View Poll Results: Pick just three buildings that best exemplify architecture as art:

Voters
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  • Guggenheim Museum (Wright)

    52 70.27%
  • Hearst Tower (Foster)

    30 40.54%
  • Seagram Building (Mies)

    21 28.38%
  • InterActiveCorp (Gehry)

    21 28.38%
  • Lever House (SOM)

    13 17.57%
  • New York Times Building (Piano)

    13 17.57%
  • TWA Building (Saarinen)

    39 52.70%
  • Scholastic Building (Rossi)

    3 4.05%
  • Museum of Modern Art (Taniguchi)

    10 13.51%
  • CBS Building (Saarinen)

    4 5.41%
Multiple Choice Poll.
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Thread: The Art of Modern Architecture in New York

  1. #1

    Default The Art of Modern Architecture in New York

    CONSENSUS

    On this board we see architecture mostly in aesthetic terms. We debate a building’s massing, materials, surfaces, detailing and workmanship much as if it were a work of art.
    Yet today --as ever-- few buildings actually rise to the level of art.

    A century and a half ago, buildings with artistic aspirations were often referred to as “high” architecture and designed by architects, while more common run-of-the-mill background buildings were referred to as “low” architecture and not designed by architects.

    Because of mission creep instituted by state architectural licensing boards, even the smallest and most insignificant modifications to commercial, institutional or multifamily residential buildings now require an architect’s participation. A loading dock canopy, however, is rarely an instance of the art of architecture.

    I think we can agree that a building by Thomas O’Hara also fails the test. At the spectrum’s other end, few would dispute that Wright’s Guggenheim richly qualifies. You can add to that list the Seagram Building, JFK’s TWA Terminal and Foster’s Hearst. After that, you’re bound to get some arguments from those who set art’s bar high.

    These buildings are all postwar and modernist. New York hosts a few prewar modernist buildings (most of them by Lescaze, plus Goodwin & Stone’s Museum of Modern Art), but New York’s modernism was a postwar phenomenon imported from Europe: the International Style.

    In 1932, Philip Johnson, in his first incarnation as MOMA’s architectural curator, produced an epochal exhibition titled “The International Style.” In the exhibition catalog he ticked off modernism’s virtues: unadorned white planes, horizontal windows, asymmetry, structural “honesty,” cantilevers, and above all, freedom from ornament. Finding no American examples, he grudgingly included Hood’s McGraw-Hill and Daily News Buildings while taking issue with the former’s impure coloration and decorative top (clearly deco) and the latter’s bas reliefs.

    A modern building’s artistic merit is judged by different criteria from those we’d use for the Woolworth or Chrysler Building. These rely on devices that modernism disdained as arbitrary, ornamental and decadent.

    That of course is precisely what we like about the Chrysler Building, now rehabilitated and again esteemed. But in the mid-sixties modernism had sold its message to the public, which is what accounts for the relatively modest outcry over Penn Station’s demise. After all, something much better than Penn Station’s derivative symbolism and suspended plaster vaults had just been built across town: Saarinen’s TWA Building. Here was a building that looked forward to the jet age, not backward to the age of steam.

    Here’s a reprise of the list of post-World War II New York buildings that qualify as art in my mind. It’s not a long list, and it’s in order by how secure I reckon a building’s hold is on its status as art. I invite additions and subtractions. Add or subtract any number from any list; as these are proposed I’ll amend the lists like a faithful scribe, to keep a running record:

    Guggenheim Museum (Wright)
    Seagram Building (Mies)
    TWA Building (Saarinen)
    Hearst Tower (Foster)
    InterActiveCorp (Gehry)
    Lever House (SOM)
    New York Times Building (Piano)
    Scholastic Building (Rossi)
    Museum of Modern Art (Taniguchi, Johnson, Stone)
    CBS Building (Saarinen)

    Another list. This one is of eyecatching postwar NY buildings that enjoy fame, but don’t really qualify as art, IMO. Add to and subtract from this one too. I’ve arranged these by the order in which I reckon folks will bump them up into the first category:

