New York

More Zaha Craziness

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Today's New York Times reports not once but twice about a planned arts supercomplex in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The articles cover all the art hot topics of the day: the pros and cons of the development, east meets west, the Bilbao effect, art as franchise is good or bad, and art as global or home-grown activity. But the real thrill of the article is the rendering of Zaha Hadid's contribution: a crazy, snakelike performing arts center. The audacity of the rendering reminds us of the immortal Gold Lego proposal for the Louvre. The image borders on completely-surreal without edging into acid-trip (while getting oh, so close).

The Shrinking Freedom Tower

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We're a bit slow on the draw on this one, but we can't let the week end without pointing it out. Rafael Viñoly, one of the architects who worked under the THINK New York banner during the WTC competition, gave a lecture at 7WTC on January 18th describing how unnecessary the Freedom Tower is. The above diagram was copied from Gothamist, who also provides a complete description on the lecture.

Stop The Presses: People Cooperating On WTC Buildings

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Today's New York Times reports about the development of WTC Towers 2, 3, and 4. Employees of Foster, Maki, and Rogers are sharing a single, huge office space on the 11th Floor of 7 WTC, opened three weeks ago. The super studio also combines engineers and the lone architect of record for the project. In short, Silverstein (A master planner for the 21st Century? Urban heir to Robert Moses?) has created what no agency, competition, public comments hearing, or collaborative not-for-profit study has been able to produce: a working, collaborative effort. It's the single brilliant thing to come of the WTC site.

Because of this turn of events, our first-glance gloomy estimation of the towers' design now appears to have been hasty. We've changed our assessment to "intriguing enough to wait for more information".

Foster UES Tower: So Not Happening

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The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted against the proposed development of 980 Madison Avenue, featuring the glass towers atop a low existing structure. After all the fireworks we were hoping for something a little more conciliatory. Is the LPC getting gunshy? Did the project never have a chance in hell from the get-go? Will the developer continue at this location?

Via Curbed, where they include entertaining quotes from the Commission.

VV Takes on Wolfe

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One of our allergies is to argumentum ad hominem. That is, attacking the people making the argument as a way to discredit the argument. It avoids discussion of merits, thereby turning an issue of substance into an issue of morality. With regards to architecture, this is a particularly slippery slope: so much of an architect's creative abilities are personal, non-rational, idiosyncratic. It's difficult to discuss architecture without slipping into a little ad hominem from time to time. We despise it anyway.

Today's Village Voice seems to imply that author Tom Wolfe is making ad hominem arguments against the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and other supporters of 2 Columbus Circle and 980 Madison Avenue, (two projects we've taken preservation positions on). The article doesn't make the accusation directly (itself drifting into ad hominem by accusing Mr. Wolfe of launching his attack to save his career), but the implication is that his characterization of the LPC in the Times was simply an attack on the LPC's members. The Times piece in particular seems to spend a lot of time on Anthony Tung's career shifts. Our request: create an argument about what the LPC should be doing, and stick to that.

Fulton Street Station: MTA Stops Making It Suck

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We'll admit: we've never mentioned the Fulton Street transit hub, connecting all of the subway lines that cross Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan because the project has been in MTA cost-cutting limbo ever since the day it was designed. We believed that the interesting building by Grimshaw would get cut and we'd end up with a grand concourse of dark underground tunnels.

Today's New York Times lets us know that the MTA board will go through with the project in its new revised form, even though they have to make up $41M from their own budget to build the project. The go ahead was given grudgingly, apparently. The Times has a preciously crusty quote from a board member against the overrun:

“We are not building cathedrals here,” said one board member, Nancy Shevell Blakeman.

Obviously, MTA isn't building cathedrals. Otherwise, all the transit infrastructure and stations built between 1920 and 1990 would be, you know, gorgeous. And, they wouldn't have let the original Pennsylvania Station be demolished. Shall we go on? Cost overruns are an issue, we agree. But don't sacrifice good public space to save a few bucks.

