like Milwaukee and San Francisco have recently torn down highways, replacing them with tree-lined boulevards. New York City pulled down the partially-down West Side Highway, and replaced it with the highway engineer's version of a boulevard. Why does the Bloomberg administration, which has strongly promoted large, expensive development visions like this one, lack the political will to do what previous New York administrations have done when it comes to highways?
The decision to keep the elevated highway on the Lower East Side is a bad one. It is noisy and ugly, and flashing flourescent lights under it won't improve that. Compared with the Bronx Market space under the Deegen Expressway (below), it's low and unpleasant. Anyone who wants better public places in New York, rather than simply more work by Starchitects, can see that.
PS: New York has no "tension"? That's like saying Larry David never kvetches. What Ourousoff really means, again, is "people won't like it."
Quote of the Day at the
“Sculpture for Living”
COULD THIS BE the dawn of a second golden age for modern architecture in New York? If the new Astor Place residential building by Gwathmey Siegel is any indication, the answer is no. Advertisements may tout the tortured tower as "Sculpture for Living," but no amount of pretentious hype can turn this sow's ear into a silk purse... Could Charles Gwathmey secretly be in cahoots with famed antimodernism crusader Prince Charles? Inquiring minds want to know.
In the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger called the Astor Place eyesore "an elf prancing among men" and "Mies van der Rohe as filtered through Donald Trump."
“The 2 Columbus Circle Game”
New York Intelligencer, July 4, 2005
by Tom Wolfe
Was the Landmarks commissioner a little too close to the side that wants it destroyed? A would-be savior of Edward Durell Stone’s building looks at the latest, most dramatic twist in the city’s preservation drama.
At 9:49 A.M., Bob e-mails Laurie: “How do we get ourselves out of this craziness?”
At 9:50, Laurie e-mails Bob: “I don’t have an answer. I am speechless when it comes to Herbert . . . and to think that he is the Chief Critic for the Times!”
Loose-lipped we and ourselves lines like these from the “Bob and Laurie Letters,” just outed via the Freedom of Information Act, have suddenly converted the fate of 2 Columbus Circle, designed in 1964 by Edward Durell Stone as Huntington Hartford’s late Gallery of Modern Art, from a foregone conclusion—it’s a dead duck—into the hottest landmark battle since Jackie Onassis rode a train dubbed “The Landmark Express” to Washington and saved Grand Central in 1978. Last week things came to a boil. The building’s likely new owners (they’re in contract) had already applied for a permit to remove the marble façade. Then the World Monuments Fund put the building on its watch list of the world’s most endangered buildings, making it one of only nine Modernist structures so designated—while the Bob and Laurie letters appeared to catch the chief judge in the case, Bob, in flagrante cahoots with the new owners’ point woman, Laurie.
“Bob” is Robert Tierney, a veteran political appointee who was once counsel to Koch and is now chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. A Landmarks hearing on Stone’s building has never been held; without one, it can’t be saved.
“Laurie” is Laurie Beckelman, a pretty blonde networker nonpareil hired by the American Craft Museum in 2002 to run its campaign to buy 2 Columbus Circle from the city and completely alter its appearance as a brand-new “Museum of Arts and Design.” When it comes to landmarking or, as in this case, avoiding landmarking, Laurie knows the City Hall fraternity grip. She was once chairman of the Landmarks Commission herself.
The “craziness” Bob was bemoaning was the ever-mounting opposition. The specific case in point that had driven Bob crazy and left Laurie speechless at 9:50 A.M. back on January 5, 2004, was this passage from New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp’s year-end architectural roundup: “The refusal of the New York City Landmarks Commission to hold hearings on the future of 2 Columbus Circle is a shocking dereliction of public duty. Unacceptable in itself, this abdication also raises the scary question of what other buildings the commission might choose to overlook in the future.”
Bob e-mails Laurie with a sardonic “ ‘shocking dereliction’ . . . ‘unacceptable’ . . . ‘abdication.’ Other than that, I thought his comments were fine.”
