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Thread: Skyscraper Museum

  1. #1

    Default Skyscraper Museum

    Downtown Express...

    Construction gets underway at Skyscraper Museum

    By Jane Flanagan

    What is touted as the world’s first permanent skyscraper museum is coming to Lower Manhattan – to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Battery Park City.

    The fact that there will be one at all is due, by all accounts, to the dogged determination of a Columbia architectural history professor, Carol Willis, the founder and director of The Skyscraper Museum.

    “She had a vision and she persevered,” said her husband Mark Willis.

    Persevered is an understatement. For seven years Willis labored under such formidable tasks as dealing with New York City real estate moguls, enlisting pro-bono help from acclaimed architects and designers, fundraising and construction.

    What made one college professor willing to do this?

    An unabashed passion for skyscrapers.

    Her journey to the permanent museum at the Ritz, which is expected to open at the end of October, began in 1995 at a book signing. Willis, now 54, had just published her book, “Form Follows Finance,” which chronicled the history of New York and Chicago skyscrapers. It grew out of a seminar she was teaching at Columbia. Willis made an announcement to the gathering.

    “She said we need a skyscraper museum. And I am going to build it,” said Mark, her husband of more than 30 years. “She had no idea how to do it. She learned. And it was a lot of work,” he said.


    Judging from the roster of luminaries who attended a construction kick-off party last week it certainly was. Present were: James Gill, chairperson of the Battery Park City Authority, C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president, Kate Levin, Cultural Affairs commissioner, Councilmember Alan Gerson, Philip Aarons, founding partner of Millennium Partners, the developer of the Ritz building who is donating the museum space and Daniel Tishman, chairperson of Tishman Construction, which is doing the construction pro bono.

    Tishman referred to Willis’ tenacity.

    “She pushed us and pushed us. And we said ‘enough.’ But we kept getting pushed,” he said with a laugh.

    Willis opened a vagabond version of the museum in 1997, shuttling a growing collection of photographs and artifacts to several makeshift headquarters – all of them Downtown, including 44 Wall St., 16 Wall St. and 110 Maiden La.

    “I always knew it should be Downtown,” said Willis. “Lower Manhattan is the birthplace of the skyscraper.”


    In the early part of the 20th century, Lower Manhattan boasted several of the tallest buildings in the world – including the Woolworth Building which was the tallest from 1913 until the late 1920s.

    Skyscrapers are also intrinsically American, she said.

    “They are America’s great contribution to architecture,” she said. “We have pyramids, cathedrals, palaces and skyscrapers.”

    The Financial District is also appropriate because the towering buildings are inextricably linked to ambition and high finance, she said.

    “The skyscraper is about aspiration and ego,” said Willis. “It’s all about money.”

    But for her, it’s certainly not about money. For the first four years she did not take a salary. Now she takes a half salary. Willis, who chose her Chelsea apartment because of its unobstructed views of the World Trade Center, said it’s about skyscrapers.

    The 5,800 square-foot museum will be located at the rear ground level of the Ritz Carlton, at the south end of Battery Park City. It will likely attract a large number of visitors. Since Sept. 11, and the architectural competition to design the new World Trade Center, the interest in skyscrapers has surged. The museum’s Web site, skyscraper.org now gets 600,000 visits a year, she said, more than double what it was before.

    The museum’s exhibits, housed in individual, tall columns, will be bathed in light that will reflect off a stainless steel floor producing a towering image evocative of skyscrapers. The first exhibit will include a 500-picture album on the building of the Empire State Building. Next summer, 2004, there will be an exhibit on Frank Lloyd Wright.

    While the permanent museum will soon be a reality, it’s unlikely Willis will slack off anytime soon. In thanking Philip Aarons, the Millennium founder, for donating the space, Willis said, “They have given us a rent-free lease for 67 years. And we hope they renew it after that.”


    Carol Willis shows visitors The Skyscraper Museum space last week. It is scheduled to open in October.

  2. #2

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    More Skyscraper Museum...






  3. #3

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    Great idea for a museum. Looks like a pretty nice design, too.

