Sunday, May 8, 2011

Optical illusion as architectural metaphor

“Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul.”
~ Ernest Dimnet

Can the crane lift the Chrysler building? No, it cannot. Can the crane remove the Chrysler building from view? Yes, it can.

Last December I wrote about waking up one foggy morning to discover the beginning of the end of the New York skyline view I've lived with and loved for 30 years. This is what I saw through my kitchen window that day.

Construction has moved along at a rapid clip in the last five months, revealing a building far worse than my wildest imaginings. The developers have dismissively turned the building's back to the community. They have replaced the beautiful skyline with a featureless, sand-colored monstrosity. If the building is to have a good side, it will face the river. And it gets better: This building is the first of five.

What puzzles me is, what will prospective tenants think about coming home to the visual equivalent of the servant's entrance every night? What will they tell their visitors? I can hear them now: "Just head toward the waterfront and look for the ugliest building you've ever seen. That's us!" Or perhaps the developers expect everyone to arrive by boat.

New York is not just the city that never sleeps. It is the city that never stops reinventing itself. But surely we can do better than this.

"The materials of city planning are sky, space, trees, steel and cement in that order and in that hierarchy."
~ Le Corbusier


  1. I love your pictures and your words.
    I see your photos and dream of seeing something like that, one day.

  2. Thank you, Becky. New York's not that far away — you'll get here. I know you will.

  3. I'm so sorry, Michele. This is hideous. Sadly, it reminds me of L.A., where architectural short-sightedness has long been the order of the day: tearing down the old to make room for the cheap and ugly new, and "turning your back" on the people who will actually use the building. In L.A.'s case, that means making people walk across miles of parking lot, or descend to a fifth circle of underground-parking hell, in order to enter the building. How ironic that the creators of the buildings in your neighborhood are only interested in showing off for Manhattan. I feel your pain!

  4. Oh dear. That doesn't look encouraging, let alone inspiring. Difficult as it must be to design a building and develop a city, I never fail to be amazed at how badly and repeatedly we get it wrong.

  5. Thanks Susan and Stan. All of this ugliness has been made possible by the decline of blue-collar jobs in New York City. My neighborhood was always a mixed residential-commercial-industrial area. When I moved here 30 years ago, it was full of factories, foundries and commercial buildings that employed many thousands of workers, many of whom lived nearby. Then the jobs started going offshore or down south or somewhere with lower taxes, most of the businesses gradually closed and we were left with acres of empty buildings. The site where this atrocity is rising was previously a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. Now it's going to be overpriced "luxury" apartments. Not a good trade, in my opinion.