Monday, March 17, 2014

Climb The Empire State Building 1,000 Times

“…to walk enough stairs in a lifetime to climb the Empire State Building, and then climb it again: One-Thousand Times.”
from this Centrum Silver commercial. Actor: Damien Leake, Voice-over by Martin Sheen.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Anachronistic Quality of the Word Skyscraper

He went outside and crossed the avenue, then turned and faced the building where he lived. he felt contiguous with it. It was eighty-nine stories, a prime number, in an undistinguished sheath of hazy bronze glass. They shared an edge or boundary, skyscraper and man. It was nine hundred feet high, the tallest residential tower in the world, a commonplace oblong whose only statement was its size. It had the kind of banality that reveals itself over time as being truly brutal. He liked it for this reason. He liked to stand and look at it when he felt this way. He felt wary, drowsy and insubstantial. 

The wind came cutting of the river. He took out his hand organizer and poked a note to himself about the anachronistic quality of the word skyscraper. No recent structure ought to bear this word. It belonged to the olden soul of awe, to the arrowed towers that were a narrative long before he was born. 

The tower gave him strength and depth. 

—Cosmopolis, by Don Delillo, 2003

Although the book doesn't name the building explicitly, the description of the world's tallest residential building, on First Avenue in Manhattan, means it can only be the Trump World Tower.

photos ©2011  Bauzeitgeist.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jimmy Fallon's Skyline

A few weeks ago, the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon made its big debut. I don't watch a lot of television, much less late at night, but think Jimmy Fallon is a really clever, energetic, creative entertainer, and nowadays its easy to watch a handful of clips on YouTube and feel like you're at least partly aware of what is going on.

The Tonight Show has an all-new set, which follows the standard desk-and-couches-on-a-soundstage format. What I immediately noticed was the backdrop, which is made up of a panoramic photo image of Mahattan, but in front of it what was especially notable is a collection of more than three dozen wood building models.

The buildings are arrayed randomly in the display—their arrangement doesn't correspond to their true relationships, and it doesn't appear as though the models are to scale with one another. This makes identification a bit difficult, and I am also not certain that all the models have been detailed with equal faith to their original appearance. There is a small, laser-cut Pan Am Building, visible second from left above; it is less-detailed and more diminutive than the finely detailed McKim frontage of the NYP Library and the Chrysler Building just over Jimmy's left shoulder, which seem to use a variety of materials and might even be from a model kit.

During Justin Timberlake's appearance, its easy to spot the AT&T Building, directly behind the microphone, 
with what might be the Daily News Building behind. 
The Woolworth Building is easy to spot behind Timberlake at far left. 
I am tempted to suggest that the Building to its right, behind Timberlake's head, 

is the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel on Central Park South.

There are some interesting choices here, besides the world-famous landmarks such as old as the Woolworth and Chrysler Buildings and as new as the One World Trade Center, there are secondary icons like Johnson's AT&T Building, Stubbin's Citicorp Center and Johnson’s Lipstick building. Some other notable inclusions include Piano’s New York Times Building, just behind Jimmy, and at the far left, normally not visible but clearly shown in these scenes of U2 and Will Smith, Foster’s Hearst Tower. Other recognizable but far less identifiable towers include post-modern art deco Trump Riverside, the bland corporate mid-rise of 4 World Financial Center, and the hipster Maritime Hotel.

The Chrysler Building shines behind Fallon's right shoulder, with the Lipstick Building in front. 
Behind Fallon's left shoulder, in the shadows at far right, is Piano's New York Times HQ, 
with a twin tower from Trump Riverside in front. 

There is a foreground layer of low-rise landmarks, too, including the Arch in Washington Square Park, the Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport, the Guggenheim, New York Public Library, the New York Stock Exchange, and the tripartite arrangement of Lincoln Center.

During U2's performance, 1 World Trade Center and the Hearst Tower are clearly seen behind the Edge. 

But still, I was only confident in labelled a little more than half of them: is that the Daily News Building just over Jimmy's right shoulder? Is that big, French-Empire Style manse behind the guests, with its green-copper roof, supposed to be the legendary Dakota apartments? Others, like the sample Tribeca warehouse and the prototypical SoHo cast iron façade, would be laborious to pinpoint to a specific real-life building. For all I know, a third of the models are just made-up, and not based on real buildings. I certainly suspect that is the case, even with the larger models such as those between the Chrysler and Citicorp to Fallon's left, at the far right of the background.

