Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1965-2006: The Ruins of a New York that Wasn’t

Sol LeWitt's Pyramid (Munster)

Sol LeWitt's Pyramid (Munster)

Standing in front of the concrete blocks on a warm June morning, I found myself wondering if they were the ruins of a forgotten city – or maybe a fragment of this city’s forgotten history. The fractured masonry corner before me couldn’t truly be a ruin, though. It was perfectly crafted – too perfectly crafted. Its edges were precisely stepped and though it stood in the middle of City Hall Park, no vines or weeds had broken through the flawless mortar. What kind of ruin doesn’t age or weather? Yet there it was, as if it had always been there. In fact, when I looked at it, it seemed as if I couldn’t not remember it being there. But beyond that there was another feeling; something tugging at the edges of my consciousness, challenging me to look closer, to remember something else.

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Over-caffeinated, Under-employed, and Bored to Death

It all seems so simple in retrospect. I wanted a cup of coffee, I got a cup of coffee. But obtaining this particular cup would’ve been much more difficult five years ago – and nearly impossible ten years back. This wasn’t just any coffee (and cucumber sandwich [1]), this was a very specific coffee. Actually, let me rephrase that – a very specific coffee shop.
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Clive Owen Starts a Shootout in the Guggenheim

The real star of the new Clive Owen / Naomi Watts movie The International? Architecture. That’s according to The Architects Newspaper Blog, anyway, who spotted several recognizable buildings in preview for the um… banking and finance thriller. The best part? A climactic shootout in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim museum. It might be a little early to say this, but I’m guessing this beats out Cremaster 3 for the best-climactic-battle-in-the-guggenheim prize. Of course, this all begs the question: Is shootout architecture a parallel field to heist-urbanism?
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Life Without The New York Museum of Arts and Design

Life Without Buildings’ New York correspondent and Arts & Letters attaché Veronica Kavass stopped by the recently-renovated Museum of Arts and Design last week and sent over the following report.

[MAD, in repose]

Parting is such sweet sorrow—especially when it concerns the “lollipop building”, the Edward Durell Stone building on New York’s 2 Columbus Circle. The structure housed the Huntington Hartford Art Collection from 1964-2005, during which time many New Yorkers grew to reluctantly love its charmingly windowless, Venetian-meets-modern design.  As an “art person”, I actually don’t know that much about the collection but I do know that A&P heir Hartford married a variety of crazy women — from a cigarette girl he picked up in a Los Angeles club to a Ft. Lauderdale hair stylist who held his secretary hostage and shaved off all her hair. Might it be fair to say that his relationship to these women was similar to the one he had with the “love it or leave it” building?  He spent way too much money on it but always admired its looks and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought.  Continue reading “Life Without The New York Museum of Arts and Design

The Subversive High Rise Designs of Rem Koolhaas and OMA

rem koolhaas high-rise designs
From left to right: 23 East 22nd St.; 111 First Street; The Zac Danton office building

Rem Koolhaas and OMA are perhaps best known for the controversy and spectacle of the CCTV Building in Beijing, the Seattle Public Library, and the sci-fi designs in the Middle East, but I think some of their most successful buildings are the subtle subversions of the classic high rise. There’s a—I don’t quite want to say “deftness”—to his high rise work, but there is a definite sense of wit that’s often missing from contemporary architecture projects at this scale. This embrace of ironic banality is evident in the recently announced 23 East 22nd St. building in New York, the 111 First Street tower in Jersey City, and the unbuilt Zac Danton office building in Paris’ La Defense district.

OMA’s first building in NYC, 23 East 22nd St. (we really need to get this building a name) lampoons the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the building codes that require setbacks from the street as a building rises in height. 23E22 takes the setback one *ahem* step further, and actually steps back, looming over the adjacent low-rise buildings. But you can still sell it by saying the “asymmetrical from simultaneously provides views of Madison Square Park whilst maximizing light penetration to the neighbors below.” Well played, OMA. You’ve convinced people that an ironic game of peek-a-boo at the scale of one of the world’s largest city is really all about practicality.

111 First Street, the Jersey City tower announced last year and currently in design development, is 52-story mixed-use building containing retail, apartments, lofts, and live/work space for artists. Here, the office tower is again subverted — this time, with a massive 90 degree turn. “The stacking maintains the independence of each block, optimizes views from the site and creates a dynamic relationship between the building and its surroundings: Spectacle from Convention.” That pretty much says it all.

The unbuilt Zac Danton office building, the final example and sort of proto-koolhaasian high rise, was planned to be built next to Jean Nouvel’s stunning (and also unbuilt) Tour Sans Fin in Paris’ La Defense disrict. Koolhaas’ reaction? “When faced with the sublime, how can you be anything but banal?” Yet even Koolhaas’ banality is soaked in irony as he turns one of capitalism’s greatest icons against itself: the classic office tower is split into two disjointed units by a scrolling marquee displaying anti-corporate messages.

Koolhaas’s unprecedented Realism lends itself well to a critique on the modern high-rise. a whimsical disruption of corporate architecture that is, in some ways, reminiscent of Mannerism’s attitude towards Classicism. There’s no doubt that the man can create a formal spectacle, but using the tropes of Modernism to do so give these high rises a sarcastic reverence that make me remember why I started liking Koolhaas in the first place.

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