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  • Category Archives Architecture
  • The Rarified Air of Rooftop Aeries

    In a city where real estate is so dear and precious and open land is not to be had, the only way to go is up.  And up is the way it has been since 1852, when Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator, enabling and facilitating construction of our vertical city. From the New York Times:

    Otis sold his first three elevators for $300 apiece and went on to the 1854 exposition at the Crystal Palace in Manhattan, where he demonstrated “the first elevator wherein provision was made for stopping the fall of the car in the contingency of the breaking of the hoisting cables.” In other words, if the cables snapped, the device would keep it from plunging.
    Otis installed the first commercial passenger elevator in the five-story Haughwout Building at 488 Broadway, at Broome Street, in 1857. It was a steam-powered machine that took more than a minute to climb to the top floor.

    And so, in a world dominated by smartphones where time is passed sitting, standing, or walking while looking down at a screen, to get a glimpse of another part of New York City life, it behooves one to look UP. Peeking above the roof lines, treetops can often be seen. And if you are fortunate, as I was, to be afforded a view of the city from above, you will be astonished to see a world of penthouses laden with all manner of gardens, trees, shrubs, patio furniture, and other accoutrement typically only seen in the countryside, but existing here in the rarified air of building tops. One or, at most, a handful of such penthouses exist in only some buildings, so this is a very privileged life.

    In today’s bottom photo, one can see the home of Alec Baldwin – his 4137-square foot home at the Devonshire House in Greenwich Village, purchased in 2011 for $11.7 million dollars. Ironically, in spite of such spaces being so highly coveted and in such short supply, one rarely sees anyone using these spaces. Busy lives, other homes, and vacations. So little time to enjoy The Rarified Air of Rooftop Aeries :)

    Related Posts: Affront to Dignity, Pied-a-Aire

  • Burning Man NYC

    Burning Man may appear to have little to do with New York City. And for most residents, that is true. However, Burning Man has become something that transcends the time and space of the event itself. There are many regional local events worldwide that are similar to Burning Man, some officially affiliated with the Burning Man organization. Not promoted publicly, there are frequent meetings and performances of burners even in the boroughs of New York City, including Manhattan. I have attended a number of them. From BurningMan.org:

    The impact of the Burning Man experience has been so profound that a culture has formed around it. This culture pushes the limits of Burning Man and has led to people banding together nation-wide, and putting on their own events, in attempt to rekindle that magic feeling that only being part of this community can provide.

    Burning Man, begun in 1986, is a week-long event held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  It runs from the last Monday in August to Labor Day. A temporary city, Black Rock City, is created for the event, replete with streets and avenues formed in a semicircular arc. A wooden effigy, The Man, is located at the city’s center, where it is burned on Saturday night. The word city is not used metaphorically – over 50,000 people attend.

    Through my customer base, I know many individuals who have participated in Burning Man over the years. This year, however, is the first time someone working in my company is attending. Natalie was hired one year ago to assist us in product development, retail sales, and social networking in the areas of hooping, flow arts, and fire burning. Apart from online sales, customers come to our retail space daily in SoHo. Those on the juggling side are typically handled by Kyle Petersen, professional juggler and unicyclist, and those in the movement arts are handled by Natalie.

    All the things that I have heard and seen confirm that the bar for creativity is set high at Burning Man and that the event is nothing less than extraordinary.  This could be seen in the thinking, efforts, and advanced preparation by Natalie in my office weeks in advance. She left this morning for the opening of the event on Monday.

    There are villages and theme camps at the event which are substantial creative endeavors. A documentary filmmaker once told me that he has never seen such a display of creative efforts anywhere. Other personal accounts and photography confirm the superlatives.

    For those interested in attending in the future, please know that conditions are harsh. Conditions on the desert playa (a prehistoric lake) are extreme – dust storms, high winds, rain, and temperatures which have exceeded 100 degrees during the day and lows near freezing at night. This explains the perplexing, disparate range of Natalie’s gear – goggles, face masks, water bottles, and a fur coat. There are limited facilities, nothing is sold, and desert camping is the norm. This is a survivalist’s arena, although there are increasing numbers who attend in RVs with the comforts of home.

    Burning Man can be described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. The organization’s Ten Principles are a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation and Immediacy.