Over the past twenty months, the ranks of the building’s would-be saviors have swollen from a seeming handful of “cranks”—such as Tom Wolfe, viewed as a serial troublemaker with unfortunately easy access to people who buy ink by the barrel—to the biggest landmarks coalition since Grand Central days. The most authoritative of 2 Columbus Circle’s early defenders was architect Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Bob and Laurie and their allies rolled their eyes, as if to say, “Well, you know Bob Stern and his . . . notions.” But soon the numbers and the reputations (more deans of architecture and urbanism, Robert Venturi, Chuck Close, Frank Stella, and virtually every major preservationist organization) became too big for knowing eye-rolls. The pressure became yet more intense last month when another Times critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, called the building “essential to the city’s historical fabric” and flogged the Landmarks Commission some more.
Bob himself has not said a word about 2 Columbus Circle as chairman other than to reiterate the Commission’s official position: It hasn’t held a hearing because the building doesn’t rate one. His only other comments now on the record are the Bob and Laurie letters, obtained in a Freedom of Information request by preservation group Landmark West. Aside from his lamentation about the gathering insanity, he has mainly offered Laurie tactical help. In May 2003, under the heading “2 Columbus Circle—The Ox is in the Ditch,” Bob e-mails Laurie a Landmark West appeal to the troops to lobby a community board before it votes on the fate of the building: “Just so you know what they’re up to.” Later Laurie e-mails Bob letting him know her side won, “but I see trouble ahead.”
Bob replies, “Let me know how I can help on the trouble ahead.”
Landmark West has filed a lawsuit charging that Bob has colluded with Laurie and asking that he recuse himself from all future consideration of 2 Columbus Circle.
Ah, the craziness . . .
As recently as six months ago, a member of the Landmarks Commission, Richard Olcott, an architect, had e-mailed Bob about a Museum of Arts and Design symposium to be attended by prominent architects. “I think you should call up Laurie Beckelman and get her to strongarm every invitee on this list to write a letter about it. The design community needs to speak up and stop this madness put out by the Taliban.” A Talibanista in his book: Landmark West.
The craziness . . . and now madness on top of craziness . . .
Asked for a response to the lawsuit and the World Monuments Fund’s concern about 2 Columbus Circle, Bob replied via an e-mail from a spokesman, “Three landmark chairs, under two administrations, have carefully considered this issue and determined not to proceed with the designation process. The World Monuments Fund listing contains no information that would change this decision.”
He declined to elaborate upon the Letters, since “this matter is under active litigation.” Laurie was not available for comment.
Monday, June 27, 2005
New Urban Development Named "Most Authentic" Community —
Beats Out Stepford, Connecticut
St. Louis & Tennessee River Packet Co.
I'M PUTTING this here because my blog often scores well on Google, and I'm interested in brochures, photos or company china from the steamboat line, which my great-grandfather owned. If you have some you'd like to sell, please let me know.
I was once in an antique store in Greenwich Village which had an enormous framed photo of the City of Florence. "How much is the photo of the steamship?" I asked. "Oh, that's not for sale," they said.
To make a long story short, I left a message for the owner that I was very interested in the photo and would come back two days later, when he re-opened after the weekend. When I did, the picture was gone. "Oh, we sold it," they said.
Friday, June 24, 2005
London Times Book Review: "Are Architects Venal, Vacuous and Ego-Driven?
In Belgium the phrase “espèce d’architecte” is a grave insult. Deyan Sudjic has, for more than a quarter of a century, written about architecture, edited architectural magazines (Blueprint, Domus), curated architectural exhibitions. He has been Synthetic Modernism’s dogged laureate. He has been notably sympathetic towards the institutionalised avant-garde of the architectural establishment. Which is what makes his book, The Edifice Complex, all the more astonishing.
It is a work of damning apostasy. Sudjic is not merely biting the hand that fed him but mauling the entire body. His implicit lesson is: a principled architect is an architect who does loft conversions. The qualities on which a career in the big time depends include venality, opportunism, egomania, self-delusion, a vacuous manifesto, an insatiable appetite for sycophancy and a willingness to treat with tyrants. A gift for plagiarism is also useful.
Of today's Starchitects, the only one who has designed a building I've visited that's struck me as truly beautiful is Frank Gehry. And that was only in one case, Bilbao (Disney has problems with its context, imo). I've visited 5 or 6 others, but found none of them more than interesting.
Who today has made a streetscape as beautiful as the one in the picture below? I love the the solidity of the masonry arcade and facade shaping the street, in perspective.
Does anyone think Bilbao is more inventive?