Friday, May 21, 2010

100 11th Avenue

Latitude: 40°44'46.24"N
Longitude: 74° 0'27.87"W

The vision of architect Jean Nouvel is still under construction. My first, and lasting, impression is "a glazing project manager's nightmare". Having over 1700 different pieces of glass and touted as the most highly engineered building in New York, the success of 100 11th Avenue as a residential condo remains to be seen.

Questions: How is it air and water sealed? How is tolerance measured when everything is out of level and plumb? What will the entrance look like?

IAC Building

Latitude: 40°44'42.14"N
Longitude: 74° 0'26.42"W

The IAC Building is where architecture meets meteorology. The decreasing density dotted frit glass panels really create a mystical vaporlike aura.

The link has a time lapsed video showing the glazing installation. All the unitized panels were pieced together like a puzzle. There must have been extraordinary coordination between the structural and architectural elements to achieve what appeared to be a problem free installation.

Solomon Guggenheim Museum

Latitude: 40°46'58.90"N
Longitude: 73°57'31.92"W

This remarkable building defines form over function. There is something very calm about it. Though Wright's "Temple of Contemplation" (my term) was commissioned as a museum, it does not work as an art gallery (the walls are not flat and there is not enough natural light). The circle is the obvious design paradigm here.

Rose Center for Earth and Space

Latitude: 40°46'54.75"N
Longitude: 73°58'22.13"W

The Rose Center for Earth and Space is a marvel of engineering. I was inspired by this project, not only for its nearly flawless design and execution, but for the interest it generated among the hundreds of wide eyed kids. I loved space and going to the planetarium when I was young, and this place would be nirvana for a 12 year old nerd.

2 Columbus Circle

Latitude: 40°46'2.43"N
Longitude: 73°58'54.03"W

Subjected to a radical, some call rapacious, facelift in 2005, 2 Columbus Circle has always caused consternation among the city's architecture concerned public. This new facade is totally bland. It seems to deliberately draw attention away from itself. The ceramic tiles, though "iridescent", look like white bricks in the shadows. 2 Columbus Circle is a beautiful spot next to the park, and one wonders whether this building should just be torn down in favor of something more organic and less conspicuously dull.

The Hearst Tower

Latitude: 40°45'59.99"N
Longitude: 73°58'58.59"W

The Hearst Tower is ... magnificent. This article covers all of the specs. I would have loved to have been able to see more of the inside, but it is restricted.

I was able to take a photo of the water cascade, which is brilliant.

(More info to follow)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Museum of Modern Art

Latitude: 40°45'40.54"N
Longitude: 73°58'39.32"W

The Museum of Modern Art , built in 1939, is absolutely a must see.

Seagram Building

Latitude: 40°45'30.41"N
Longitude: 73°58'19.65"W

To appreciate the Seagram Building, you have to forget about all of the inferior subsequent replicas that are so common around many urban centers. This is the first, and finest, office building of its kind.

The skin of the building is defined by vertical mullions, a novel feature for this pre-unitized, pre-aluminum extrusion era. This may also be in fact the one of the first major buildings to have bronze tinted glazing as well.

Permanent Mission of India to the UN

Latitude: 40°45'3.53"N
Longitude: 73°58'19.16"W

The Permanent Mission of India to the UN reflects an international aesthetic from an India born architect, Charles Correa. Manhattan has very few "eastern" styled buildings, and a distinct lack of domes or mosque type minarets. The overall architectural identity of the city is distinctly, and perhaps deliberately, Western. This building, however, projects an "aura of the subcontinent" by means of the sandstone colored cladding and open porch emblematic elements.

Built in 1993, the facade was undergoing some sort of construction and had scaffolding blocking the entrance. For many years, a legal dispute between the city and owner (Permanent Mission of India v. City of New York) may have tarnished any lustre this building once had. The quality of the curtainwall installation I found to be lacking. If you follow the corner up, it is definitely not true, and zig-zags all over the place. The site is also awkward and the post construction demolition of adjacent building has left a blank uncladded scar on the side. The panels and granite are also not perfectly color matched.