    Seems to me skyscrapers break themselves down a little more naturally into five groups than the three selected:

    1. The Ancients: Chicago School flattops culminating in Flatiron.

    2. Beaux-Arts: Singer, woolworth, MetLife, Municipal Bldg., all the way to Helmsley.

    3. Deco Classics: Empire State, Chrysler, RCA et al.

    4. International Style flattops, which incidentally start before Seagram and Chase, viz. United Nations.

    5. Post-Modern sculptural set pieces liberated from most constraints of style or structural expression. Pure form?



    I know I'll get a lot of arguments on this one.

  4. #4

    Default Skyscraper Museum

    That's a great idea with a modern look. What took them so long to come up with this.

  5. #5

    Default Skyscraper Museum

    ablarc, it's broken down by major revisions of NYC's zoning laws, which, in the end, have had more of an influence on Skyscraper design than stylistic trends. *A simpler and much more objective criteria for a museum.

  6. #6

    Default Skyscraper Museum

    Pseudo-scientific.

  7. #7

    Default Skyscraper Museum

    dbhstockton, are you sure it isn't the other way around: the zoning revisions codify the stylistic trends? Didn't the zoning that produced the 6th Avenue tombstones come out of a desire to do freestanding objects in plazas? And isn't this a stylistic notion, based on modernist theorists such as Corbu, Mies and Wright?

    And anyway, wouldn't Jack Robertson's zoning revisions qualify as major?: they produced the Times Square skyscrapers, which have not much in common with their neighbors on 6th Avenue, and yet they are lumped into one category.

    Objectivity has its limitations; sometimes it can make you completely lose sight of reality.

    Anyway, you'd think an art historian would be interested in style.

  8. #8

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    February 29, 2004

    A Tiny Museum Achieves Its Towering Ambition

    By JULIE V. IOVINE


    Carol Willis, the curator of the Skyscraper Museum, stands in a window inside the museum's new building in downtown Manhattan. At left, "the city of skyscrapers," as a postcard circa 1912 calls it.

    For most people skyscrapers are just part of the visual furniture that makes New York New York. For Carol Willis, they are infinitely more: "the most important contribution of American culture to the history of architecture," she says, and an important ingredient in Manhattan's heady cocktail of pride, ambition and glamour. It's something she feels on such a personal level that she chose her current apartment largely for one reason: it has a prime view of the Empire State Building.

    Over the last eight years, Ms. Willis, 55, an architecture historian and professor of urban studies at Columbia University, has turned that personal obsession into a public mission. "New York is the pre-eminent skyscraper city," she said, sitting in her lower-Manhattan office surrounded by two huge aerial photographs of the neighborhood before and after the World Trade Center was built. "We are synonymous with the skyscraper, and our image in the world is a skyline."

    It seemed obvious to her that there ought to be a museum about them. With no money, no location and nothing to put in such a museum, Ms. Willis somehow or other managed to line up a star architect to design it, a luxury developer to donate a space and even a promise from the American Institute of Architects to lend the original World Trade Center model as the centerpiece of the collection-to-be.

    On April 2, the Skyscraper Museum will open to the public. (A curtain-raising party is scheduled tomorrow.) But the institution will convey an additional message Ms. Willis could never have envisioned when she began her quest in 1995.

    Since that time, of course, the meaning of skyscrapers — and in particular, the resonance of the lower-Manhattan skyline — has changed forever. No longer mere symbols of ambition and triumph, they now also inspire a sense of vulnerability, fear and mortality. And lest anyone overlook that complication, the museum is situated just a few blocks from the open wound where the twin towers once stood.

    Skyscrapers have always had a complex story to tell, according to Ms. Willis. The museum will not treat them as relics, or some musty historic collection gathered for the amusement of old-timers. "I'm a person who cares about the present and the future," she said, adding that the first exhibition will concentrate on both the heroic skyscrapers of the 1920's and the new stars now rising in Asia. "l want to make the argument that the subject of skyscrapers is current."

    Although tucked out of the way at the far end of West Street behind the new Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the museum is anything but retiring. With both floors and ceilings sheathed in smooth steel polished to a mirror finish, the interior creates a purposefully dazzling effect that its architect, Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, calls "vertical Versailles."

    In the reflective surfaces overhead and underfoot, the single gallery space and everything in it, from tall back-lighted vitrines to a visitor's high-heeled boots, looks impossibly elongated. Physically the space is rather small, at 5,000 square feet. The ceilings are just over 11 feet high. But the effect, as Mr. Duffy explained, is an expansive illusion of volume and even a bit of "that arresting feeling of seeing skyscrapers for the first time."