    We all look forward to Natalie’s return and a firsthand account of the event. Until then, the spirit of Burning Man lives here and there in the hidden corners and reaches of New York City :)

    Photo Note: That’s Bex Burton in the lower left, admiring Natalie’s fur coat. Bex was the subject of a previous story, “The Women.”

  • The Tower

    This September marks 12 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Not surprisingly, the building of the new tower is substantially behind schedule and over budget. I recently made a visit by foot, the first in many years, to catch a glimpse of the work in progress. I cannot speak to the need of such a project – everything about the tower complex is and has been highly controversial. However, I did like the clean, sleek, faceted design.

    One World Trade Center (also 1 World Trade Center or 1 WTC, formerly known as the Freedom Tower) is the primary building of the new World Trade Center complex in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. The 104-story supertall skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the 16-acre World Trade Center site, occupying the former location of the original 6 World Trade Center. The building is bordered to the west by West Street, to the north by Vesey Street, to the south by Fulton Street, and to the east by Washington Street. Construction on below-ground utility relocations, footings, and foundations for the building began on April 27, 2006.[11] On March 30, 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed that the building would be known by its legal name, One World Trade Center, rather than the colloquial name, Freedom Tower.

    The tower’s steel structure topped out on August 30, 2012. On May 10, 2013, the final component of the skyscraper’s spire was installed, making One World Trade Center the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest building in the world by pinnacle height. Its spire reaches a symbolic height of 1,776 feet in reference to the year of the United States Declaration of Independence. It has been the tallest building in New York City since April 30, 2012, when it surpassed the height of the Empire State Building. The new World Trade Center complex will also feature three other high-rise office buildings, located along Greenwich Street, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, located just south of One World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers once stood. The construction is part of an effort to memorialize and rebuild following the destruction of the original World Trade Center complex during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

    One World Trade Center’s top floor will be designated as 105. The building will have 86 usable above-ground floors, of which 78 will be assigned as office space (approximately 2,600,000 square feet. The base will occupy floors 1–19, including a 65-ft-high public lobby. The office stories will begin at floor 20, and run through floor 63. There will be a sky lobby on floor 64, and then office floors will resume between floors 65–90. Meanwhile, floors 91–99 and 103–105 will be designated as mechanical space. The design also includes a three-story observation deck located on floors 100–102, as well as broadcast and antenna facilities, all supported by both above- and below-ground mechanical infrastructure for the building and its adjacent public spaces. Below-ground tenant parking and storage, shopping, and access to the PATH and subway trains and the World Financial Center are also provided. There will be approximately 55,000 square feet of below-ground retail space. A plan to build a restaurant near the top of the tower, similar to the original World Trade Center’s Windows on the World, was abandoned as logistically impractical. The window-washing tracks are located on a 16-square-foot area which will be denoted as floor 110, in a symbolic reference to the 110 stories of the original Twin Towers.

    The design was originally awarded to Daniel Liebskind in 2002. Most of Libeskind’s ideas were discarded and David Childs, one of the center’s developer Silverstein’s favorite architects, revised the original plans and became the project architect.

    From the 20th floor upwards, the square edges of the tower’s cubic base are chamfered back, transforming the building’s shape into eight tall isosceles triangles, or an elongated square antiprism. Near its middle, the tower forms a perfect octagon in-plan, and then culminates in a glass parapet whose shape is a square oriented 45 degrees from the base. A 408-foot sculpted mast containing the broadcasting antenna is secured by a system of cables, and rises from a circular support ring which will contain additional broadcasting and maintenance equipment. At night, an intense beam of light will be projected above the spire, being visible over 1,000 feet into the air above The Tower.

    Related Posts: Dead Man Gawking, Hope Springs Eternal, Vows of Remembrance, It Behooves One, Post-9/11 World, Ground Zero, 911

  • They’ll Go Broke

    My mother had called very alarmed that a member of our extended family would go broke. He had been on a shopping spree. She accused him of being reckless with his money – he had purchased Calvin Klein sheets for his entire house. She did not understand the math behind the assets of the extremely wealthy. I went over some numbers with her and estimated the monthly return on the money that I guessed he might have. I showed her how he could likely buy a new house every few months with interest alone. In awe, she repeated this information to my father. However, she then just went on to show concern that this family member might still go broke.
    More recently, an incident echoed the same type of lunacy. A friend told me of a mutual friend’s concern that she was witnessing a myriad of NYU students charging every manner of food or small purchase and that surely they’ll go broke. This was more ludicrous than my mother’s comment since this woman was college educated and surely should understand the underlying economics. NYU now costs a small fortune and parents are typically funding educations and giving their children credit cards for everyday expenses. How are even hundreds of $5 coffees going to break the bank of a family spending $40,000 per year for tuition alone? They’ll go broke has become a private joke with the friend who told me this tale.

