Wednesday, April 30, 2008
We Build This City
NEW YORK CITY's Sustainable Streets program is an important development. Download the plan here.
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.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The Way We Live Now
David Becomes Goliath
(The photo's been anonymously moving around the internet — see the original here.)
Travels with my iPhone
BEDFORD, NEW YORK is about as close as you can be to New York City with any real illusion of being in the country. I lived and worked there and should write about it and post some photos. But for now, here are some photos from my iPhone and a few earlier words (look in the second and third paragraphs).
PS: Urbanism & An Architecture of Place
ON MY WAY TO BEDFORD, I drove by the the new Yankee Stadium. It's next to the old stadium (ruined by blind engineers in the early 1970s), and unlike CitiField, is urban. Down the hill from the Grand Concourse, next to the subway, the new stadium usually comes right up to the street.
But the "traditional" architecture is poorly done. HOK's designers (HOK designs virtually all the new ballparks) should take some courses at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America. With a little training, their buildings would be a lot better.
Urbanism and An Architecture of Place
CitiField has no city, and the Metropolitans have no metropolis.
OVER AT DESIGN OBSERVER, the great Michael Bierut wrote a good piece on baseball parks that I thought was a little too quick to equate traditional design with "nostalgia" while asking the question, "Why is it so hard to build a baseball stadium that looks like it belongs in the 21st century?"
In the comments, I said,
I suspect you're trolling here, but I'll bite a little bit.
Why are you assuming that the architecture of the 21st Century should be the same as the architecture called for by 19th century architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe?
They wanted a Zeitgeist architecture, an architecture of time, which they tied to the expression of technology. The architecture needed today, I believe is the architecture of community and place. And sustainability.
There was a time when Modernism accurately expressed our culture, but that time is past. It is now nothing more than an expression of style, and that expression is increasingly ego-centric, anti-urban and unsustainable.
We need buidings that add up to the creation of good places. Extensive studies by Chris Alexander, Space Syntax and many others increasingly show that the qualities that do that are timeless and universal.
My standard for judging CitiField is not whether or not it's nostalgic, but whether or not it's a good place. That's determined by many qualities including the spatial experience, the proportions of the facades, the quality of the materials, etc.
Fenway is the best park because it's the best spatial experience, not because it's the oldest park. It has a sense of enclosure that the modem columnless stadiums will never have. Google "Phil Bess" and "Save Fenway Park" to read more about that.
Wilpon told the architects of CitiField to make it like Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers played. But then he put the field in the middle of a parking lot. As a Brooklyn boy, he should have known better.
Ebbets Field was firmly embedded in the urban fabric of Brooklyn. The team got its name because their fans had to "dodge" streetcars to get to the field. But CitiField has no city, and the Metropolitans have no metropolis. They should play on the Atlantic Yards site, where there are 5 or 6 subway lines and the LIRR. Their urban locations are part of what make Fenway and Wrigley the two best fields.
Someone mentioned that the old Busch stadium sat well in downtown St. Louis. That's right. And of all the concrete "donut" stadiums built in the 1960s, it's the one that had the spatial intimacy and sensitive renovations to make it a great place to watch a game.
As I said, I'm talking about an architecture of place, not an architecture of time.
Posted by: john massengale on April 18, 2008 04:51 PM
Saturday, April 26, 2008
For the New Spartans
UPDATE: Yankee fans and Sox fans interact in California. What was the Yankee fan's crime? He was cheering for the Yankees.
DESPITE two World Series rings in four years, which is two more than the Yankees have had this century, some Sox fans still feel the need to misanthropically attack the Yankees. They use stats to show that Derek Jeter is one of the worst defensive players in baseball, and that Chien Ming Wang, who since he first came up has won more games than any other pitcher in baseball, can't possibly win.
So I was interested to see this quote from Red Sox Nation favorite son baseball analyst Peter Gammons:
First of all, range factor is a phony stat. It will tell you that Roberto Alomar is a mediocre second baseman, and he's the best I've ever seen. It doesn't take into consideration instinct. Jeter is the most consistent of the three [Jeter, A-Rod, Nomahr] making the tough play, and he makes the double play -- starting and finishing -- the best... I say this each October: the best thing about watching the postseason is watching Jeter play every day for 15-20 games so I go home each winter realizing how great he really is. No stat sheet shows that.
Then last week, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said this,
He’s the best thing ever in the game. He’s got everything you want. Who’s better than Derek Jeter? Nobody in the game.
Julio Lugo, my a**.
Derek Jeter, Bill James & Moneyball
Winning Players (New York Times: "Baseball's Leading Man of Math Has Some Second Thoughts About the Numbers")
Is the old Athens of America the new Sparta?
By Jack Curry
CHICAGO — From the moment Ozzie Guillén, the manager of the White Sox, answered the first question at a pregame news conference, it was evident that this would be another entertaining episode of Ozzie, unplugged.
First, Guillén gushed about Jeter. Guillén said Jeter had “everything in his life,” and then listed how Jeter lives in New York, has money and has four World Series rings. Guillén paused, smiled and, while trying to describe Jeter’s social life, delicately, especially for him, added that Jeter was not married.
“I look around when I was at the All-Star Game to see if he’s got anything I don’t like,” Guillén said. “I said, ‘Man, you’re the perfect man.’ Too bad I don’t have a daughter.”
Sounding like the president of the Derek Jeter Fan Club, Guillén kept the compliments flowing.
“He’s the best thing ever in the game,” he said. “He’s got everything you want. Who’s better than Derek Jeter? Nobody in the game.”