Kristen Wiig impersonating Jason Styles. Lincoln Center is clearly visible at left, 
with what appears to be a tiny Guggenheim Museum in front. 

Behind Kristen Wiig, on her right: A SoHo building, Pier 17, the Dakota? 
On her left: a TriBeCa warehouse, Lincoln Center at lower right, and the Maritime Hotel behind.

When Jerry Seinfeld visited the new show, while praising the show, he turned around admired the elaborate background:

”I love the set. I love the rich kid NY chess set. This is the upper east side kid's chess set. It's beautiful, but I would move the chrysler building to king 4...”

Here is a quick diagram I made of the display, with whatever buildings I could identify. Suggestions for changes or additions are welcome in the comments section: 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Preservation of Miami Marine Stadium

Miami is known mostly for its high-rise condominiums and sleek little art deco hotels, not brutalist ruins. So what might be more surprising landmark than the shell of an old hospital is the powerfully-sculpted pavilions of the Marine Stadium, which sit derelict on a key just in front of Miami's downtown, on the road to its upscale suburb of Key Biscayne.

 Daniel Garcia/Little Gables Group, via Architect Magazine

A water-facing concrete review stand, built in 1964 for boating events, then later opened to concerts and other public gatherings, the stadium has been vacant and vandalized since 1992, but was saved from demolition and may now be renovated thanks to a dedicated social effort.

 Pancoast Ferendino Skeels and Burnham/Hilario Candela, via Architect Magazine 
 Credit: Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, via Architect Magazine
 Pancoast Ferendino Skeels and Burnham/Hilario Candela, via Architect Magazine

An article from Architect Magazine last October gives the full history of the stadium's revival, from derelict, condemned wreck to atop World Monuments Fund/National Register of Historic Preservation watch list. The success of the restoration drive has been driven by the well-organized Friends of Miami Marine Stadium: to look at the chronology on their website gives a sense of just how much effort has gone in to saving this structure. From an article from a few weeks ago about a graffiti artist selling his art to raise funds for the renovation:

Declared structurally unsound after the widespread devastation of hurricane Andrew, the abandoned stadium has been "off-limits" for nearly a quarter of a century. But graffiti loves a challenge, and "off-limits" means "perfect hangout" for fence hoppers, midnight drinkers, restless youth, skaters, and most obviously, taggers.Now, the stadium is on its way to a new life thanks to the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. The group plans to renovate and reopen the venue, and that's expensive —$30 million expensive.
Its an especially nice story because the place will not only be preserved, but architecture will be revived to its original purpose. For now, the site is half-heartedly cordoned off, but it is still accessible from the waterfront. Check out the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium website for tons more information, historic and current photos, etc. 
 ©2014 Bauzeitgeist
©2014 Bauzeitgeist

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bauzwangsvorstellung: South Beach Community Hospital, Miami

I spent the first part of this year in Miami, Florida: an interesting city in a lot of ways, mainly the way it is both a national and global capital of leisure, and the manners in which this is embodied and acted out, and also the ways in which the city is trying to evolve into a more multi-faceted crossroads; a "real" city with "serious" culture, or at least, an alternative to partying, shopping, eating, and lying on the beach, even as its febrile status as a cosmopolis of wealth and pleasure in this new Gilded Age makes those activities more prominent and overpowering. 

One of the most obvious manifestations of its current circumstances is the explosion of luxury real estate, especially high-rise condominium towers. While these glistening new complexes clutter up the oceanfront, most of them sit in close proximity to a previous city: Miami has long been a disheveled, poor city, and the stunning development is in many cases only one-block deep: there is the beach, the luxury high-rise then across the street are tenements, or crumbling art deco shells, or other abandoned buildings. 

I spent my time in Miami staying at a friend's apartment in Miami Beach. The 15th -floor apartment was high up in one of the recent condominium towers from the pre-crash boom. Although only completed in 2007, the property is already a little worse for wear, but it had wide balconies which wrapped around three sides of the tower, offering views in almost every direction.