    Time-Warner
    Perry Street (Meier)
    Bloomberg
    Trump World Tower (East River)
    United Nations
    Lincoln Center
    Citicorp
    World Trade Center, R.I.P.
    2 Col Circle., R.I.P.
    Ford Foundation
    Whitney Museum


    Finely-crafted and well-conceived, but not art:

    15 Central Park West (Stern)


    Wannabes (exhibitionistic curiosities):

    Solow Building (9 West 57)
    Sony Building (Johnson’s AT&T)
    Lipstick Building
    Conde Nast
    Maritime Hotel

    Add or subtract to the above two lists also.


    ART HISTORY OF (MODERN) ARCHITECTURE

    Not too long ago the Teutonic scholar Siegfried Giedion collaborated with modernist architects to decide what was modern architecture and what was not. In a weighty tome purporting to trace the course of architectural history from about the French (or Industrial) Revolution to the time he was writing in the Fifties, Siegfried laid down the ground rules for consideration of architecture as art.

    His magnum opus, Space, Time and Architecture, is noteworthy more for its omissions than its inclusions. You look in vain for serious discussion of the Empire State Building, Woolworth, Chrysler, Grand Central, Penn Station, the Fontainebleau, Mussolini’s mad Milano Stazione Centrale or Speer’s Kanzlei. Though socialist in his leanings and Stalinist in his selective presentation of history’s greatest hits, Giedion also omits Moscow’s wedding cakes from his chronicle.

    The reason is quite simple: here is laid out a linear timeline of the orderly development of an idea. Purged of all messy detours, deviations or counterproposals, Giedion tells the tale of Modernism’s inevitable linear development: history as inexorable force. This is shown to have goose-stepped from Ledoux and Schinkel, through Morris, Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc, by way of Richardson, Sullivan and Wright succeeding each other like railroad cars, past Adolf Loos to the full flowering of Gropius, Mies and Corbu.

    With this last trio architecture had arrived at its inevitable terminus. These three luminaries were the Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo of their age, the classic fulfillment for which history had so long yearned.

    Thereafter –for the art-historical cycle to be complete as described by Woelfflin-- only mannerism and baroque elaboration remained to be accomplished. This was conveniently provided by Saarinen, Rudolph, Breuer and perhaps Nervi.

    Even the redoubtable Vincent Scully bought this edited version of recent architectural history; his slim, seminal and popular volume, Modern Architecture, shows a similar disregard for the Beaux-Arts and Deco; maybe that’s why he thundered only mildly at Penn Station’s impending death.

    With nowhere left to go stylistically, and modernism corroding what was left of our cities, post-modernism seemed a natural. It turned out to be a flash in the pan, but it introduced much-needed eclecticism into modernism’s severe and constrained vocabulary.

    We’re currently in the throes of a modernist revival.

  2. #2

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    I´ll get clobbered here, but in the "art" category I´d put the "Manhattan House" apartments. It would be one of my first choices. I know: white brick, balconies sticking out, self-contained world...everything is wrong about it.....but despite and because of all of that...it´s a work of art:

    http://www.friends-ues.org/modern_exhibit2.htm

    I´d throw in 501 5th...I´d call it art.... at least before they did renovations.

    I´ve always admired the old Pepsi/Olivetti building on Park Avenue. It doesn´t get much credit but I think it´s a great building. Maybe not art but.... no, I´ll call it art.

    The MetLife building....yep, the most hated, ugliest building in Manhattan: Art.

    UN Plaza apartments... arty.

  3. #3

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    I'd call the Scholastic Building finely crafted, but not art. Move the Whitney and 2 CC up to "art". Time Warner goes way down on the list. Sony Building should move up some - not quite sure where. And at this point, I'd have to move IAC to "exhibitionistic curiosities" (could change when completed).

    I voted for Guggenheim, Lever House, and TWA.

  4. #4

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    Oh the vote: Seagrams, CBS, Manhattan House


    ----------------------------
    Last edited by Fabrizio; April 26th, 2006 at 02:26 PM.

