Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Times Square Erasures

Checking in on a couple of tombstones--the new buildings that mark the gravesites of two of my favorite vanished Times Square institutions--I found again just how completely the past is erased.

Where 1551 Broadway once held not just the Howard Johnson's, but the Gaiety and a whole lot of history, the American Eagle Outfitters building has risen.

It looks quite tall, but when you really look at it you realize it is less building and more scaffolding for advertisements. There are a few floors that actually have windows and interiors, but look at the rest. It's a middle finger just waiting to be covered up with billboards.

Over on 8th Avenue, at the former site of the Playpen and the Funny Store, two gems demolished in December 2007, Tishman's new hotel tower is being faced in stone and white glass:

The buildings that stood before these new structures were, in a sense, "green." They were constantly being recycled. They lasted for a century and went through several permutations and uses. You could see their history in their faces, layers under layers, of time's passage.

Will these new buildings ever become anything but what they are? I think of the final lines of James Wolcott's must-read piece in this month's Vanity Fair:

"What bothers me is that if New York plunges into a second go-round of the 70s, this time with additional angst, we’ll still be stuck with all those spiky glass buildings that have gone up in recent years, reflecting our own overreaching folly back at us with sterile mockery. Really, I much prefer rubble."


Anonymous said...

Or, optimistically, the glass towers too will become rubble, though climbing around those vacant lots would probably require a chain mail suit to avoid being cut by all the shards. After all, those monstrosities are built so quickly and cheaply with every possible corner being cut that they can't possibly be built to last.

I have to say, should NY return to the '70s, it does my heart some good to imagine squatters taking over all those new "luxury" condos and rentals. Then, perhaps, not only will those bland high rise boxes will finally be put to good use, they'll finally have some actual character other than Eastern Bloc Overpriced Fishbowl.

Ed said...

We are actually pretty lucky how little damage this period has done to the urban landscape. The only post 2001 buildings I like are the Hearst tower, well Time Warner Center is surprisingly OK, but in general most of the vistas that make New York a beautiful city to walk around in are still intact. I think we have the historic districts to thank for that.

Now if the real estate bust is successfully turned around, then we are going to get some serious scars on the city that will be hard to fix.

Actually this period is notable for what isn't getting built, no Moynihan Station, no rebuilt WTC site, nothing on the Atlantic Yards. While architecture is so undistinguished now that this is probably a good thing, in a healthier period all of these places would be developed intelligently.