Directly cross the street from these condo towers sits the incredible ruin of the South Beach Community Hospital. I became somewhat obsessed with this site, in part because I passed it every time I came and went from the apartment I was staying in, and when I did pass it, there was often a flurry of activity as the outbuildings were being demolished with yellow machines. But mostly, the old hospital was such an arresting sight: buildings aren't built in this shape and form any more, and this one stood vacant, many of its shiny golden windows blown out, possibly from vandalism and demolition but also, I think, due to a hurricane from several years ago. 

I am a big fan of the now-discarded penchant for forming a wide-browed capital atop office buildings like this, a practice which has fallen out of fashion. 

I especially love the unattached elevator shaft, which led expressly up to this top floor, whatever its purpose. Its sleek face seems to embody the late-space age techno-optimism of construction, an Atari joystick of a detail. 

Glass of this tint isn't in fashion right now, either. 

The pyramidal shape is just great. 

There are plans to build yet more luxury retail and condominium residences on the site, which stretch back to 2011, but development has stalled in the more recent financial climate, and the property, one block away from the waterfront (facing the city, not the ocean) might not be the ideal location for speculation. Plus, its not really clear how much more luxury space Miami needs right now. So the fate of the building seems a bit uncertain for now. 

As you can see, I took a lot of pictures of it. It would have been relatively easy to trespass, as the ground floor was only blocked off with stands of chain-link, but I would have had to sneak in at night, and there's something unpleasant about an abandoned hospital in the night, even one that is so glossy in the daytime. 

So while the site is slowly prepared for a loosely-defined luxury development to be installed at an indeterminate date in the future, the building stands forlorn in the midst of the its more glamorous neighbors, a marker of the previous city. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

“The ‘Golden Toilet’ Stage of Things”

A brief, topical post, underscoring some of the spatial-architectural aspects of the recent events in Ukraine: not so much the incredible scenes from Kiev, of a European square as a blackened, apocalyptic war zone, but the spectacle outside the capital, as the general public descended on the ousted ruler's latter-day Versailles.

Photos: Jeffrey J. Mitchell/Getty Images and David Rose for the Telegraph

The tone of the reports was gleeful, fueled by the astonishing images of the gaudy, overstuffed furnishings and bizarre fantasy amusements of Yanukovych's estate: the mini-hovercraft, the elaborate galleon moored on the man-made lake, the private zoo with its ostriches. It also undoubtedly compelled an upbeat voice due to the pleasant irony of regular folks filing through the attraction in an orderly fashion, rather than ripping the place apart in a furious orgy of looting, as if the palace had already become an historical monument of a distant era, open for tours during regular hours, where visitors could chuckle at the poor taste of so many tacky, ego-stroking follies. 

Constantin Chernichkin/Reuters
Washington Post Image
This blog has intermittently covered the architectural and landscape dimensions of this decade’s revolutions, recently in Istanbul and the streets of Brazil, and earlier the spatial aspects of the uprising in Bahrain. The primacy of public space in Cairo has been extensively discussed by Orhan Ayyüce in Archinect, but these were largely dealing with public, and outdoor, zones, not the mansions of the elite.

