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Thread: Sixties Demolitions

  1. #61
    Forum Veteran TREPYE's Avatar
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    So what you folks are trying to tell us "younglings" is that the acceptance of the demolition of Penn, Singer, Savvory etc. was just a fad. Modernism presented a new and "space age way" of doing things thus it became more acceptable in the name of progress.

    So how do you explain our mindset today? Some (if not most) would beg to have the likes of architectural masterpieces in the quality and scale of these Beaux Arts structures. Glass is the wave of the future in scrapers and at points I can't stand its repetitive unimaginative mundane impact.

    Perhaps our level of progress has "plateaued" out to the point that since it can't get any better the repetitive notion of our contemporary architecture makes us wish for the structures of the past. Has architecture progressed to a level of practicality that does not allow us to economically facilitate the next wave of natural progress such as building "structural expressionism" style scrapers such as 80 South street, or building much taller towers (without the finagle of masts ala NYTimes Tower, BoA)? This natural progress may entice us a little more and make us not envy the structures of the past so much.

  2. #62

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    Ablarc convincingly argues against the mind-trap of ahistorical thinking in relation to preservationism and deftly deflates the purely populist "what people like/dislike" measure of conservation worthiness as being too predictably time-dependent ('everyone' hates the 30-50 year old buildings).

    I also thought Fabrizio evoked the futurist/progressivist slant of the 60s well.

    Nonetheless, I think you can push the relativism too far. There are objective standards in building and urban patterns. There are also considerable ideological constructs in architecture, especially where major public buildings are concerned. I would argue that hyper-minimalist/brutalist buildings and Corbusian/Bauhaus urban form represent a nadir in the content and expression of those objective qualities so that, historical/cultural parallels notwithstanding, the demolition of the signer building and the demolition of, say, most of Albany are not of comparable artistic (de)merit.

    That said, I think the most infamous/iconic examples of 50s-70s architecture should be preserved:
    1. as mementi insania per admonitio moliori
    2. because, dislike them as we may, posterity may judge them differently and great buildings do not belong just to those alive today, not unlike nature, say.
    Last edited by Luca; December 14th, 2006 at 03:14 AM.

  3. #63

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    Quote Originally Posted by Luca View Post
    ...dislike them as we may, posterity may judge them differently and great buildings do not belong just to those alive today, not unlike nature, say.
    Tolerating ... even re-introducing ... wolves in the wilds.

    For future generations.

    .
    Last edited by ablarc; December 14th, 2006 at 07:16 AM.

  4. #64

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    Quote Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
    ...you can expect Bob Campbell to weigh in any moment. Though he'll appear to equivocate in his usual even-handed tones (brief genuflection to Joe Sixpack's view) you'll be able to read his position accurately enough.
    As predicted:

    THE ARCHITECTURE
    Brutal, powerful structure of 1969 is now out of style

    By Robert Campbell, Globe Correspondent | December 13, 2006

    As much as any building in the world, Boston City Hall is a measure of changing fashions in architecture.

    It's hard to believe now, but in a poll of architects and historians in the bicentennial year of 1976, the building was voted one of the 10 greatest works of architecture in American history.

    No way would that happen today. And even back then, the building was a lot more popular with architects than it was with the public.

    The design for the building was chosen by a panel of expert jurors in an open design competition. Any architect in the United States could enter. The winners were two Columbia University architecture professors, Gerhard Kallmann and Noel Michael McKinnell. Both were inexperienced -- McKinnell was still in his 20s -- and neither had actually built a building before.

    City Hall opened in 1969. And 1969 was the era of what is called Brutalism.

    Brutalism was an architectural style of massive, powerful, raw concrete buildings. The term comes not from the English word "brutal" but from the French "beton brut," which means raw or unfinished concrete.

    The style was derived from the late work of the most famous architect of that era, Le Corbusier. Boston City Hall, in fact, is pretty closely modeled on what is perhaps the French architect's greatest building, the monastery of La Tourette in southern France.

    Corbusier's love of raw concrete was inspired by his discovery of World War II pillboxes on the coast of France, concrete buildings thrown up quickly for defense. They seemed very real, very honest, not like something a sophisticated architect had fussed over.

    But La Tourette is modest in scale. Blown up to the proportions of City Hall, Brutalism does become brutal. From the beginning, most people found it intimidating.

    The powerful outward thrust of the middle floors, as seen from outside, is the architects' way of letting you know that these floors are occupied by the important people, namely the mayor and the city council. But they look not so much important as aggressive, even threatening.

