Daily Archives: November 12, 2015

New York

DSCF4911 In New York,  we decided to focus on cool new stuff we hadn’t seen.  And pastrami.  Our pastrami quest was thwarted as we trekked up to Carnegie Deli, only to discover that it was closed for repairs.  (And while we considered our next move, a dozen other people came along to be equally disappointed. Someone should set up a pastrami cart there.)  We did see Alwyn Court (even if we couldn’t afford to eat at Petrossian).

DSCF4820We only had two days to spend in New York, less than we did in Cincinnati. The focus on this trip has been on places where I haven’t been in a long time, places where we’re not likely to go to again soon, and places that you need a car to reach.  We had just been in New York last winter, and it’s likely we’ll be back soon, since we have a lot of family and friends there.  Then Greta and I came down with colds while staying with my brother in Mamaroneck, so our time in City got cut in half.  We decided to not spread ourselves too thin, and missed a lot of places and people we wanted to see (including an abortive attempt to schedule a Facebook-based meet-up with a lot of friends).  It was disappointing, but we’ll be back soon.

We wandered through the Park, and felt the full impact of the new residential tower at 57th and Park.  It’s kind of unbelievable, the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere, and a portent of things to come. DSCF4828

The Century used to be considered a tall building.  DSCF4833

On to some favorite blocks on the West Side.DSCF4843DSCF4845And over the the 79th St.Boat Basin, where the rotunda is looking a lot spiffier than it did when I kept a boat there in the 80s.DSCF4849

The redevelopment and park extension at Riverside South was interesting.  The new apartments were a tiny bit less banal than most of their era.DSCF4855cropped-dscf4860.jpg

But the real pleasure was in the park.  Back in the 80s, I was one of very few people who ever roamed into this territory – some homeless people managed to find gaps in the fence, and I would come from the river side in a row boat.  I was especially drawn to the remnants of the wharves that were there, as seen in these photos from the late 80s:Hudson-yards34Hudson-yards31I expected that some day this would all get swept away in a real estate development, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that the park design, by Balsley Studio, incorporated these pieces into a sophisticated design that covers the range from hard to soft and industrial to natural.  DSCF4865DSCF4876DSCF4894DSCF4888

And at the end of the park, there’s something else new to see:DSCF4907DSCF4915Bjarke Ingels’s new condo  building is his usual showstopper.  Once again, he lets the building form be driven by the site conditions, and doesn’t worry about conventional ways of making buildings.  I think this has worked really well in some of his projects, such as the 8-house, and less well in some others, such as the Mountain, where the concept may be strong but the execution is flawed.  It may be too early to tell with “Via 57West”, but I do wish they had hired a Danish branding consultant too and come up with a better name.  (Maybe they’re trying to attract Italian residents, and want to distinguish it from the buildings full of Russian oligarchs down the street.)  I haven’t seen the plans, but we spoke to a construction worker who said there were lots of weird, unusable spaces, which has certainly happened in some of his other projects, and seems like a natural result when you let the building volume drive the scheme.  I’ll withhold judgment.

But I think this may be a real New York building at heart, with the form driven by real estate economics.  One way to look at the massing is that it provides a graceful transition from the 57th St. canyon to the open space of the River:DSCF4932

Another interpretation arises when you find out that the whole block is being developed by the Durst organization.  The more conventional building further back on 57th St., seen to the right in this photo,DSCF4914now has a view of the River because the Ingels building slopes back.  So instead of one building with a view of the River and one with a view of 11th Avenue, you now have two buildings with river views.  The first one may be inefficient, not maximizing its potential floor plates and with funny unit designs,, but you can sell the units to hipsters who want to be in the cool building with great views, regardless of functionality.  Then you can have conventional units with normal floor plans in the second building, which will be bought by more pragmatic people.  The origin of this building is similar to that of Central Park – it may be a good design, but it would never have happened without the financial rationale.  I just wish it had a less cheesy name.

Whitney Museum

I thought the main capital-A Architecture focus of this trip was going to be out-of-the-way buildings by Lou Kahn, but then Renzo Piano hijacked our agenda.  We’ve only seen one recent museum that wasn’t by Piano, and I think the MFA addition is really Norman Foster in Piano drag.