Rockefeller Center

Latitude: 40°45'31.42"N
Longitude: 73°58'43.11"W

If there were an agora in Manhattan, The Rockefeller Center would be it. Defined by its logic, order and accessibility, the original complex of 14 buildings on 11 acres is a masterpiece of urban planning. The observation deck, called "The Top of the Rock", is far more accessible than the Empire State Building's (I waited less than 10 minutes in line), and was one of the highlights of the trip. There are (3) levels to the deck, and only the topmost offers an unobstructed panorama. I was fortunate to be among a crowd of extremely polite and courteous Asian tourists, who did not stake a claim to the best vantage points, thereby offering quite a few good shots. There is a kinetic led disco floor at the top as well, which served up some great fun for those inclined to boogie.

I made a video of the Willy Wonka styled glass top elevator 70 floor descent, which was amazing.

Flatiron Building

Latitude: 40°44'29.40"N
Longitude: 73°59'22.39"W

The Flatiron Building is one of the oldest surviving "skyscrapers" in New York. What is most significant about this building is the site. At the intersection of Broadway and 5th Aveue, there is an unusual amount of frontage offering plenty of viewing room to see the whole building without straining one's neck. The photo shows the often viewed perspective from the Major General William Jenkins Worth Monument. This is a key building in the Beaux-Arts style.

Storefront for Art and Architecture

Latitude: 40°43'17.22"N
Longitude: 73°59'49.30"W

This facade is interesting, not for its magnificence, but for its simplicity and functionality. The Storefront for Art and Architecture definitely represents an anti-gloss idiom. Don't be deceived by the graffiti, this location is in the heart of SoHo, and is prime real estate. Reminiscent of the kind of semi-operable temporary construction walls that GC's build everyday, it is certainly not an engineering feat. I enjoyed this location, nonetheless, as it has a relaxed neighborhood feel, a welcome contrast to the intensity of the midtown architectural proving ground.

Chrysler Building

Latitude: 40°45'6.29"N
Longitude: 73°58'32.54"W

The Chrysler Building is a thing of beauty. The wiki article is great and covers everything that I would say about it.

The seven story crown really makes the building spectacular, and sublime. Nightmares of syringes and impalement transformed into a brilliant stainless steel clad inverted groin vault.

The "gargoyles" on the 61st floor are commonly held to be reminiscent of a vintage hood ornament. I happen to disagree with this and think that van Alen's intent was to incorporate the heraldic double headed eagle symbol, an ancient icon of divine power. Perhaps, Walter Chrysler popularized these alternative notions in order to promote a connection between the building and his new auto lines. If anything, the building inspired car design and not the other way around.

The entrance is like a portal to the temple of the gods. I love it. Just walking through it makes you feel like a giant.

A great collection of pictures can be found here

Empire State Building

Latitude: 40°44'55.57"N
Longitude: 73°59'7.29"W

The tallest building in the world for 41 years at 1252 feet, and appearing in over 90 films, the Empire State Building is certainly among America's most recognizable buildings. Not only an engineering feat, the project had an extremely aggressive schedule and a tight budget. The basic criteria in the design was put forth by the owner, Jacob Raskob of General Motors, "How high can you make it so that it won't fall down?" His main concern was to eclipse the nearby Chrysler Building, being built at the time of design and completed one year prior. The design was inspired by the shape of a simple pencil, and also the elegant designs of Finish architect Eliel Saarinen, like the Gulf Building, built in 1929. What the building lacks in gingerbread, it makes up for in mass. (60,000 tons of steel).

The storefront at the lobby is art deco brushed stainless steel and accented with diner style signbands. Very stylish and contemporary with 1931.

At night from a distance, the building tower becomes a beacon and truly one of the defining landmarks of the city. During the day, however, the building is not so easy to find from midtown street level amidst the surrounding towers.