  5. #5

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    The roster of "art" buildings after greenie's additions and subtractions:

    Guggenheim Museum (Wright)
    Seagram Building (Mies)
    TWA Building (Saarinen)
    Hearst Tower (Foster)
    Lever House (SOM)
    New York Times Building (Piano)
    Museum of Modern Art (Taniguchi, Johnson, Stone)
    CBS Building (Saarinen)
    Whitney Museum (Breuer)
    2 Columbus Circle, R.I.P. (Stone)

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio
    ...in the "art" category I´d put the "Manhattan House" apartments. It would be one of my first choices. I know: white brick, balconies sticking out, self-contained world...everything is wrong about it.....but despite and because of all of that...it´s a work of art:
    For the connoisseur's eye: beautifully detailed and crisp, like a Unite d'Habitation done by Mies. A catalog of bad urbanism, but as long as there's just one: a pleasure to come upon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio
    I´ve always admired the old Pepsi/Olivetti building on Park Avenue. It doesn´t get much credit but I think it´s a great building. Maybe not art but.... no, I´ll call it art.
    Obviously you like them crisply tailored and detailed, like Jackie O's gowns.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio
    The MetLife building....yep, the most hated, ugliest building in Manhattan: Art.
    It was better before they removed the Albers and the Lippold from the lobby areas. For a while the lobby was tarted up by the guy who did Windows on the World (decorator), but now it's back to Bauhaus, but without the "art." It was also better with the original (PanAm) logo and helicopters landing on the roof. Great relationship to Grand Central; coming down those escalators is one of New York's best urban experiences. The restaurants and bars are also better than average.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio
    UN Plaza apartments... arty.
    Stuck in the Sixties.

  7. #7

    Default

    I question the Hearst building. Post WWII work of art? Even though the overall building works: it´s still a magnificent modern add-on to a kitschy curiosity from the 1920´s.

  8. #8

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Fabrizio
    I question the Hearst building. Post WWII work of art? Even though the overall building works: it´s still a magnificent modern add-on to a kitschy curiosity from the 1920´s.
    The addition's a lot bigger than the original, though I guess from street level they're about equal. Are you saying "take it off the list"?

    The list after Fabrizio:

    Guggenheim Museum (Wright)
    Seagram Building (Mies)
    TWA Building (Saarinen)
    Hearst Tower (Foster)
    Lever House (SOM)
    New York Times Building (Piano)
    Museum of Modern Art (Taniguchi, Johnson, Stone)
    CBS Building (Saarinen)
    Whitney Museum (Breuer)
    2 Columbus Circle, R.I.P. (Stone)
    Pepsi/Olivetti Building (SOM)
    Manhattan House (SOM)
    MetLife (Pan Am) Building (Gropius, Belluschi, Roth)
    UN Plaza (Roche)
    Last edited by ablarc; April 26th, 2006 at 03:59 PM.

  9. #9

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    The Met Life building is a work of civic destruction, not art. The rest of those buildings (with the exception of the Guggenheim and TWA terrminal) are unexceptional.

  10. #10

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    The list after BPC:

    Guggenheim Museum (Wright)
    TWA Building (Saarinen)

    Short list.

    Brings up the possibility that New York's not well equipped with great modern architecture. You could easily come up with a longer list if you looked at New Haven.

    Care to add some, BPC?

  11. #11

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    I like those two Meier glass condo buildings on the West Side Highway -- they show that modern architecture can still be elegant and classy, even if not strictly "classical" -- although the third one seems superfluous. And, of course, being a BPCer, I loved the WTC Towers, RIP (and Pelli's WFC buildings, not in and of themselves but as garnish for the late great Twin Towers). As for New Haven, having spent four years there, I would say the City has not much architecturally to recommend it, beyond, of course, the pseudo-Gothic Yale campus (built during the Depression), which is an excellent con job, and a nifty old cemetery.
    Last edited by BPC; April 26th, 2006 at 06:44 PM.