    New York City is awash in money, so much so that it befuddles the mind of the average wage earner. There are people who seemingly have access to an endless fountain of money. For them, the cost of things is completely irrelevant. Budget is not part of their vocabulary. Purchasing decisions are only based on what they want, not what they can afford. Even in a poor economy, expensive restaurants are packed.

    There is no better example of the wealth of city residents than Manhattan real estate. In July 2012, an apartment went on the market in Manhattan that had the highest asking price in history – $100 million. A townhouse here typically fetches at least $10 million. A two-bedroom apartment can run $2 million plus.
    Tuesday night I was strolling only a few blocks from my home in NoHo on the cobbled Bond Street when I discovered an very imposing building with an extremely ornate skeletal front. It was the ultimate in gleaming glitz with an enormous door. I noted the address – 40 Bond Street.

    The developer was no other than the legendary Ian Schrager, co-founder of Studio 54. Schrager lives in the property itself in a penthouse valued at least $50 million. Everything about the condo development with its signature Coke bottle-green glass exterior screams luxury – 11-foot ceilings, dual gas and wood-burning fireplaces, wide plank oak floors, top of the line everything, and concierge services provided by the Gramercy Park Hotel on 24-hour call.
    A cast aluminum gate – 140 feet long by 22 feet high – is graffiti-inspired. Apart from the 27 loft-style apartments, the building has five, three-story townhouses with 22-foot-high living rooms, front yards behind the gate along, and private gardens at the rear of the building. The 11-story property was designed by the renowned architectural firm and Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron in their first ever project in New York City. Opinions vary dramatically, as would be expected. Everything from positives to expletives. A block resident since 1958 called it “Frank Lloyd Wrong.”

    All this conspicuous consumption, flagrant displays of wealth, ostentatious trappings, and arrogance that often accompanies the rich New Yorker is what gives many a distaste for this city and everything and everyone in it.  An understandable feeling that in New York, it’s all about money. For these, there will be little concern whether the residents of 40 Bond Street are living within their means or They’ll Go Broke :)

  • The Special is More Special

    One of the special things about New York City is its architecture – a visual treat, particularly in a young nation defined largely by suburban sprawl. Wonders abound in the city, however, since 9/11, security has become much tighter, and buildings with extraordinary interiors, such as the Woolworth Building, are often, sadly, off-limits to the visitor. Sometimes, events are held in such a space or the building serves a public function, affording the attendee with a special treat – seeing the interior while going about one’s business. Places like Grand Central Station or the New York Public Library, both of which are worthy of a visit just for admiring the architecture.

    On October 20, 2010, I wrote Brooklyn’s Got Magic about the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place (and its conversion in 2008 to luxury condominium apartments). It is one of the borough’s architectural icons and can be seen from afar. I have used it as a landmark for as long as I have lived in New York. It was once the tallest building in the borough – 37 stories and 512 feet tall. The clock faces, 17 feet in diameter, were the world’s largest when they were installed and remain among the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world.

    Although the structure itself and exterior warrants accolades and superlatives, it is the interior that really shines. And, remarkably, until a week ago, I had never been inside. While in Brooklyn, a friend suggested that we drop in to visit the Brooklyn Flea Market, which has occupied the lobby of the building for the last few years. I was astounded. Apart from perusing the merchandise, attending the market affords a rare glimpse of an amazing interior space. Everyone is aglow at the opportunity to visit. Here is what the New York Times had to say:

    One of the great urban experiences New York offered this winter was the Brooklyn Flea in exile. When the weather turned cold, the market moved indoors to One Hanson Place, bringing along its motley host of antiques dealers, artists, designers, vintage-workboot purveyors and–let’s get to the point here–food vendors.
    One Hanson Place is an almost deliriously lavish setting for a flea market. Shoppers trying on old Borsalinos and inspecting new art prints huddle beneath spectacularly rich mosaic ceilings in a crazy, echt-New-York mishmash of Byzantine, Romanesque, Art Deco and who knows what else. … The food now is found downstairs in the vaults, behind the kind of enormous heavy doors banks had when robbers still stole things like cash and bars of gold.