Bonus: the Times also posts the coolest walk-through diagram section we have ever seen. We suggest to the Times to try saving money on the architecture critics and giving David Dunlap and the renderers an expanded beat.

Tropolism Books: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

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A few months ago, my brother sent me a book from my long-forgotten Amazon.com Wishlist: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The joy of receiving it was matched only by the pleasure in reading it.

Most of you know the story: William H. Whyte wrote the book in 1980, an outgrowth of his work as the director of the Street Life Project (which he founded in 1971). This group diligently recorded how people use public space. Moveable vs Fixed furniture. Placement of trees. Places to eat. Relationship of shops to open space. Sight Lines. They recorded. The book reads like a manual for making good public space, written by anthropologists of American Urban Natives.

The book isn't a scientific treatise, or an unbiased state-sponsored report, even though all of the techniques used to gather data have a long track record in the science community. Yet concealed in the trappings of scientific data, Mr. Whyte makes palpable the perceived cynicism on the part of corporate and urban architects toward the use of public space. The data is brilliantly and swiftly put to use. In addition, there is a bias against anything that would prevent people from sitting on a low ledge (spikes, bars), yet the section called "The Undesirables" seems to describe passive, friendly, capitalist ways of keeping drunks away from your nice public space. What is powerful about these biases, aside from what you may think of their merits, is that they enter the conversation about designing public space at its source. The book is about the details that make public spaces in the city thrive.

This book can be purchased at Amazon.

New York City's 50 Best Webcams

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I've always said that New York is the best place on earth to experience the internet. The city is mapped online, and vice-versa. The city's life is extended online, and stuff on the internet shapes the phycial form of the city. I said that in 1998, in an article that ANY rejected. (They probably saved my writing career). I always knew I was right, but I didn't really feel vindicated until today.

It is with great pleasure that we discovered, via the ever-vigilant Curbed, NewYorkology's list of New York's 50 Best Webcams. (Are there more than 50? Is there a site that has ALL of them?) For those of you interested in progress at the WTC site: three webcams will take you downtown, without all the hassle of the financial district. Want to take a jaunt up the Hudson River Park, except from your Powermac G4? Check out the 20 Hudson River Park cams. New York, here I come.

Tropolism Magazines: PIN-UP

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The second entry in our, er, two-part series about new architectural magazines we like this week is PIN-UP, giving us helvetica love from the logo through the back cover Comme des ad. Published in New York, the magazine's inaugural issue features a layout suggested by its name: clean, collage like, and powered by ideas. In the dark days of architectural publications which we now live, where great aging publications like Architecture, P/A, and The Gutter have all fallen to the wayside, it is difficult to find one that is still up and running, much less remotely interesting.

PIN-UP plays both meanings of the double entendre embedded in its title. It feels casual, easy to pick up and leaf through, with great pictures art directed for a general, design-friendly audience. It also gets behind the clothes of the architect, in many figurative and literal ways, putting architects like Jurgen Mayer H., Zaha Hadid, Winka, and Charles Renfro on display as people/props to be studied, as much as the work they produce. This is to say nothing of the brilliant, phallic, tower-porn photo series, something straight out of Dutch/Matthias Vriens from 1999. The brilliant tendency of this magazine is to collapse both sides of the double entendre into a single article, as in the article about Jurgen Mayer H., constantly pictured (they are video stills) undressing or in bed in a hotel room, next to details of his buildings and installations. It is a perfect encapsulation of how architectural design consumes the lives of architects who build, particularly those famous architects who lecture around the world. Bravo.

And, as icing on the cake, they reprint an article from Beatriz Colomina in the back, her brilliant piece about Corb raping Eileen Gray's house with a mural from the 1980s. Cred building.

BTW, Comme Des, want to advertise on Tropolism?

Via Jason Thome, our own personal cool hunter.

