Wednesday, April 30, 2008
All the best blocks in New York,
are shaped by stone and brick buildings. If you don't agree, show me the block.
Non-architects don't find this surprising. They look around and say, "Of course." Look at Time Out's list of The 50 Best Blocks in New York.
Time Out is hip and young and has nothing against Modernist architecture. But when you go looking for the best blocks in the city, if you're not an ideologue you're going to see that glass buildings don't make city streets as well as masonry buildings. Some good blocks might have a single glass building that makes an interesting contrast. But if you go somewhere like Midtown that has quite a few blocks made primarily of glass towers, you'll find pretty boring blocks. Upper Park Avenue is one of our most beautiful streets — Park Avenue right above Grand Central is boring.
Young architects and architecture students have a lot of trouble with these ideas, because they've been taught anti-urban ideas. First, that the architect's vision and the building's uniqueness are more important than making a good block and a good city. And, they're interested in architectural fashion, which for at least the last 10 years has been in a neo-60s mode. That means glass, and lots of it.
Find this a little hard to believe? Well take a look at these comments at Curbed, where I'm called a "douche," "a major douche" and an "old, ugly NIMBY piece of shit" (by people I've never met). What did I say that was so terrible? Here it is:
There is no connection between glass-skinned buildings and "progressive" or "innovative." Corporations and developers have built hundred of thousands of them since 1950.
What separates New York from most of America, particularly most of America built since 1950, is that it is a place where people can walk and want to walk. Eighty per cent of Manhattan residents don't own a car. (FWIW, I was born here and I do own a car.)
Density and interconnected streets allow one to walk. Beautiful, safe and interesting streets make us want to walk.
All the best blocks in New York (that is all the places where people most want to walk, live and work) are shaped entirely or primarily by masonry buildings. If you disagree, what blocks are you talking about?
New York has long had diverse and eclectic buildings and streets, and there's nothing wrong with a new or different building here or there. Lever House and the Seagram Building were interesting additions to Park Avenue. But Park Avenue between Lever House and Grand Central before all the corporate glass towers were built. And midtown was a more interesting and beautiful place before it became dominated by glass towers, as it is now. Who enjoys walking along Madison Avenue in the 50s?
Lever House is a beautiful building. This MOMA tower is ugly, part of the current fashion for ugly and even sinister buildings. This fashion will pass, and this tower will be considered a blight on the city. MOMA's last addition deadened the block where it sits, and this will be worse.
In that way, beauty is also green, because it makes building people want to maintain and blocks people want to be on. A 150 year old building like SoHo and Tribeca lofts is sustainable, because it is constantly recycled, as factories, warehouses, apartments, offices and even classrooms. In 15 years, people will want to tear this building down, but it's too big.
Nothing we do is more important than facing up to global warming and climate change. Living in cities is green, but despite the attempt by architects to pretend that glass towers are green, a tower like this would have an enormous amount of embedded energy in its construction, and would use an enormous amount of electricity for all the artificial light, ventilation, heat and air conditioning it will require.
Last but not least, building more places for billionaires isn't progressive or good for the future of the city either. Luckily for us, we're going into a recession, because if New York doesn't become more affordable, as it usually has been, we are going to lose many of the people that any good city requires.
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Hey, they are punks. Forget 'em.
Posted by: David Sucher at Apr 30, 2008 11:23:42 PM
I think people study architecture for good reasons. But I'm worried about what they want to do after a few years of architecture education.
Nouvel's building will make Manhattan a worse place. We've become bad artists like Richard Serra, who don't understand the difference between work in the public realm and art for private collectors and art museums.
Posted by: john massengale at Apr 30, 2008 11:37:47 PM
Why Curbed (still) allows anonymous comments I have no idea, but if you read it regularly you'll see that the treatment you got at the hands of the horde that likes to trash every criticism as NIMBYism is so common as to become an almost laughable background drone.
What I've noticed over there is that it's just about always the "guest" commenters who act like complete idiots, and those of us who have registered accounts are often accused of being NIMBYists because we're just not buying every glass tower that every starchitect is selling.
I got accused of much the same thing (which in my mind proves I was right in the first place) for my criticism of the monstrosity that 2 Columbus Circle has turned into.
I'm also moving towards being convinced that all of those same Curbed trolls are transplants and not NYC natives, which only adds to my disgust, I promise you.
I don't specifically have issues with the Nouvel tower- we've built a lot worse, certainly, particularly in midtown. But I agree with you that NYC is characterized not by glass, but by brick, and to lose that, is to lose what gives the city its unique character.
Posted by: bronxelf at May 1, 2008 3:42:53 AM
at least it's in midtown. i have much bigger problems with things like the trump soho.
also, i'm very proud to find my block on the top-50 list (#49).
Posted by: taylor at May 1, 2008 3:32:54 PM
you have to hit back with one liners that are witty or that belittle the starchitects and their crappy buildings. curbed is not the place for intelligent thinking and comments, please post your thoughtful commentary on this blog. curbed is the place people go to be be offensive so make fun of these deformed buildings and the incestuous circle of black turtleneck architects who only know how to design in glass that design them.
Posted by: poncho at May 2, 2008 5:22:40 PM