    Who knows the accessibility of such a space in the future? The savvy visitor or resident who loves architecture will put places like this on their must-see list because now, more than ever, The Special is More Special.

  • Hope Springs Eternal

    One World Trade Center, 9/11/2012

  • The Caryatids

    There is much sensory input at street level in New York City that it is easy to miss those things which are above ground. Look up and you can explore the architecture so often overlooked by visitors and residents alike.

    Here, at 91 Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, is a commercial loft building built in 1894 and designed by Louis Korn. At the sixth floor level are six caryatids under four Corinthian columns and two matching pilasters. A caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support, taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.

    I have been by this property hundreds if not thousands of times, but it took only a friend to point it out on a stroll down lower 5th Avenue. I saw this set of caryatids as a metaphor for the burdens that women have shared in many ways – women’s rights, the glass ceiling, misogyny, women’s right to vote, their role as social enablers, and physical burdens, like the entablatures of The Caryatids

    Related Posts: I Know, I’ve Got a Feeling, Gargoyles, Cybele

  • A Narrow Path

    Many years ago, I became entangled in an argument regarding aspects of Christianity with a cousin and his wife in my family’s home in Connecticut. It was Christmas time, and I felt particularly bad to have gotten into a heated debate with family about their faith. I learned that they were born-again Christians. At one point, I expressed my dismay and told them that I was very sorry. However, they said that they were not upset at all but that, to the contrary, they valued the opportunity to defend their faith and that debates of this nature only made them more resolute in their beliefs.

    I only recall one small part of that evening’s conversation – a point where, after a litany of their dos and don’ts, I said to them that following their road appeared to me to be an absurdly narrow path, virtually unwalkable. They were pleased by this comment and concurred, telling me that Christ said exactly that in Matthew 7:13-14 :

    Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

    This passage was unbeknownst to me at the time and certainly gave me cause for reflection. After millennia of debate, argument, and discussion, well-schooled Christians, like others who are serious about their faith, are well-armed with answers to the myriad of objections and issues with biblical matters. Religious doctrine is not so easily dismissed as dogma of the unthinking masses.

    In 2010, I made a trip through historic Richmond Town in Staten Island. The area is replete with beautiful antique structures in bucolic settings. I featured a number of postings on Staten Island and decided to leave the images of The Church of St. Andrew for a later time. Today I discovered the images in my archives of this 300-year-old church in the Richmond Town section of Staten Island.

    The Church of Saint Andrew was founded in 1708 and chartered by Queen Anne in 1713. The Church  served as a hospital and headquarters for the British soldiers as the New Colonies fought for their freedom. The Rev. Richard Charlton served as the Rector of Saint Andrew’s during this time. He was the maternal grandfather of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, who was the first canonized American Saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Along with her grandparents; her father, brother and sister are buried in our historic cemetery. The Rev. Samuel Seabury was called to be the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church while he was serving as Rector of the Church of Saint Andrew from 1777 until 1780.

    I toured the church property. Everything conspired to persuade me that my cousins were right; as I navigated the sidewalks and walked between the headstones of the departed, indeed it did appear that good things lay along a narrow path :)

    Related Posts: Not Under the Gowanus (Part 1, Part 2, and Sorry About That), Green-Wood, Everything Yes, Veneer of Their Lives, Cold Stone, Little Church Around the Corner, St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery

  • Only Silver

    My best friend was very excited and asked if I had a small glass jar. When I asked why, he said that a number of conveyer systems had been thrown out behind the local supermarket and there were mercury switches in them. “So what?” I responded. He said that this was a rare window of opportunity to collect mercury. By breaking the glass vials in the switches, he was able to collect a substantial amount of mercury. He appeared to have been more interested in the adventure than the goods, and he gave me the entire jar. And so this is how, as a young boy, I came to own a jar of pure elemental mercury.

    Playing with it always produced wonderment to observe the unique properties of a silvery metal which was liquid at room temperature. I would marvel at the effect the mercury would have while rubbing it on a coin. The jar was left behind when I left my family’s home, and sadly, I believe it was discarded long ago.