Save Highline, And Eat Cookies

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We've always been concerned that the High Line had made a deal with the devil regarding the Rail Yards portion of the tracks. That's the portion above 30th Street. While the hoopla about a West Side Stadium was in full fur mode (way back in 2005), the Friends of the High Line were busy planning and rail banking the rest of the High Line. Of course, anyone who has worked on a design for the High Line knows that the upper 30%, which curls around the West Side Rail Yards, is what gives the High Line the ability to connect, at both ends, to the Hudson River Park, and the water. It is also the end where you can walk from street level smoothly up to High Line level. So why was FTHL giving it up?

The answer, apparently, is that they were simply biding their time. Let the big dogs tear each other to bits. Now, without a plan, direction, or powerful sponsor (or Olympic bid, for that matter) to interfere, the Rail Yards seems ripe for another fresh-faced entrant, and FTHL appears to be eager to garner political and popular support for this important piece of (potential) public space.

FTHL is holding a public gathering, where they will present possibilities for this portion of the High Line, as well as gather comments from the public. Oh, and serve their famous High Line cookies and cider. Chelsea Market Community Space, 75 Ninth Avenue, 6.30pm Thursday December 7. RSVP required, contact [email protected] or 212.206.9922.

Sculpture For Living: The Dumb Never Sets

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The Sculpture For Living is a gift that keeps on giving. Not to be upstaged by the questionable architectural value of the building, the open space next to the building (between Carl Fischer and It) decided to one-up the building is crapassness. We didn't think it possible, but Manhattan Offender gives us the photographic evidence (pictured). We quote:

If you are going to restrict access from the public, then you need to have access in the first place. The 'garden in question is not accessible to the residents; there is no pathway through it. Therefore you are restricting access to the public to something that doesn't have access in the first place."
Via the fellow Sculpture For Living hatahs Curbed.

Whitney Going Downtown

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Eleven years and three star architects later, the Whitney Museum has made their committment to expanding downtown official. The sucking sound you hear is the sound of contemporary cultural institutions moving quickly away from the Upper East Side. Who is next? Guggenheim? The Met?

Of note is that the Whitney will also refurbish the original, gorgeously brutal Breuer building, after they've expanded downtown.

Saarinen's TWA: Looking For Life

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Preservationists have been holding their breath about Saarinen's TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport, dormant since 2001, ever since JetBlue announced they were building their own terminal really, really close to it. Without doing anything to it.

The New York Times reports that the Port Authority is soliciting development proposals for the building. The high notes: Saarinen's original design and details will be restored and preserved, and you can still walk through the space ship tubes to get to the Jet Blue terminal. The low notes: what, really, does one do at an empty terminal building in the middle of an airport forever clogged with traffic? And, as Frank Sanches of the Municipal Arts Society aptly points out, how will such a huge restoration project make this an attractive development? Questions abound.

Preservationists (and Saarinen lovers, like myself) can breath out, and breath in. And hold the breath a little longer.

Arquitectonica Tries To Get On The List, In A Good Way

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You thought we'd gone away, didn't you? Well, to dispel that impression, we point you to what may be the best candidate for the Two-Dozen List since we knocked Blue to the very bottom: Arquitectonica's 184 Kent Avenue, which we think is not in Manhattan. The severe knocking Arqui took from their completely lame pomo Westin Hotel (which we mention at #24 in our List, as an example of how Blue was going to look) probably gave them the inspiration to shed the garish South Beachitecture and look at other forms of inspiration. In this case, they went straight to the heart of the lion: Mies' IIT, on top of a factory roof in, er, Brooklyn (we think). We think the results are lovely, and reminiscent of SHoP's Porter House. Arqui's project lands somewhere in the middle of our list, let's say #11 or so. We are going to update the list, and include a couple of more wicked smart projects we've been holding off posting about.

Tipped off by Curbed.

Whitney: So Over UES

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The New York Times reports today that the Whitney is not only mildly interested in expanding downtown near the High Line: they are totally interested.

Favorite near-sighted neighbor quote of the week:

Now the Upper East Siders who vehemently opposed the expansion in their neighborhood are celebrating. In an e-mail message last week to fellow members of the Coalition of Concerned Whitney Neighbors, Edward Klimerman wrote, “Hope springs eternal.”