New York

The New Year Opening Bang: Roosevelt Island Collapse

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You might remember the Southpoint Competition a year or so ago, which proposed preserving the old asylum at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, NYC. We do: we submitted an entry for it. The former building is load bearing masonry, with stone facing, and is vaguely castle-like. For some this building represents some kind of pinnacle of Gothic Revival Architecture. We don't get that, probably because we attended a university that was designed by Cope and Stewardson. A few castellated cornices does not groundbreaking Gothic Revival make, but that is our opinion.

Anyone who has visited the asylum knows that the old building is little more than a ruin, stabilized by luck, some steel, and a lot of ivy. And some theatrical uplighting. Which made the idea of preserving it something short of silly, both from a cost standpoint and a use standpoint. It's frankly more interesting as a ruin...turning it into a building again would make it bland again.

At any rate, the old walls have tipped definitively (ouch, sorry for unintended pun) into the ruin category. It has partially collapsed. If a building collapses on Roosevelt Island, does anyone see it? Well, yes. A week later, we totally get word of it.

Via Curbed, who also has some other interesting links to follow on the subject of crumbling NYC buildings.

Bob Stern Gets Some Respect

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We've made no secret about our admiration for Bob AM Stern's approach to education. The Times throws some respect his way today, too. Not enough to get mentioned in Ourousoff's article, but he probably prefers to be the sole subject of an article than to be grouped together with everyone else.

Nouvel Tower Renderings

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We can't get enough of this design. And we stand by our statements after seeing the plethora of renderings at Dezeen.

Herbert Muschamp, 1947-2007

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Herbert Muschamp died yesterday in New York. While we were never a fan of his writings, we have to give the guy credit: he was consistent, loud, and all over the map. Just the way we like our New Yorkers.

Shigeru Ban In Chelsea

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Adding to an already impressive couple of blocks in West Chelsea, Manhattan, is Shigeru Ban's new design for The Metal Shutter Houses. That's the name for a condo with nine duplex apartments with jaw-dropping exterior features. Renderings are unveiled today in the New York Times. Simply amazing, and surely to rate high on the two-dozen list, whenever we get around to updating it with Nouvel's second apartment building, Herzog & DeMeuron's 40 Bond Street, and the like.

15 CPW: Bob Stern In Fine Form

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There's nothing we love more than a good argument over Bob Stern. When we were graduate students at Columbia University in the mid-1990s, everyone avoided having him for design studio, thinking that he would make everyone design in historical pastiche. One semester, I sat adjacent his studio; low and behold his criticism was insightful, pragmatic, and informed by experience. True, he was a shade conservative, and positively curmudgeonly, but he never failed to call bullshit when contemporary architectural theory failed to produce what it said it was supposed to produce. For that, I secretly admired him. He was asking the same questions I was asking, even though the forms I chose to ask them in weren't the ones his office was producing. The students who were unlucky and got stuck in his studio mistakenly argued with Bob over simple formal machinations, without creating a concrete idea of what they were trying to produce; it was clear that Bob The Critic was formally agnostic (or perhaps omnivorous), so long as what you said you were achieving were the results you actually produced. I longed to bring him over to my desk and say "hey, I think I'm doing what you are asking for, but it looks different. What do you think?" As a wee student, I never had the courage to ask him.

And so we think that we get Bob. 15 Central Park West is case in point, Mr. Stern at his finest form, New York old money luxe created anew. When the game is to make a good apartment building, make it really, really good. Use the best materials, use layouts that work, take a stand for proportions and rooms that make all New York apartment dwellers drool, and make the developer figure out who to market it to to pay for the increased cost of the building. Of course Mr. Stern's first impulse is to use tried and true forms and details from long ago. And people are vocal about liking the building, politely admiring its historical aspects but keeping their distance, or really hating it for being a photocopy of another age (this last one we never really get, because unless it's an exact replica of another building, it's always going to be new and different. This is a debate for another time.) Guess what: the historical forms and proportions still work. In that they produce something people will buy, and be passionate about living in.