    Perhaps not so sad, since I later learned that playing with mercury is not the most prudent past time. Silver would be a much better candidate for elemental curiosity, and later as a young adult, I became intrigued with silver – here was a precious metal that was affordable and attainable, and although it was not as much fun as mercury, it was at least non-toxic. Unlike gold or platinum, a person of ordinary means could obtain large chunks of it. It is inexpensive enough that it can be used in pure form to fabricate items of jewelry and other commodities.

    It has many unique properties and has served as a storehouse of value as currency, dating to 700 BC by the Lydians. Like gold, it has positive connotations, and applying a label of silver to anything, such as the word cream, implies great things. The reflective properties of silver also makes the word synonymous with glitter, glitz, sparkle, shine, and shimmer. So, what better word to use in the name of a skyscraper in New York City?

    The day I discovered the buildings in today’s photo, they were glimmering in the light of sunset with a look of metallic gleam, like the mercury of my youth and the silver of my adulthood. However, the photo was taken some time ago at quite some distance with no thought of their precise location or future use – until today, when I became enamored of their silvery sheen and wanted to identify them for use.

    I often have taken photos of buildings where the subject must be identified at a later time. Fortunately, using online resources – mapping, street views, satellite views, image searches, etc., one can usually positively identify any building in New York City. However, this may require more or less time depending on how distinct its character is, the photo, other nearby structures, and a myriad of other factors.

    Today’s quest was easy. Here, the first impression that came to mind was silvery towers, and a search for “silver towers” in New York City. It immediately returned images of the buildings in question, conveniently and appropriately named Silver Towers.

    I learned that these buildings were in planning for an extraordinarily long time. The property, developed by the appropriately named Larry Silverstein, took 25 years to bring to fruition. You can read more about them here. But what I really wonder about is if Larry ever played with mercury, or was it Only Silver :)

    Related Posts: ‘Tis a Sight to Behold, Buy Magnesium, Dot My I, New York Rockies, Where Sleeping Giants Lie, One Fifth Avenue

  • Three-Toed Smoth

    The elephant looms large in the lives and minds of children. After all, children do naturally gravitate to the big, and what suits that better the world’s largest living land animal? Here, at Union Square, we have Gran Elefandret by renowned artist Miquel Barceló.* I’m sure many a child and parent have been enjoying Barcelo’s 26-foot sculpture.

    Marlborough Gallery is pleased to announce that the monumental sculpture Gran Elefandret, 2008, by renowned artist Miquel Barceló will be on view at the Union Square Triangle beginning September 13, 2011 through the end of May 2012. It is with great pleasure
    that the Gallery brings this monumental bronze sculpture to Union Square, a place that epitomizes New York’s unrivaled energy and serves as both a transportation and cultural bridge between uptown and downtown Manhattan. Barcelo’s immense Gran Elefandret, balances upright on its trunk, its four massive legs outspread searching for equilibrium. At twenty-six feet tall the sculpture brilliantly portrays an extraordinary, if not impossible physical and cultural feat; this contemporary monument believably captures with humor, scale and Spanish courage the essence of what a public monument can be today.

    To further communicate the gravity-defying feat beyond the surprisingly slim trunk and large body, Barceló imparts the mass and weight of the creature through the downward sag of the heavily wrinkled skin, the off-kilter positioning of the huge legs, and the complete overturning of the floppy ears. The highly textured surface of the elephant recalls the artist’s tactile paintings, in which he creates rich topographic, sculpted surfaces on canvas.

    I never had children, but I do love them. Not having them, many things are a novelty to me, like the spongelike absorption often found when children are exposed to new things. One of my most memorable examples of this behavior was subsequent to a class trip made to my business – see Little Burnt Out.

    I once made an acquaintance of a very learned and educated couple whose children had a frightening knowledge of things that I, as a child, barely had a cursory knowledge of. I recall going through a book of dinosaurs with one of their children, who was able to identify every one by name. At the time, I had read an article on the three-toed sloth and was fascinated by many of the facts surrounding this remarkable animal, such as its odorless nature and the extraordinary length of time it actually requires to make a journey down a tree, truly befitting its name being used as a metaphor for the slow.

    As the child attempted to elaborate on her knowledge of dinosaurs, I endeavored to communicate my newfound enthusiasm for the sloth. She appeared uninterested; I was not making an impression. Or so I thought.