Invading the autocrat’s inner sanctums has a long history, even in the post-modern era, stretching back to early internet days, uploaded photos of Saddam’s palaces. This was replicated with increasing frequency since the Tunisian revolution of 2011, when seaside villas were vandalized live on Al Jazeera. This has become a cultural phenomenon, a regular, repeated, stage in popular overthrows. No less than David Remnick, writing in  a March 1st blogpost, “Putin Goes to War,” in the New Yorker, sums it up brilliantly:
Just a few days ago, this horrendous scenario of invasion and war, no matter how limited, seemed the farthest thing from nearly everyone’s mind in either Ukraine or Russia, much less the West. As it happens so often in these situations—from Tahrir Square to Taksim Square to Maidan Square—people were taken up with the thrill of uprising. After Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, the coverage moved to what one might call the “golden toilet” stage of things, that moment when the freedom-hungry crowds discover the fallen leader’s arrangements and bountiful holdings—the golden bathroom fixtures; the paintings and the tapestries; the secret mistress; the lurid bedrooms and freezers stocked with sweetmeats; the surveillance videos and secret transcripts; the global real-estate holdings; the foreign bank accounts; the fleets of cars, yachts, and airplanes; the bad taste, the unknown cruelties.The English-language Kyiv Post published a classic in the genre when it reported how journalists arriving at the “inner sanctum” of the mansion where Yanukovych had lived in splendor discovered that he had been cohabiting not with his wife of four decades but, rather, with—and try not to faint—a younger woman. It “appears” that Yanukovych had been living there with a spa owner named Lyubov (which means “love”) Polezhay. “The woman evidently loves dogs and owns a white Pomeranian spitz that was seen in the surveillance camera’s footage of Yanukovych leaving” the mansion.But that was trivia.
It is trivia, how true. Rather than the final scene, the self-guided romps around the suburban spread were swept aside in the larger events, and in the hours since Remnick's post was uploaded, new events, and new spatial violations on a larger territorial scale had unfolded, with larger global consequences. The awe-struck tours of the frivolity and kitsch of the Dictator’s log-cabin McMansion seem quaint just days later, as the initial victory, and the opportunity to topple the monuments of an earlier regime, slipped away in the onset of further war. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Säule, Schlucht, Erscheinung

Sixth Avenue at Rockefeller Center, looking south.  ©1978 Blake Andrews.


In the last post about Cleveland, I briefly mentioned in passing a unique urban phenomenon, the visual effect of rows of tall buildings arranged along a city street. I've noticed this for years, and mentioning it made me think about its varieties and ways to describe it. While I can't offer an academic analysis here, I'm going to try to briefly explore it a bit further. 

Manhattan, from Carmen Ereddarter's blog.

While others may have long since recognized this phenomenon as well, I am not sure if this urban distinction has undergone appellation. It seems to be born out of uniquely American urban conditions: the downtown cores of classic large American cities, where tall buildings are arranged in orthogonal grids, the blocks equally spaced apart, filling up the envelope of each property in a uniform fashion, so that the fronts of each block align. The buildings not necessarily skyscrapers, but are sufficiently tall as to suggest a wall along either side of the street, as a hedge-row on a country lane, interrupted only by cross-streets. The buildings develop a conversational relationship with one another; each block becomes a component of a larger arrangement. 

3rd Avenue, looking north. Photo from Kelly van der Kwast. 

I. Säule and Zeile

Manhattan would be both the most recognized and recorded, but also the largest and most expressive example of this: the island's density stretching along its numbered avenues for six or seven miles in straight lines. It is one of the most quintessential aspects of Manhattan's appearance, although I am not sure it has ever been specifically given a name, although Manhattan's deep density of full-block buildings has been described as canyons of buildings, which partially describes the phenomenon.

State Street in Chicago's Loop, looking north. 

But it is not limited to New York. Chicago’s Loop expresses this aspect as well, although Chicago's central business district, while quite large, is much smaller and less elongated than Manhattan. The Loop has a clear limit, giving way to warehouse districts and residential areas, whereas Manhattan's avenues vanish, and its cross-streets disappear into the waterfront. Visually, constructed canyons seem carved in each cardinal coordinate.

There are many other examples; as the effect momentarily occurs one street in a small downtown like Cleveland, there are probably countless individual examples in dozens of American cities with a sufficient building stock and suitably wide, straight streets, built up with adequately tall buildings—Washington and Paris are too low to the street to have the affect appear.

A near-appearance of the phenomenon on Commissioner's Street in Johannesburg.

It would be possible to capture this atmosphere in large, grid-array downtowns in Vancouver or Houston, and perhaps Sydney or Melbourne—any place where a forest of skyscrapers is arranged across a rigid orthogonal street pattern, from Beijing to Buenos Aires. Maybe not so much London, Paris, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, but here and there in Johannesburg, perhaps the Ginza ward of Tokyo.

Avenida Paulista, from Wikipedia. 

São Paulo expresses it at least on the mammoth Avenida Paulista, if not elsewhere in its vast forest of high-rise buildings, although the city does not have strict grid system. An interesting detail of Avenida Paulista is the pyramidal Edificio FIESP, photogenic for breaking up the slab-wall affect the regularly-intervaled façades.