The new Whitney is superb.  Anchoring the High Line at Gansevoort St., it consolidates Chelsea’s status as the new zone for hip galleries, since Soho became a shopping mall and the East Village seems to have gone back to being the East Village.  Tectonically, the building picks up on the High Line and other buildings in the area – it stands out as an institution, but it complements the older technologies beautifully.DSCF5126

The superstructure at the top of the picture is the key to how the building fits into the context.  Every other museum in New York is a solid box which you enter to view the treasures within.  (The Met has some views of the city from the large atrium areas in the new wings by Roche Dinkeloo, but that is all.)  In a museum of American art – which necessarily means lots of art in and about New York – the Whitney pulls in the City as an essential part of the experience.  Being in Chelsea, surrounded by low buildings, the views of midtown and downtown are unobstructed, and going back and forth from the galleries to the city is exhilarating.  DSCF5032

I am a big fan of museums which allow easy access to large open areas where you can shift the focus of your eyes to a distance, get some spatial relief from the necessary introversion of galleries, and let your mind wander a bit;  the Whitney does this better than any museum I’ve ever seen.  The large space isn’t just a relief from the galleries, it is a complement which intensifies the experience while providing a change.

The parti is classic Piano – simple, legible and appropriate.  Each level has a big east-west bar of galleries, with a fairly solid wall to the south, and filtered openings to the east and west.  The staff spaces are mainly on the north side, accessible from the gallery levels, but tucked away behind the circulation core.DSCF4978

These filtered ends are tunable –  allowing for a directly daylit space at the end for sculpture,  DSCF5034while using a series of screening elements to block direct light from reaching the galleries within.  This layering strategy is being employed in many museums now, but this makes more sense to me than Foster’s MFA – it is both more flexible and less extravagant.DSCF5036

Movement through this building is directed, but not constrained.  The staff suggests that you take the elevator to the top, and then walk down.  Interestingly, this is the same processional as was suggested at the old Breuer Whitney.  That building had gigantic elevators, which were also used as freight elevators after hours, and one notable interior stair, which was a sculptural and spatial experience, despite having only one window;  Piano seems to pay homage to that.  The elevators are the coolest glass elevators this side of Lloyds of London, and there is a central stair that is perfectly located and visible,  a pleasure to use, again despite being completely internal.  DSCF5117DSCF5044

Every floor has an entry space at the top of the elevators and stair, orienting you and facilitating the introduction to the exhibit.DSCF5042.jpg

You can us this stair, but why wouldn’t you head outside?  The steel structure relates to the High Line below, and contrasts with the slick envelope of the gallery volumes. DSCF5105DSCF5088

The view to the northDSCF4993

and to the southDSCF4994

Museums can be disorienting rabbit warrens (Pelli’s remodel of MOMA was one of the worst, thankfully now somewhat mitigated.)  This museum not only allows you to be oriented within the museum, but within the whole city.  For a city with great views, it is remarkable how few of them are immediately accessible to the public.  I took views for granted when I worked in the Empire State Building for seven years, but now returning as a tourist, I am annoyed at how I’m always in a canyon, only able to get the big view by standing in line for an hour and paying a lot of money.  The Whitney offers a view of the City that is actually better (though less spectacular) than from the tower decks, and reflective of real life in the City, not the prospect of a master of the universe.  DSCF4997

The various spaces are all commodious and comfortable. The ground floor lobby is transparent and open to the street.  The scale is wonderful, as opposed to the lobby at MOMA, which has the proportions of a parking garage.  DSCF4979DSCF4980

As in all Piano buildings, you can grasp the layout without looking at a plan, the main elements being visible from each other. DSCF5120

The top floor galleries have Piano’s usual attention to daylighting, in this case a nice balancing of high-tech systems and traditional gallery room design.  DSCF5007

I left with the same feeling I get from many Piano museums – a wonderful museum experience, where the architecture didn’t scream for attention, but supported the art without being at all neutral.