Urban Totems

On Urban Fragmentation

Noting recently, the trend in large building design toward a fragmentation (or deconstruction) of sorts, and wondering: What is at the heart of this uneasy feeling in the Architecture World? Looking up at new skyscrapers today, it seems that sky topping design falls into two broad categories, the Monolith, and its arch-rival, the Fragmented Monolith.

photo 2 copy

(Fragmentation of The Urban Monolith. New York 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

To understand The Fragment one must first turn toward The first, The Monolith; With respect to the history of skyscraper design; With building massing tending toward “a heavy base” with a logical taper to the top. Clean lines and simple form and fine details which intuitively make sense to the observer as logical rationale. Take for instance the grounded form of One World Trade Center, or the recently completed 30 Park Place, which is a historical reproduction of sorts, but in a sensible manner befitting of Robert Stern.

30 Park Place

(Urban Monolith, 30 Park Place, as a standard bearer of logical skyscraper design. 2016)

The second trend which bucks the first is the Fragmented Monolith, or building as an explosive & teetering art form. Exemplified by structures we have previously written about, most Notably The Jenga Box Rising, by Herzog and de Meuron and another uneasy structure in Jersey City rising dubbed Urban Ready Living. These structures, while true to form from the outset, defy logic by taking an attitude tending toward uneasiness to the observer, with building parts that are either pushed and pulled about, or outright missing. Sudden shifts or deletions of building mass create a feeling of discomfort. Why was the building designed this way?

Urban Ready

(Urban Ready Living, Jersey City, New Jersey. 2016. Image via Skyscraperpage)

A rational answer may be Vanity. A cultural conniesuership of The Object. Where buildings get reduced to what amounts to a recognizeable sound bite in the audio world. These visual bites are candy for the eye and create an instant feeling, unsatisfying to many; a trick which is likely to fall within the “passing trend” category of building design….or, “Those buildings from the 20-Teens which bob and shift about”…how passe’.

Not that this trend is undeserving of Its Time. Perhaps this is a reflection of the destabilizing forces at work in the socio-political arena, as Architecture, often is, a reflector of The Times. So perhaps the trend toward destabilization in our visual sphere is appropriately a marker of The Present.

A summary would attempt to reconcile the two disparate logics at play in an attempt to move forward. They can be rationaled into categories of Classicism and Modernism, or Fragmentationalism (this was made up), or whatever moniker the academic community projects onto the built world.

Or perhaps reconciliation is undeserved, and the Fragmented appearance of this new form of building is-what-it-is, and not much more: An arbitrary counterpoint to the known and familiar.

A New Beast on Broad

Warning: An architecturally offensive rendering, lacking any sense of scale, proportion or rhythm has been released to Chinese investors in order to drum up capital for imminent construction. This wildly strange building, A New Beast on Broad, may soon rise in Manhattan’s Financial District.

45-broad-bottom

(A New Beast on Broad at 45 Broad Street, New York. Image by TRD & Cetra Ruddy. 2016)

Odd proportions; From its chunky base, to its narrow shaft, and then a protruding bulge back out again (a trick most likely played by transferring adjacent air rights) to its awkward and oddly un-New York crown; The skyscraper appears almost as a cutout from a children’s book illustrating the pieces of a Gothic cathedral, or skyscraper ornamentation from an earlier Century, hearkening back to Chicago.

Tribune Tower

(The winning design entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower. John Mead Howells. 1922)

A gnawing question circulates in the background: Where has skyscraper design gone in our second decade of the 21st Century? And, as evidence from the offense above, is anything translatable as a design concept, where grace and beauty are thrown out the door? If references from a prior era are used as design inspiration, then the inspiration should at least be applied with an attention to detail, such as the Tribune Tower, instead of plastered onto a clumsy form and marketed as luxury.

Then the gnawing feeling starts to sink in: When renderings like these pop up every once in a while, they make an egregious offense to the profession.

2015 Urban Morphology Roundup

Thank you readers for your continued interest in our blog throughout 2015. Gordon’s Urban Morphology has grown substantially in readership over our prior year as we continue to highlight subjects in New York’s built environment which have galvanized The City in one way or another.