Photo of Avenida Paulista and the FIESP Building, by Panoramio user Rmartinipoa.

Downtown San Francisco's financial district somewhat weakly presents this phenomenon, with the added effect of the canyon floor sweeping up the steep hillsides at the far end of each street, or looking out towards the Bay, aligning with the span of the Bay Bridge.

The Streets of San Francisco.

II. Schlange-Schlucht

More linear than the mile-long boulevards of Manhattan are places where dense clusters of high-value real estate are divided into roughly equal sites, but the conditions only yield a single row of high-rise buildings. This is a typically littoral condition: it recalls the heavily urbanized coast of Southern Florida, for example, and other locations where high-rise towers, mostly residential or hotels, march along a main street that follows the coastline, like Cancún. However, in the case of typically-curvacious resort-style architecture, there is not enough alignment for the full effect to register.

The near-effect seen in Sunny Isles, Florida. ©2014 Bauzeitgeist. 

The most distinct difference between this linear row and that of an American downtown is that the arrangement is only one block wide on either side. While not necessarily evident from a straight-on perspective down this one street, the edges of vision, and the visual understanding of the wider urban area, imply that the density discontinues after only one row of buildings.

The best example of this that I know of is Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, which is both long, wide, and evenly spaced with high rises, some extremely tall, columns on either side. Although Dubai is a littoral city, Sheikh Zayed Road itself is away from the beachfront, and the single rows of skyscrapers stand with low-rise buildings behind, or nothing but dry lots of open desert. Dubai's mid-town does not spread across a gridded district of regular built density, but stretches on either side of a single major street.
Images of Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai from Wikipedia and 

III. Hyper-Schlange Schlucht Straße

Related to the narrow hedge-row effect of Sheikh Zayed Road, a third variety of this phenomenon emphasizes the appearance of tall buildings fronting a significant thoroughfare in an otherwise low-rise environment, often in the case where a major street connects multiple centers of a sprawling metropolis. While the façade-wall effect is visible along the prospect itself, it is no longer set out along a grid of blocks. The hedge-row effect is more clearly understood from above, where the contrast in height is more evident.

Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles.  

The two large examples that come to mind are Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and Yonge Street in Toronto.

If sprawling Los Angeles has a Broadway, it is Wilshire, which curves at several points along the low foothills as it stretches more than a dozen miles, from downtown Los Angeles through affluent West L.A. towards the Pacific Ocean, terminating in Santa Monica. L.A. is perhaps too famous for it’s sprawl, when it really a city of average density, and Wilshire provides one of it’s most distinct urban moments.

Whether by accident of real estate value or determined more didactically by zoning, either side of this thoroughfare is lined with mostly rectangular office blocks, passing through various clusters and campuses of high-rises at downtown LA and Century City, but otherwise distinct from the low-rise and often residential neighborhoods beyond the rows of columns. As with Sheikh Zayed Road, the contrast is most distinct from the air.

Yonge Street is supposedly the longest street in the world, but that's alway struck me as a rather technical description for the world street, as opposed to calling something a road, or a route, which can stretch from one side of a country to another. These are frequently lined with a high density and sufficient volume of bland boxes, which are forgettable alone orchestrate a remarkable visual affect.

Toronto looking north  from the CN Tower ©2011 Bauzeitgeist. 

However, the claim to the title is augmented by the extraordinary phenomenon of Yonge Stretching from the financial district of downtown Toronto for miles to the north. Like Wilshire, Yonge passes through and connects perpendicular clusters of mid-rise buildings where it crosses first Bloor Street and St. Clair, all the way to North York, a suburban district nearly ten miles from the lakefront. The astonishing Vancouverization of Toronto, which has accelerated with the real estate boom in the last ten years, is occurring mostly near the waterfront areas of downtown but is also thickening the effect of this corridor of high-rises, stretching to a length of any of Manhattan's avenues. It is quite convenient to observe this effect without having to board an airplane, as the observation deck of the CN Tower provides an excellent vantage point. 

Toronto looking north  from the CN Tower ©2011 Bauzeitgeist.