Of course, after taking the gorgeous fantasy trip through 15 CPW's apartments, motor court, classic dining rooms, and grand lobby, we are left asking: why can't it be done without using the historical cues? Can I have a not-so-dowdy bathroom vanity cabinet, and a kitchen that doesn't look like the one we have at the country manor? Can we keep the good proportions, well-designed windows, and great detailing, all the while giving us a little (or a lot) of the 20th Century's uncanny? Miss Representation perfectly encapsulates the problem:

...the failure of new housing to evoke the grandeur of a 30-foot long sitting room isn't really about limestone sheathing or how big the windows are: it's about whether or not your sitting room is 30 fucking feet long. And it isn't.

Like the students I remember in his design studio, architects doing new housing in New York make the same mistake. Some exceptions, of course, can be found in #s 1-5 at the Two Dozen list. In the majority of celebutante housing designs the design concerns are about twitchy wrappers, space-age materials, sharks with lasers, or whatever else is being used to keep one branded as cutting edge. This focus of attention is an astonishingly sophomoric failure to look at what makes living spaces great, pleasurable, desirable. Because Mr. Stern creates great living spaces, elegant entries, and uses his estimable powers as a persuader to cause developers to pony up for great materials, it's easy for him to stand out in this context. And whether you like his forms or not, you cannot deny that he has won the game he set out to play, a game we think is worth playing in every housing development the world over. We'll let you know when we see someone else step up too.

Hudson Yards Draft Strategic Framework Plan

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Dear Diary,

Next time I do a master plan for anything, please be sure to run it by Lockhart Steele first. Just the other day, I was looking at Curbed, and I saw his brilliant, whithering criticism of the beyond-stupid Hudson Yards Draft Strategic Framework Plan. Of particular note: he noticed the glaring stupidity of the Plan's attempt to compare a development site with the size of the open spaces in New York, as if the entire site would be open space. What can we say, Lockhart is good.

He didn't mention one important point, but he's probably just leaving something for me to write about. That the Plan is obviously constructed so that one conclusion can be reached: building around the High Line is too expensive, and therefore it should be just knocked down. What architect can't see that this is the most interesting part of the High Line? FxFowle, we had so much faith in you up to now.

Prouve's Maison Tropicale Is In Queens

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Prouve's Maison Tropicale was designed for the African climate, but for a little while, it has a new home in Queens, New York. And, it's for sale. The New York Times gives us the details on the restored house, as well as details on the other two surviving specimens. The house is open today to the public, and is located in Long Island City, on a plot just south of the Queensboro Bridge.

Update: After running over there today, I can report that the dates the house is open are May 17-June 5, 2007. No hours were posted. It was locked at 11am today.

And yes, we've been away for a while, celebrating our second anniversary.

Guggenheim 5th Avenue: Cracking

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Yesterday's New York Times served up some technicolor imaging of Frank Lloyd Wright's cracking Guggenheim facade. For anyone that has seen a set of historic preservation documents, this kind of documentation is routine. However, the image from the times takes it to a whole new level of awesomeness.

Serra Installation At MoMA

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Our Midtown sidewalk correspondant Sah Surattanont captured the wonderful moment of a Richard Serra sculpture being hoisted into place. In this case, into MoMA's courtyard. Click Continue Reading for the full filmstrip.

Rudolph Road Trip

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Today's New York Times gives us a road trip to Paul Rudolph's work between here and Boston, and includes updates on the conditions of the buildings. It also divulges a lot of details about the people who inhabit them. It also includes, shockingly enough, actual addresses and directions to said buildings. Time to call the garage and have the car ready.

Ever since Modern Architecture In Europe went out of print, and the internet, er, happened, guidebooks to famous buildings have been few and far between. The AIA produces a few for major cities, but they are hardly comprehensive. Road tripping across the country means long expanses of no handheld device internet access, which means all that online information is useless, unless you print it out. Until someone finds a solution for this, we'll have to print out articles like this one.