Check out the vintage photos here

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Manhattan Trip Log

What a fantastic trip. Everything went smoothly. Started in Alexandria at 7:30, walked to the Braddock Street Metro station, took the yellow line to Chinatown, changed to the red line to Union Station, got a cup of coffee and a tuna wrap at Au Bon Pain, hopped on the 10:00 am Acela to Penn Station, arrived at 1:00. The GPS proved invaluable for navigation, though it took like 30 minutes to get a satellite fix because of the buildings. I walked around to get my bearings, saw the Empire State Building, then checked in at the hotel, the Radisson Lexington at 48th and Lex, perfect central location. Dropped my bag off, packed the GPS, tripod and camera in my backpack, and then went exploring. I went to the Chrysler Building next. I stopped at a pub called O'Donnell's and had a pint of Harp. The bartender was actually Irish! I then walked all the way to the Storefront for Art and Architecture (over 40 blocks), stopped at a Best Buy to get an AC charger for the GPS (which had run out of battery power), ate lunch at Lenny's and had an S1, a chicken salad sandwich on a kaiser roll, charged my GPS while eating. On the way, I was solicited by the director of his independent film to buy a DVD for $15. He told me the plot and seemed on the level, so I gave in a bought it. It is called "The Minority". Walking from the super tall buildings of midtown through Greenwich Village and into SoHo, I was amazed at the incredible diversity of the city. I was really thirsty and went to this pub called "The Local Brewery" and had a pint of Ommegang Vitte, a very nice microbrew. I then saw one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen walk past. She must have been a model. I then found the Storefront for Art and Architecture. Walked from there to the Flatiron Building, then to Rockefeller Center. It was just past sunset by this time. There is an observation deck at the top of the GE Building called "The Top of the Rock" which was amazing. I got a couple great night shots, though it was not easy to find a good clear vantage point. There is nothing like the Manhattan skyline at night. Phenomenal. From Rockefeller Center, I casually found my way back to the hotel. Quite exhausted from the first leg of the journey, I tried to sleep, but my mind was racing from everything I had seen. Nice bed too. I didn't actually get to sleep until 2:00 am. Dragged myself out of bed at 9:00. Went down to grab something to eat at the hotel cafe. $20 for coffee, orange juice and a croissant (on top of a $330/night room)! I suppose I could have gone to the hotel Starbucks, but there was nowhere to sit. The Radisson Lexington was nice, though pricey, and I would stay there again. Very good location, it is actually right across the street from the Waldorf Astoria. After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel, and checked my bag with the storage desk. I then went to the Seagram Building, the Permanent Mission of India to the UN and MoMA. I hesitated whether or not I wanted to check out the exhibits as I still had a lot to see, but I am glad I did. What a collection! From MoMA, I walked to the Hearst Building and then to Columbus Circle. Then I went into Central Park and walked all the way up to the Rose Center for Space. I then cut across the Park and walked to the Guggenheim. I got on the subway and took it back to the hotel. I picked up my bag and took the subway to Penn Station. I then took a cab to what I thought was the address for the Whitney Museum. Fortunately, the Hudson River Park was worth seeing and the IAC building was 5 blocks away. I walked down there, and was astounded by it and the adjacent monstrosity. It was 5:45 by this time and my train was leaving at 7:00, so I needed to get back to Penn Station. I hailed a cab and made it back with plenty of time to spare. Had a tuna sandwich from Zora and a Corona. I was pretty whipped by this time as I must have walked 20 miles in two days. The train ride home was a breeze. Read "The Forever War" on my Kindle. Got into Union Station at 10:00pm. Took the Metro back to Alexandria. Contemplated walking the mile back home, but there was a cab right there. Got in at 11:30 last night. Awesome trip! I will fill in the details for each site with separate entries. I posted the pictures on Facebook here
Manhattan Photos

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wharton Esherick House

Latitude: 40° 5'1.49"N
Longitude: 75°29'38.65"W

Built over a 40 year period by the man himself, this structure defines deliberate non-conformity and his considered his greatest work.

Wharton Esherick was a sculptor who primarily worked in wood. The building is reminiscent of the art of the Die Brucke group, particularly Kirchner.

The strange angularity of the plan and orientation of the house make for a huge variety of perspectives.

Even today, this place feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere. Esherick was a devotee of the transcendentalist ideology of Thoreau and this was his version of Walden pond. Very beautiful and serene place, though the trees have grown too close to the house. When he purchased the property in the 30s, it was a derelict farm. Who knows what they could farm here, certainly not good land for a field. The house is definitely well built and appears to have been robust enough to withstand the sometimes nasty Pennsylvania winters.

Gravers Lane Station

Latitude: 40° 4'38.63"N
Longitude: 75°12'6.96"W

Far from a well known building, the Gravers Lane Station is a wonderful little structure nonetheless. The product of Frank Furness, a Philadelphia native who designed many quirky Victorian style buildings in and around the city. This station is the last of its kind, fortunately restored in 1982 sparing it from the ignominious fate of many of his works, demolition.