    Just inside the entrance, the donors' names are etched — in a Star Wars-style scroll — on the ceiling. A mirrored ramp, lined with blowups of skyscraper postcards and World Trade Center construction photos, leads up to the exhibition space.

    Two weeks before the opening party, the mirrored floor remained under a protective coating. (Ms. Willis and her colleagues are still deciding whether to require visitors to don felt booties, to maintain the shine.) Only in patches was it possible to get a sense of the effect to come. Just as Ms. Willis was trying to explain how the 11-foot showcases would look many times taller when reflected, a construction worker — yellow magnetic ruler in hand, gold rings in ear — interrupted to ask if it would be possible to see up women's skirts. "Yes, definitely," Ms. Willis answered with a shrug. "Then I guess it's going to be a really popular place," he replied.

    Visitors to the museum will discover voyeuristic views of another sort as well: the history of the city, with the top layer peeled back revealing the men, materials and even the minutiae of the leasing deals that went into building its mighty structures.

    Ms. Willis's theory is that skyscrapers represent a kind of urban flowering. When conditions are just right — banks are lending, developers are competing, zoning is generous and the economy is rosy — they bloom. The glory days of the New York skyscraper were between 1912 and 1930, when the skyline, especially downtown, sprouted stunners like the Woolworth Building with its flamboyantly Gothic masonry, Cities Service (now at 70 Pine Street) with its illuminated glass spire and, moving north, the Chrysler Building with those shiny steel epaulets.

    Ms. Willis pointed to a large photograph of two men sliding a carved limestone panel into place on a section of the Empire State Building. "In its day, the Empire State Building was the most efficient building ever built," she said. "Everything was delivered to the site ready to go. It took 11 months to build; the same time it took for the Chrysler Building even though, at two million square feet, the Empire State Building was twice as large."

    At the moment such construction photographs make up the bulk of the museum's collection. Among the most precious is a binder of progress photos with handwritten notations documenting the construction of the Empire State Building. It was donated by the Starrett family, whose company oversaw construction. Other treasures include a chunk of an early composite I-beam, from the 1890's, and countless documents that Ms. Willis scrounged from the archives of buildings that were about to be sold. But the focus will be less on amassing golden-age artifacts than on telling stories in order to understand how cities take shape.

    How Ms. Willis pulled it off is a story all its own. Flying around from appointment to appointment on a flea-market Schwinn, her wispy blond hair crammed into a helmet, she began by talking to anyone who would listen. Lecturing on how economic forces and zoning laws carved the distinctive spires of the earliest skyscrapers, she made an ally in the architect David Childs, who says he was dazzled by "her passion and knowledge." That connection led to a host of experts willing to work pro bono, including an engineer, a construction company and even the graphic design group Pentagram.

    Mr. Childs also introduced Ms. Willis to Mr. Duffy, who is his colleague at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. "She didn't have anything," Mr. Duffy recalled of their first meeting at the Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar. "There was no program, no money. She just looked really determined." He happily signed on. He would be donating his labors, she told him, but he would have complete artistic freedom. Both figured it would take a year.

    Finding a home was actually easier. In the late 90's there was plenty of unoccupied downtown space, which developers were happy to contribute, at least until the market picked up.

    With ink barely dry on a lease with a 30-day cancellation clause, the Skyscraper Museum opened in 1997 at 44 Wall Street, a 1926 tower decked out in the 1960's with white marble columns. It stayed there barely a year before moving on to 16 Wall Street, an Art Deco beauty. The museum lasted there for one and a half years, attracting some 20,000 visitors, before the building was sold and Ms. Willis and her staff of three had to pull up stakes and move off the beaten path to 110 Maiden Lane.

    Sept. 11 shut that location down, but within three months, Ms. Willis had managed to mount a show on the twin towers and their construction that ran for four months at the New York Historical Society.