  12. #12
    Forum Veteran TREPYE's Avatar
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    Question Why rectangles??

    I do not understand what artistic value there is in the giant corporate style rectangular shaped scraper.

    For example:
    Lever house
    Chase plaza
    Seagram building
    7 World Trade
    Trump World tower
    1 Penn Plaza
    1 Liberty Plaza
    GM Building
    55 Water St
    McGraw Hill Building
    Merchandise Mart Building

    And the list goes on and on....

    All they are is giant rectangles. I'm sorry, but the worst thing that happened to NYC is SOM type developers, those bastards have done nothing but smear the skyline by blocking beautiful skyscrapers .

    Those monstrosities contribute NOTHING to the NYC skyline and frankly some are just plain offensive because they block beautiful skyscrapers that have artistic merit like the Chrysler Building, American International Building, Woolworth Building, Municipal Building, New York Life Building - pretty much the same way weeds grows around a flower garden.

    I don't mind having balance in different styles of buildings but I'm afraid that the balance of buildings types in NYC shifted to an overwhelming abundance of rectangular buildings long ago.

  13. #13

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    BPC's amended list:

    Guggenheim Museum (Wright)
    TWA Building (Saarinen)
    Perry West (Meier)
    World Trade Center, R.I.P. (Yamasaki)
    World Financial Center (Pelli)

    BPC clearly feels there's not much of artistic merit in New York's postwar building stock.

    Quote Originally Posted by BPC
    As for New Haven, having spent four years there, I would say the City has not much architecturally to recommend it, beyond, of course, the pseudo-Gothic Yale campus (built during the Depression), which is an excellent con job, and a nifty old cemetery.
    A New Haven list of postwar architectural art:

    Ingalls Hockey Rink (Saarinen)
    Yale Art Gallery (Kahn)
    Gallery of British Art (Kahn)
    Art and Architecture Building (Rudolph)
    Beinecke Rare Book Libray (Bunshaft, SOM)
    Morse and Stiles Colleges (Saarinen)

    ^ A longer list than BPC's for New York.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by TREPYE
    Those monstrosities contribute NOTHING to the NYC skyline and frankly some are just plain offensive because they block beautiful skyscrapers that have artistic merit like the Chrysler Building, American International Building, Woolworth Building, Municipal Building, New York Life Building - pretty much the same way weeds grows around a flower garden.
    Well, we know what you don't like. Tell us some postwar buildings you do like.

  15. #15

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ablarc

    A New Haven list of postwar architectural art:

    Ingalls Hockey Rink (Saarinen)
    Yale Art Gallery (Kahn)
    Gallery of British Art (Kahn)
    Art and Architecture Building (Rudolph)
    Beinecke Rare Book Libray (Bunshaft, SOM)
    Morse and Stiles Colleges (Saarinen)

    ^ A longer list than BPC's for New York.
    Ingalls Hockey Rink (Saarinen) -- I admit that the Whale is a great building, but in the wrong location. Yale stuck it on the side of a hill, so that there is no vantage point from which you can properly view the building, except from the interior, which is unmatched for a collegiate hockey rink.

    Yale Art Gallery (Kahn) -- Interesting, but not Kahn's best work.

    Gallery of British Art (Kahn) -- A perfect building from the inside, virtually invisible from the outside, and housing some of the world's worst art (which of course is not Kahn's fault).

    Art and Architecture Building (Rudolph) -- This is actually one of the few brutalist buildings I like, because of its interplay with Kahn's gallery, but I don't think anyone considers it a great building. Interesting, perhaps.

    Beinecke Rare Book Libray (Bunshaft, SOM) -- Another great building which Yale stuck in absolutely the worst possible location. It is akin the Chase Manhattan building Downtown, blowing the scale and proportion of all the elegant buildings surrounding it.

    Morse and Stiles Colleges (Saarinen) - Icky. Exemplifies everything that was bad about the 1960s. Can you imagine if your college dorm looked like this?


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