Continuing the tradition from last year, here is our Round-Up of our most popular posts based on user clicks:

 

VISUALHOUSE NEW YORK 2030

VISUALHOUSE NEW YORK 2030

Our most popular post of 2015: Readers imaginations soared to the heights of the Supertall Skyscrapers in Imagination City


Cantilevered Condo

Our most controversial post which touched on the provocative positions which Architecture can take:  The F#ck You Building on The Fringes of Delancey


Essex_Main

The blandness of the Essex Crossing Development, sold to the public as a development which was once much more attractive: A Bait and Switch in The Lower East Side


Fountain View 2 WTC

The redesign of Two World Trade Center, and the impressions this change left us had us lament in Hunchback of The Trade


Nordstrom Spire

And New York’s next great Supertall had its top lopped off in The Central Park Spire, Revisited


Two Tenements Down_2

While our most poignant post revisited a piece of Tenement history, befallen by the wrecking ball in Two Tenements, Down


 So, there you have 2015’s top posts. Thanks again for your readership and stay tuned for 2016 where we’ll continue to strive to bring fresh perspectives on our Changing City. Happy New Year from Gordon’s Urban Morphology.

The Nightmare at Christmas

mark-foster-gage-architects-41-west-57th-street-ornate-sculptural-new-york-tower-designboom-05

(A Nightmare on West 57th Street. Image by Mark Foster Gage Architects. 2015)

Hopefully part satire, and most likely a commentary on the gaudiness of the Billionaire’s row towers sprouting up along Central Park South; this image of a Theoretical Tower on West 57th Street has grabbed the attention of New Yorkers. Mainly because it sows seeds of confusion amongst the population. What IS this giant decorative monolith?

“Is this really getting built”

“Gotham on steroids”

“New York’s largest Christmas Ornament”

The rendering, understandably, can be taken in the lighter context as a theoretical work of urban critique. The pastiche is completely over the top and unnecessary from an architectural standpoint. Perhaps it is the perfect counterpoint to the banal glass boxes rising all across the City. In this respect, this Modern Gothic is a welcome relief, purely as an image, or as a historio-futuristic reference.

mark-foster-gage-architects-41-west-57th-street-ornate-sculptural-new-york-tower-designboom-03

(The Nightmare Tower, Perched over Central Park. 2015)

As a real building though, and as a building which should be taken seriously; This mismatch of scale and styles is one for the paperbacks. The Theoretical Nightmare Tower to forget, at the end of 2015.

More on the provocative tower proposal can be found here:

Mark Foster Gage takes architecture to new heights, from Arch Daily

Elaborate Gargoyle Skyscraper, from Dezeen

The Central Park Spire, Revisited

Nordstrom Spire

(The Spire-less Nordstrom Tower, after an unfortunate design change. Rendering, 2015)

The Urban Critic: Recently, it was revealed that the crowning spire of the soon to rise Nordstrom Tower has been deleted from its design, leaving in its wake another tall glass box with nondescript features.

A year ago in our prior post, The Central Park Spire, we praised the new Supertall for projecting a futuristic & strong profile into the Manhattan skyline. In our era of Supertall skyscrapers, this design, while boxy and predictable at its base and mid section, took on a stronger profile as it crept skyward. It was a gesture toward the audacity of earlier skyscrapers of the 20th Century and a nod that Manhattan was again pushing the upper limits of tall building design.

For reasons likely tied to budget, the spire has been lopped off the top and we are left with another basic box, albeit a very tall one, with a nonexistent crown. It no longer captures the imagination as the once-future-tallest of The City would have.

217-West-57th-Street-South

(The Nordstrom Spire, with its loftier design. Rendering circa 2014)

Oftentimes, with structures of this scale, ballooning budgets leave the last elements of construction to be reconsidered. A spire is an easy target for a building that may also be a target in itself. As architecture, this is a reversal of a design whose base and shaft seemed to exist for the sole purpose of supporting a higher reaching element. In totality, it feels similar to lopping off the arm of The Statue of Liberty, both in proportion and message.

We ask to bring back the Central Park Spire, so it is a beacon for all who travel to The City from afar, as well as disilliusioned Urban Dwellers. Sometimes looking up is the best medicine; And the many spires of New York serve to keep that raw energy burning.

Prior Posts on The Supertalls of New York:

The Central Park Spire. A blog post where we praised the Nordstrom Tower Spire, from 2014.

Imagination City. Thoughts on the impact of Supertalls on The Urban Skyline, from May 2015.

Remnants on The Urban Fringe

Urban Mass

(Urban Relic, Redhook, Brooklyn. 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

Urban Fringe of NYC, one of the last bastions of Old Industrial New York. Walk to The Edge and you will find the relics which housed the infrastructure of a once burgeoning Industrial City. Relic’s unused, standing as memorials, partially preserved for the Urban Wanderer.