    The biggest problem with City Hall, though, is the interiors. Indoor walls made of gray concrete, often without much natural daylight, are depressing. And there are a lot of them.

    Those who admire the building sometimes argue that architecture doesn't have to be beautiful to be great. For them, City Hall is an ugly, wonderful, powerful, unforgettable building.

    But fashions come and go in architecture, as in any field. City Hall today is definitely out.

    One thing everyone agrees on is that the building could easily be improved. Even the original architects, who now run a very successful national practice out of Boston, say they would welcome some changes.

    The multistory atrium, which is now open at the top to the sky, and therefore the rain, could be glassed in to become a delightful winter garden. A restaurant at the top of the great entry staircase could be a place for staff and public to meet and schmooze.

    Even a bit of ivy on the exterior wouldn't hurt. The architects' original idea of a beer hall in the basement, like those in many German city halls, could be revived.

    Mayor Menino would like the site and the plaza sold for redevelopment. The city could make a profit that way. But City Hall, whatever you think of it, is in an ideal location, easy to reach by subway. They mayor's been talking about tearing it down for years. He should be thinking instead of making it the best that it can be.

  5. #65

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    Luca writes:

    "I would argue that hyper-minimalist/brutalist buildings and Corbusian/Bauhaus urban form represent a nadir in the content and expression of those objective qualities so that, historical/cultural parallels notwithstanding, the demolition of the signer building and the demolition of, say, most of Albany are not of comparable artistic (de)merit."

    I dont know this city hall except from photos.... but I do love the brutalist style. Howerever, I will agree that historic buildings like Penn Station and the Singer building, as well as so many of the small historic buildings we are seeing torn down today, have one element that make them even more important than the landmarks built after WWII: the hand of the artisan.

    Rough, poured concrete can look chic, as far as my taste goes, but the sculptures, reliefs, mosiacs, murals, wood work.... and other building techniques that pre-WWII buildings have, are out of use today and nearly impossible to duplicate. Often for that alone, they should be considered for saving.

    ---
    Last edited by Fabrizio; December 14th, 2006 at 09:51 AM.

  6. #66
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Keep, the building, make the improvements. Surely the described grey interior walls can somehow be warmed. Perhaps keep some raw areas, color-washed by LED light installations, and adding modern finishes in other areas.
    The proposed wintergarden sounds promising. Certainly improvements can be made to the plaza to make it more inviting. Some kind of minimalist water feature, some concrete benches at the very least

    and you know,some kind of greenery in the front yard wouldn't hurt. There are ways to do it harmoniously with the architecture, not interfering with the monumentality of the building's presence. I would not add trees, best to keep the immediate approach clear, but some lowslung plantings to break up the monotony of all those bricks would go a long way.

    Can beton brut be power-cleaned somehow? i know beton brut wasn't supposed to be pristine by original intent, but a little bit of freneshening up
    is in order.

    The more I look at this building the more I absolutely love it.

  7. #67

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    Midtown: as Im sure youve seen in your travels, big empty piazzas can work beautifully. Isnt it interesting that this one does not.

    A great, big, red brick piazza.... no trees.... no furniture...not even steps:
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  8. #68
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    Absolutely. ^^It's like night and day.
    The above scene is urban theater. A place to linger.

  9. #69
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    I love this building, but I hate everything built in the 80's - especially anything by Michael Graves. I don't think you can overstate the subjective nature of fashion. Every generation changes things - just for the sake of change (encouraged, no doubt by planned obsolescence).

    That said, the baby boomers have a specific hate of old things. My mother told me she thought Penn Station was "creepy" and "scary - like a horror movie" so she was really happy when it was replaced. She also hates Victorian anything, and loves anything newly built.

    Think about "haunted" or "witch's" houses - always ornate pre-war buildings. It's a part of our cultural subconscious.

  10. #70
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    I've never been inside the Boston City Hall, but have had the dis-pleasure of navigating the interior of one of NYC's Brutalist public buildings: the Manhattan Family Courthouse at 60 Lafayette Street (1975; Architect: Haines Lundberg Waehler).

    This is how it originally appeared from the outside, clad all in shiny black stone, as cold as midnight ice:



    The original design was also seemingly ill-conceived -- and notoriously hard to maintain with spalling everywhere. Hence the exterior recently has been re-clad, now in a lighter granite -- more windows have been cut into the facade to allow better light into the building and the public lobby area has been re-formed.