Tropolism On Gridskipper

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On Gridskipper today: an article asking writers about architecture what they think the ugliest building in New York is. Of course, we picked the Whitney, but as we make plain, ugly has never been a perjorative for us.

Photo by Hagen Steir on flickr.

Graffiti Research Lab

dripsessions.jpgOne of the reasons we love Gordon Matta-Clark is that his presence in the art world is so unique. He did things to buildings that were disruptive, in a direct, physical way. He played with the very stability of structures, as well as the psychological stability of the interiors.

Graffiti Research Lab may seem more up Coolhunting's alley, but we were turned on when a fellow architect sent along the link to The Drip Sessions, which incorporates a lot of DIY technology, from paint bottles to high-power projectors, all in service of creating light graffiti on New York City buildings (pictured). This project is our favorite, because it is one of the most beautiful. It can be interpreted as an act of defacement, or enhancement, depending on your perspective. Perhaps the best part is that the video is like an instruction video. I want a drippy paint bottle too.

Some of the other projects are more guerilla, like the brilliant and politically charged Threat Advisory Tower. Although the guy leaning over the parapet freaked us out. Life/safety, yo, we have a license for a reason. We received a more unadultered thrill watching the Light Criticism project in action, when hoodie'd artists walk up to and tape up black masks over those stupid moving billboards that endlessly repeat the same ad for television shows, and in the process create a moving work of art.

Robert A.M. Stern Is Almost Alright

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Robert A.M. Stern was the critic no one wanted to have when I was a student at Columbia. If you put his studio as anything but last in your preferences, you would get him. It was a widely held belief that if you took his studio, you'd be forced to do po-mo work all the time. This was far from reality, as I learned by sitting in a studio immediately adjacent to Bob Stern's studio, and overhearing his desk crits. Mr. Stern was a pragmatic critic, holding students' feet to the fire on making their projects work, and making their product match their premises. In short, he was an unwavering demand that your proposal live up to your words about it. I secretly loved him for that: Columbia in the mid 1990s was a lot of words and renderings of clouds, and light on the discussion of how buildings work in the world.

Yet a continued disappointment is that while Mr. Stern's office tends to produce architecture that contributes to the city, and is even civic in a traditional sense (in that it is guided by having generous and appropriately grand public spaces), the materials, forms, and sequences rarely thrill. There is no bite.

Of course, in this day and age, good architecture is a category that is hard to find. There is bad architecture, poor architecture, lame architecture, tired architecture, acceptable architcture, not bad architecture, and, occasionally, Great Architecture. But good is a category underrepresented.

We file Mr. Stern's design for the Museum of African Art in the good-to-very-good category. It's an acceptably civic front that abstracts a non-19th century western architectural form, and it has a innovative (but workable!) mix of residential development and institutional functions. And, it's got the best salesman in the business behind an institution without a permanent home.

Clip/Stamp/Fold

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The exhibition "Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines", on view now at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, is in our world the perfect exhibition: about rare architectural publications, and curated by Beatriz Colomina. The show is only up until February 24th, so rush down. There can never be enough architectural book love.

Until you get there, you may soak up the magazine goodness at the show's excellent (and simple, yo. Take note architects!) website. Mr. Ourousoff from the Times has also reviewed the show today.

Moynihan Station: Not Dead Yet

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Back when we last checked in on Moynihan Station, Madison Square Garden was all set to cross 8th Avenue and devour a second McKim, Mead, and White building. Then...silence. The proposal seemed dead as the previous governor wrapped up his administration.

An article in The New York Observer gives us an update on what's been happening since election day, when we got a new governor. The new governor is a bit more enthusiastic about these projects, and has appointed a head of the Empire State Development Corporation that is interested in not only developper good, but hey, the public good as well. At least his reaching-out has temporarily addressed concerns by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, one of the groups opposed to the developer plan B for Penn Station. The devil is always in the details, or in this case, the large, open, sunlight filled public rooms, and so we await developments with baited breath.