Urban Tower

(Infrastructure Remnant, Redhook, Brooklyn. 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

An exercise in the Poetics of Form, through necessity. Big skeletal tower. Solid little building. Now a curious composition which could be mistaken as an installation by The Builders of Our Past. Totems from a prior Time, waiting for preservation, on The Fringes of New York.

Hunchback of The Trade

Hunchback Image 2 WTC

(Hunchback of The Trade. Rendering Via DBOX. New York, New York)

The Urban Critic: Earlier this week, the newly redesigned World Trade Center 2 Tower was unveiled. We refrained from posting our immediate reaction. Now its a few days later.

At first there was a gasp, then a sigh as disappointment settled in. Next, a rationalization of positive impressions which could be extracted from The Proposal. Maybe those ticker tapes along the cantilevered masses are interesting and modern? The bulky form is progressive, sort of, and the “gardens in the sky” concept is nice for Office Workers. The animation of the lobby and building experience was beyond first class and a work of art unto itself (Click HERE for Animation).

Two World Trade_Tickers

(Times Square Ticker Tapes along the underside of Unsettled Boxes)

Another question, a major question, began to emerge. Why was Norman Foster, the original Towers’ architect, sidestepped after committing to the project for so long? Clearly his firm is capable of adapting any design to the varied needs of clients, as requirements change with the whims of The World. It appears, after the events of the week, that the ushering in of “Newness” coincided with the crowning of Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, as the Titan of the Twentieth Century Fox Empire, aka: the Primary Tenant of Hunchback of The Trade.

As far as our feelings toward buildings go, the sigh and the frown did not abate. The Hunchback, it appears, does not have great angles.

From the Memorial Fountain Side, the structure creates the illusion of leaning: as if lopsided. Leaning, with a potential to fall over; not necessarily the message a building should convey on a site where towers already fell. Was this message already pondered by the Port Authority many years ago when they constructed One World Trade?

Fountain View 2 WTC

(A leaning view of Hunchback from The Memorial Side) 

A small piece of construction history comes to mind. During the erection of One World Trade, many forget that the original tower had chamfered corners, leaning in; A tapered base, much as the tower tapers toward the sky. In fact, the steel super-structure of the tower was built to accommodate this detail. Then, during construction something changed, and the base of the building was made square. Perhaps this was a reaction to an “unsettled” feeling, an imbalance the tower conveyed? Was this a move toward an Architecture of greater stability? Nonetheless, in final form, the building turned out to be a permanent marker on our New York skyline.

1WTC_Base and Final_2

(Original design of 1 WTC, with tapered base, and final form, as constructed. Image on left from SOM/DBOX. Image on right from The Durst Organization)

Fast forward to The Hunchback, newly revealed. It’s form explained as stacked villages in the sky. Its massing curiously changes from side to side. From the viewpoint taken from The Streets of Tribeca, the Hunchback analogy becomes clear. An off-putting mass; a bit awkward and not too elegant. Interesting, maybe for a moment.

Turning back to The Memorial Fountain Side, we return to the Toppling Effect. The leaning tower of 2 World Trade staring at the perfectly symmetrical One World Trade, as if deliberately acting out in defiance.

From the cut corners of the First Tower, now straightened out, to the unsettled mass of Two. Now moving to the innocuous towers of Three and Four, which are really background buildings: The area has become a mismatch, now unified by Santiago Calatrava’s Transit Hub; A bombastic over-budget structure, but one of the only interesting gem’s to emerge in this landscape, by virtue of perversion, alongside the beautiful and solemn Trade Center Fountains.

WTC 1

(The beautiful and solemn Trade Center Fountains. New York, NY. 2014)

In summation, if the message is going to be switched, the tradeoff at this Heritage Site should be a net positive for The City. This is Our Public Space as well, not deferential to James Murdoch’s Media Empire. For many years, an image was created in Our Mental Memory of a soaring Vertical Diamond, with a strong silhouette, punctuating the New York sky. Perhaps this was a visual cliché’, but this design resonated in the mind of The Public.

So, we ask for The Hunchback building to be a better Urban Monument; something more than a leaning tower of blocks with Times Square ticker tapes. A building which will not cut corners, but will resonate with permanence as a Solid Urban Monument, as we were all led to believe.

Links of Relateable Note can be found HERE:

Link to Curbed New York’s article on the Unveiling of Two World Trade.

Link to animation of the future Two World Trade.