    However, the interior on the upper floors where one finds the courtrooms and other public areas remains in its original Brutal state: all exposed concrete and odd angles -- with every hallway running at diagonals so that upon entering one is immediately confused and feels lost and overwhelmed by the building itself. This is hardly what a citizen should be meant to experience in a place that is supposed to serve the people of the City. Rather, in this building at least, one feels that the Machine of Justice has taken control and will do with you willy-nilly as it pleases.

    A comment by the architect? Perhaps ...

    But the result of this particular building is that it dis-empowers and reduces the individual.

    To me that shows a total failure of public architecture.

  11. #71

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    From nearly two years ago:


  12. #72

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio View Post
    Midtown: as Im sure youve seen in your travels, big empty piazzas can work beautifully. Isnt it interesting that this one does not.

    A great, big, red brick piazza.... no trees.... no furniture...not even steps:
    Siena is fully enclosed by buildings, so it feels like a room.

    No leaking space, no roaring traffic.

  13. #73
    The Dude Abides
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    Quote Originally Posted by TREPYE View Post
    So what you folks are trying to tell us "younglings" is that the acceptance of the demolition of Penn, Singer, Savvory etc. was just a fad. Modernism presented a new and "space age way" of doing things thus it became more acceptable in the name of progress.

    So how do you explain our mindset today? Some (if not most) would beg to have the likes of architectural masterpieces in the quality and scale of these Beaux Arts structures. Glass is the wave of the future in scrapers and at points I can't stand its repetitive unimaginative mundane impact.

    Perhaps our level of progress has "plateaued" out to the point that since it can't get any better the repetitive notion of our contemporary architecture makes us wish for the structures of the past. Has architecture progressed to a level of practicality that does not allow us to economically facilitate the next wave of natural progress such as building "structural expressionism" style scrapers such as 80 South street, or building much taller towers (without the finagle of masts ala NYTimes Tower, BoA)? This natural progress may entice us a little more and make us not envy the structures of the past so much.
    These are some good questions, and they might even explain why there's a greater level of (perceived) apathy among the public about architecture, as some people have noted. Can we even say there's a definitive architectural style in vogue today? I've heard it called "post-Post Modernism," but I'm finding it difficult to define what that means. I guess you could say the current trend is a less strict interpretation of Modernism, but there's so much else out there: deconstructionism (Gehry, Libeskind, Herzon/DeMeuron), structural expression, as you mentioned, the occasional PoMo, and some more classical revivalism.

    It's a strange question, but: is architecture finished going through a stylistic evolution? Is it just going to be a mix of styles from now on, instead of a new dominant one like Brutalism coming along? And does this, in any way, make structures like Boston's City Hall all the more significant?

  14. #74

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    Quote Originally Posted by Luca View Post
    I would argue that hyper-minimalist/brutalist buildings and Corbusian/Bauhaus urban form represent a nadir in the content and expression of those objective qualities so that, historical/cultural parallels notwithstanding, the demolition of the signer building and the demolition of, say, most of Albany are not of comparable artistic (de)merit.
    That may be, but even this will vary with time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Luca
    That said, I think the most infamous/iconic examples of 50s-70s architecture should be preserved:
    1. as mementi insania per admonitio moliori
    2. because, dislike them as we may, posterity may judge them differently and great buildings do not belong just to those alive today, not unlike nature, say.
    The only solution, imo, is to landmark anything and everything that a decent number of art historians ever declared in print to be significant architecture. That would have saved Penn Station and 2 Columbus Circle alike, and it would save Boston City Hall, even with all these buildings at their nadir of popularity.

    That's the only time a building is endangered anyway. If it can survive the trough it's home free.

    If such a mechanism existed, it would stir activists to lobby art historians to take a greater interest in buildings like Shelly's Automat (and ...lawdy... those Midtown townhouses (Lehman, et al.).

  15. #75
    Forum Veteran TREPYE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianoman11686 View Post
    It's a strange question, but: is architecture finished going through a stylistic evolution? Is it just going to be a mix of styles from now on, instead of a new dominant one like Brutalism coming along? And does this, in any way, make structures like Boston's City Hall all the more significant?
    An adequate point indeed. The current style a somewhat diverse. But this diversity does not make us disregard the quality of previous architectural styles the way they were disregarded in the sixties. Perhaps the relics of prewar were just simpy better thats why the likes of Boston's City Hall are a lot more easily expendable than say if the same thing was happening to the Municipal Building in NYC.

    I was kinda hoping that some of the [percieved] elders statesmen involved in this discussion -namely: Ablarc, Zippy, or Fabrizio- would answer the relation of todays mindset (as I described it in my previous post) to the mindset in the 60's.

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