    Some weeks later, a friend was on the phone with the mother of the child. At one point, she told me that someone had something to tell me. When I took the phone, the young girl whom I had met was on the other end. I don’t recall the conversation exactly, except that she was quite intent on telling me of her new found interest in the Three-Toed Smoth :)

    *Miquel Barceló was born in Mallorca in 1957. After studying briefly at the Arts and Crafts School of Palma and the Fine Arts School of Barcelona, he became involved with the conceptualist group Taller Llunátic, which opposed the stagnation of both the socio-political climate of Spain during the late 1970’s and the “official” art scene. Originally focusing on painting, Barceló worked at first in a non- representational style, influenced by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Cy Twombly. As his career progressed, he began to integrate figurative elements in his paintings, and started creating sculptures in both ceramics and bronze. The artist collaborates with the Fundación Vicente Ferrer and the Eyes of the World Foundation and participates in projects for Sahrawi refugee camps. He divides his time between Paris, Mallorca, and Mali.

    Related Posts: Kids, Childhood’s End, Bronx Zoo

  • Fountains

    Depending on who’s counting, the Palace of Versailles has more than 1,400 fountains. Due to the enormous amount of water required to fuel them, they are turned on infrequently. Even at the time of Louis XIV, the water supply was inadequate to run all of the fountains at once. There was even talk of diverting the River Eure to supply water to the fountains.

    Sunday afternoons from April through October, there is the Grandes Eaux, a musical fountain show in the gardens to the accompaniment of recorded music. Although I have been to Versailles twice, I was not fortunate enough to experience the spectacle. Paris has 350 fountains; to a visitor from the United States, they seem to be at every turn and virtually are.

    New York City has a much less lavish feel to it, as observed by one of my Swedish clients, which I wrote about in Very Practical. Fountains will never be a priority here, although it certainly was for George Vellonakis, architect for the redesign of Washington Square Park. Upon reconstruction, the central fountain was moved to be centered with the Washington Square Arch as viewed coming down Fifth Avenue. George was virtually crucified for this, the cost of which was often misrepresented since the fountain needed to be dug up for plumbing work anyway, with the additional cost of moving being incidental.

    But to me, the entire fiasco and controversy is just indicative of the fixation of Americans on the bottom line, even if at the cost of aesthetics or the occasional jubilant indulgence.
    As I wrote in Let’s Have a Parade, in the light of hardship, it often is hard to justify celebration. After all, there is always a better place to spend money.

    We do not have a large number of fountains in New York City, but there are a handful. Conservatory Garden, the fountain and the gilded statue of Prometheus in the sunken plaza of Rockefeller, the fountain cascade at Rockefeller Center, the fountain at Columbus Circle, the Pulitzer Fountain at 59th and Fifth Avenue, Angel of the Waters Fountain at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, Temperance Fountain, Tompkins Square Park, James Fountain at Union Square Park, City Hall Park Fountain, and Washington Square Park.

    Here, at Father Demo Square at the intersection of Carmine Street, Bleecker Street, and Sixth Avenue, is a tiny park with a beautiful charcoal gray stone fountain as centerpiece. The park completed a renovation in 2007 and is an ideal resting spot located in one of the most intensely trafficked areas of New York City, surrounded by a plethora of restaurants and shops. It’s ideal for people watching, a rest after dinner, or a place to eat a snack. Or, for those inclined to indulge, enjoy one of New York City’s very few fountains :)

  • ‘Tis a Sight to Behold

    I have made another secret discovery.

    You could easily find millions of New Yorkers who have no idea that this spectacular structure at 8 Spruce Street exists or that it is the tallest residential structure in the Western Hemisphere. I would be included in that group. However, as I approached the building, I began to recall the media attention surrounding this highly applauded residential tower, formerly the Beekman Tower and currently known as New York by Gehry, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

    I made this secret discovery on a foggy Sunday evening while cruising lower Manhattan – one does not have to look hard to find a 76-story, 867-foot building. A foggy, stormy night is a great time for observing New York City’s skyscrapers. With their heads in the clouds, these towers provide all of the ambiance and drama of Batman’s Gotham city.

    New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called it “the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building went up 46 years ago.” New Yorker magazine’s Paul Goldberger described it as “one of the most beautiful towers downtown.” Goldberger compared Gehry’s tower to the nearby Woolworth Building, completed in 1913, and said that “it is the first thing built downtown since then that actually deserves to stand beside it.” These are extraordinary accolades from New York City’s premier architecture critics who are hard to please and prone to dissect and crucify. But the accolades are justified.