    A deal with Donald Trump at the historical gem 40 Wall Street fell through, but by then Ms. Willis was already negotiating with the Battery Park City Authority and the Millennium Partners, a high-end developer with an interest in the project. The Skyscraper Museum would be the required public amenity included in the developer's bid to develop a site on the southernmost block of Battery Park City In September 2002, Ms. Willis signed a 67-year rent-free lease for 5,000 square feet on the ground floor on the backside of what became the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

    Of the $3 million needed for construction, half came through public monies: $1 million from the city and $500,000 from the Battery Park City Authority. The developers Larry Silverstein and Jerry Speyer have each given $100,000. In addition, Ms. Willis, who worked without pay for four years, and her husband, Mark, an executive at J. P Morgan Chase, have donated $100,000, she said.

    A capital campaign is under way to raise $10 million more, including $2.5 million for an endowment. While some critics wonder if Ms. Willis, whose credentials are primarily academic, would be better served by a professional fund-raiser, Mr. Duffy has no doubts about her ability to get the most out of people. He didn't even keep track of the time he spent volunteering for her project. "I found myself working as hard for her as I do for real clients," he said. "She demands attention and she gets it."

    But raising money and attracting visitors are different matters. It's not self-evident what the audience for a museum like this might be in the New York of 2004. The heyday of the city's skyscrapers, maybe even the country's skyscrapers, had ended before 9/11. The race to build the tallest building is being run in Asia and the Middle East now. Even London is building more skyscrapers at the moment than almost any city in the United States.

    "In America, there's almost an attitude of `been there, done that,' " said Ron Klemencic, the chairman of the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. "They're just not as compelling for us as they are for a country trying to show that their world economy has arrived."

    Ms. Willis said that she expects to see a lot of tourists, especially from Germany, France and Japan, where the appetite for stories about both Manhattan's martini years and large-scale construction is large. And there will also be tour programs for school children and professional groups.

    In the end, however, the museum, with its seductive mirrored floors, really is meant to be a tease. Or as Mr. Duffy said, "The museum is just a prelude, the real museum is the city itself."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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  10. #10

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    I will make the museum one of my first stops the next time I am in the city. I'm glad such a museum exists, as it focuses on a major part of New York City's identity. Hopefully the museum will be an impetus for developers in the city to once again fearlessly reach for the sky, and catch up with Asia and the Middle East in the skyscraper race.

  11. #11

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    Just a reminder, hopefully the museum will be opening by the end of the week...

  12. #12
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    So is it open yet? I went to the website and says it is open but I am not sure...has anyone been there yet? :?:

  13. #13

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    Newsday....

    The sky's the limit for new downtown museum

    The Associated Press
    April 2, 2004

    It may be a small space, but it deals with some mighty big subjects.

    After half a dozen years in temporary locations, the Skyscraper Museum opened its doors Friday in its new permanent home in lower Manhattan.

    The 5,800-square-foot, ground floor gallery is walking distance from the World Trade Center site and the fallen twin towers that were at one time the tallest buildings in the world.

    The museum, which shares the same building as the Ritz-Carlton hotel, was always intended to be in lower Manhattan since its first exhibition in 1997, said Carol Willis, founder and director.

    "Lower Manhattan is the birthplace of the skyscraper," she said. "The skyline of lower Manhattan from New York Harbor was the image of New York for much of the 20th century. ... Lower Manhattan is the most appropriate and the most poignant place to tell the story."

    The gallery space itself was designed to look modern, and uses a visual trick to expand the look of the place. The ceiling and floor are made of a highly polished stainless steel, which reflect each other and make the gallery seem that much taller.

    The opening exhibit is "Building a Collection." It includes photos, drawings, models, books and other items to showcase the construction and history of skyscrapers. One wall has drawings of current and planned buildings, to show the future of the tall buildings.

    They include images of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, Taipei 101, the world's tallest skyscraper at 1,676 feet, and plans for the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower to be built at the reconstructed World Trade Center site.


    This summer, the museum will host an exhibit on the World Trade Center, featuring an original model of the site, and in October, a show focusing on the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright.

    On the Net: Skyscraper Museum: http://www.skyscraper.org

    Take a virtual tour
    http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/...apbox-homepage















  14. #14

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    Good pictures NYguy; thanks for the update on the museum.

  15. #15

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    No problem. I am very intrigued by those skyscraper models, including the different Freedom Tower designs (although I'm sure it will make me like the current design less)...




    Museum hours are 12-6 PM, Wednesday-Sunday. General admission is $5, $2.50 for students and seniors.

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