    I circumnavigated it at nearby street level. However, I highly recommend seeing this tower from various vantage points, since one of the primary distinctions about this structure is its changing form when viewed from different perspectives. From the New York Times:

    … once you see the tower in the skyline, a view that seems to lift Lower Manhattan out of its decade-long gloom. The building is particularly mesmerizing from the Brooklyn waterfront, where it’s possible to make out one of the deep setbacks that give the building its reassuringly old-fashioned feel. In daylight the furrowed surfaces of the facades look as if they’ve been etched by rivulets of water, an effect that is all the more dramatic next to the clunky 1980s glass towers just to the south. Closer up, from City Hall Park, the same ripples look softer, like crumpled fabric.

    The building’s exterior is made up of 10,500 individual steel panels, almost all of them different shapes, so that as you move around it, its shape is constantly changing. And by using the same kind of computer modeling that he used for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, more than a decade ago, he was able to achieve this quality at a close to negligible increase in cost.
    But Mr. Gehry is also making a statement. The building’s endlessly shifting surfaces are an attack against the kind of corporate standardization so evident in the buildings to the south and the conformity that it embodied.

    ‘Tis a sight to behold :)

    Other buildings and skyscrapers: New York Rockies, I’ve Got a Feeling, Where Sleeping Giants LieAll of These Pleasures, Color of Money, Trump Soho, Beacon of Hope, Towers, Pan Am Building, Crisis at Citicorp, Hearst Tower, Trumped Again, Time Warner Center

  • Serenity, Tranquility, Peace

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Although technically in the borough of Manhattan, I have always felt it was almost a little undeserving for any New York borough to take claim to something so special as the Cloisters – it is located at the northernmost end of the island, as far as one can get from Uptown, Midtown, Downtown or any other area of that one would typically associate with New York City. Apart from the small number of residents in Washington Heights/Inwood, this area is really a destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

    The Cloisters is a museum of medieval art and architecture, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Everyone loves this extraordinary complex – it’s a close as you are going to get to genuine French architecture in the city. Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, described the Cloisters as “the crowning achievement of American museology.”

    The museum buildings were designed by Charles Collens and constructed from elements salvaged from five cloistered abbeys in France: Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville. The sections used were disassembled brick-by-brick, shipped to New York City and reassembled between 1934 and 1938. From the Cloisters website:

    Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art, such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from the ninth to the sixteenth century, are exhibited in this unique and sympathetic context.

    Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters is a world apart from the glitter, glamour, hustle bustle and frenetic energy of the city. For most New Yorkers, Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters is a country getaway, a mini vacation. Visit the Cloisters if you want a small vacation from the city and Serenity, Tranquility and Peace :)

    Related Posts: Down to the Cellular Level, Le Petit Chambord, Fire and Ice, Affront to Dignity, Paraiso, Steps From Paradise, Belvedere Castle, Devil’s Playground

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Stopped In My Tracks

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    In New York City, vagaries define the special. There is nothing more appealing than the lack of specific information or the secret. We just love “there’s this guy” or “there’s this place” with a lack of precise information as to where. Particularly in our current time, nothing is more unappealing to a New Yorker than a place that is part of a national brand or regional chain and has been marketed and branded to death.

    No one wants what everyone else has or wants to shop at places everyone knows about. This is at the heart of “being the best,” an obsession in New York City. How can something be one of New York’s best if it is part of a national franchise? Street cred for a business has to start with a minimum requirement of existing only in New York. The problem, however, is that unique places and services are fast disappearing. In the span of this website’s existence, many iconic places I have written about have gone out of business.

    I have even experienced a holding back of information, as if to be worthy of the knowledge, one must venture forth and ferret out a person or place’s whereabouts on one’s own. No pain, no gain. This holding back is often justified in that overexposure may ruin a business’s character. Although this may be true, I think the real motive stems more from selfishness – those desiring the special want if for themselves. After all, how special can it be if everyone knows about it?

    The shoe shiner is a perfect candidate for the New Yorker’s lust for “there’s this guy.” By their nature, those involved in the business are sole operators and are often transient. In New York City, one should never underestimate the potential of any activity if done by an astute, aggressive, streetwise individual that can promote him or herself. Transient does not equal unsuccessful. Don Ward is a good example (not the man in today’s photo). Located at 47th Street and 6th Avenue, Don has been shining shoes for over 20 years. He does an average of 50 customers per day at $5 per shine plus tips. This man has interesting insights*, aggressive solicitation and clever patter. He is quite the character and a bit of a celebrity, reminiscent of the Gentlemen Peeler (see my story here).

    I have never felt comfortable with shoe shining. Although it is, perhaps, no worse than someone doing your laundry, shining shoes seems so transparently servile, too close to kissing someone’s feet. Perhaps it is my French ancestry rearing its head. In an article from the New York Times in 2008, The Politics of the Shoe Shine, Roger Cohen writes:

    Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of societies: those where you can get a shoe shine and those where you can’t. France falls into the latter category. Search Paris high and low for a seat to kick back and se faire cirer les bottes: you’ll search in vain. There’s something about the idea of having someone stooped at the feet of a client applying polish to his or her boots that rubs the Gallic egalitarian spirit the wrong way. It’s just not what 1789 was about.

    In the United States, of course, it’s a different story. Unlike humor, which is in short supply, or banned, a shoe shine is freely available at U.S. airports. Walk a few Manhattan or Chicago blocks and someone will be there to make your shoes gleam. There’s something about having someone applying polish to a blithe client’s boots that comforts American notions of free enterprise, make-a-buck opportunism, and the survival of the fittest.

    Nonetheless, on my way to the Metro-North train on Saturday, I could not help but be stunned by what I saw entering Grand Central Terminal. It was like a still frame from an old film set in New York City. Everything was perfect – two men alone on a quiet morning, the customer reading a paper while the shiner plied his trade, both basking in the yellow-orange sunlight streaming in. The whole scene gave me chills. Like the train that awaited me on track 24, I was Stopped In My Tracks

    *From Don: “Ninety-nine percent of the time, women will look at your shoes and immediately dismiss you if they’re below standard. If you can’t keep your shoes looking decent, you can’t do anything else.” “If you can’t take care of this one small detail, I’d hate to see your living conditions.”

    Related Posts: One Size Too Small, Urban Road Warrior, Very Resilient, Entombed, Uggly or Not, Mania, Just Passing Through, Camper, Grand Central

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Uptown

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    The territory north of 14th Street truly is a world apart. There is much behind the downtown mantra, I never go north of 14th Street. There is a stoic pride and conviction that virtually anything one needs can be found downtown and it is not far from the truth.

    I cannot speak for other downtown residents, but I go north for specific purposes and so infrequently that going uptown is like a small vacation. I literally feel like a tourist. I walk a neighborhood, often craning my neck and standing in wonderment at the massive stone, steel and glass edifices built on the island’s bedrock of Manhattan schist.

    The advent of the Internet had greatly facilitated price shopping for most products and services, including New York City hotels. Since that time, my family has been able to snag deals at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which has become their residence of choice when visiting the city. I enjoy traveling and visiting the hotel during their occasional stays.

    Next door to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel is the General Electric Building. The building is sometimes referred to as 570 Lexington Avenue to avoid confusion with the GE Building built later at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The 50-story, 640 foot Art Deco masterpiece was designed in 1931 by John W. Cross of Cross and Cross. Unable to lease the building profitably, in 1993, GE donated the building to Columbia University, gaining a $40 million tax deduction. Find more on the building here.

    The base contains elaborate masonry, figural sculpture. On the corner above the main entrance, a conspicuous corner clock with the curvy GE logo and a pair of silver disembodied forearms. On August 25, 2006, I featured the lobby of the building – you can see it here.
    Christopher Gray of the New York Times describes the building as a “suave fantasy of polished marble and modern metals.”

    Its signature crown of lacy radio-wave figures is a well-known midtown landmark, but the decoration of the lower floors is just as startling. Here a shrouded mechanistic figure huddles in a modernistic cloister, there an armored fist grabs an electric bolt. The entire facade is of a lightly variegated orange brick, which plays to St. Bartholomew’s Church next to it on the Park Avenue corner.
    See my photos of the church here.

    When I visit the area, I am never able to resist stepping into Mr. K’s restaurant, an upscale Chinese establishment located at 570 Lex. The plush banquette seating, the lush art deco interior, soft lighting all seem so befitting of the building it is in. For a little vacation, I just take the 6 train. Uptown.

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    Posted on by Brian Dubé

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