Recently in Architecture Category

Thanks to Bowery Boogie for posting this today. It's the life cycle of a single block on Eldridge, between Rivington and Stanton:

See a slower version here, which will also allow you to progress one year at a time or to click on individual buildings for more info. The artist, a Seattle-based web designer and writer named Zac van Schouwen, explains the project's origins:

Awhile back, I was trying to find out the history of a building that my great-great-grandfather had lived in -- an old five-story tenement on Eldridge Street in Manhattan. With some help from Christopher Gray's guide to researching New York City buildings, I discovered that the building had been erected in 1834, on the site of an old house. It was demolished in the 1940s; its lot later held a garage, then a housing project.

My mystery was solved, but the project had piqued my interest anyway. I decided to try a more mammoth task, compiling a complete record of the life cycle of a single city block. That's what I've presented here. Beginning in the 1780s with James Delancey's farm, and ending with the present public housing structures, erected in 1985, this is a record of eight generations of buildings on two-thirds of an acre. (There is a brief gap from about 1802 to 1808, during which I've made educated guesses as to the state of construction.)

Clicking on any building here will give you more details about its history. The tenement that sparked this interest, #218, is a good place to start. My great-great-grandfather lived there in 1860. Keep an eye on it in 1922. Enjoy!

My favorite part is the fire-escapes that pop up in the early twentieth century. 1978 is the saddest year of all.

Skyscraper networking

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
Over the last few weeks I've been snapping photos of Frank Gehry's Woolworth-blocking Beekman Tower from various vantage points. As the final floors go up it's clear just how dramatically the building will dominate the downtown skyline. From all sides it seems omni-present -- it's much more centrally situated than the Twin Towers were, if not nearly so tall. Downtown it seems to pop up everywhere, looming over every intersection. Here's what it will look like when it's done:

2369_Beekman 3 main.jpg

I'll post my photos later. For now I wanted the excuse to link something our sometime commenter, The Modesto Kid, sent me a while back. It's a piece from the Architectural League of New York's blog, Urban Omnibus, about a sort-of social networking site called STACKD,

a new site that helps people in Manhattan office buildings get in touch - for business or beers. In so doing, his project connects such themes as excess capacity, the spatial and local implications of social media and the singular opportunities presented by Manhattan's built environment. What's more, STACKD just might provide a powerful tool for architects, planners, developers and even management consultants to interpret how we use space and how we can use it more flexibly and more efficiently.
STACKD's developer explains some of its aims:

Clearly, resource sharing requires an open attitude and the desire to change established conventions. However, with coworking communities emerging throughout New York City, sharing resources between multiple floors may not be far behind. As we continue to work on STACKD and as it expands to other buildings, perhaps it can play a role in making the city and its use of space more legible. Architectural typologies could adapt to contemporary needs and business cycles. The first step is seeing what is happening. One of the biggest challenges with large amounts of information is making sense of it all. As visual creatures, we're equipped with sophisticated interpretative capabilities that yield insights at a glance far more readily than confronted with purely quantitative information. With the right interface and mapping capabilities we could gain a more fine-grained understanding of what kinds of activities are performed in what parts of the city.
The ostensible agenda is to keep resource networking as local and efficient as possible. A worthy end, to be sure. One wonders, will social networking sites for residential towers like Gehry's (which will house almost 1000 units in its soaring 76 stories) be far behind, a possible way to ameliorate the anonymity -- even the suburbanization -- of life so far removed from the streets?

Image from

Via NYDP, the scoop on Alchemist's Corner, a little rooftop cottage temporarily visible above the corner of 4th St. and MacDougal:


Writes NYDP's Brian Dubé :

The small house is on the roof of 132 West 4th Street. The exquisite Greek Revival rowhouse was built in 1839 and was renovated in 1917 by Josephine Wright Chapman, one of the first successful women architects in America. The exterior was left largely intact, with the addition of casement windows to the parlor floor and a sloped studio window to the attic level, where in the same year, actor John Barrymore rented an apartment.
The playwright Paul Rudnick rented the apartment in the late 80s and later wrote about it in the New Yorker:

Barrymore had taken up residence in 1917, just before he began performing his legendary Hamlet uptown. His film career at that point was limited to locally shot silent movies, including an early take on "Moby-Dick," which may have been the source of the ship's wheel. Barrymore had remodelled the apartment as a Gothic retreat, christening it the Alchemist's Corner. He had installed all the false beams, monastery-inspired ironwork, and stained glass, which made his lair resemble a stage set for an Agatha Christie whodunnit in summer stock. The rooftop had been his masterpiece, and had at one time included a garden, with cedar trees, a slate walkway, and a reflecting pool. Tons of soil had to be hoisted up by pulley, and eventually caused a collapse into the rooms below. Of Barrymore's vision only the cottage remained; he'd likened it to a roost overlooking the spires of Paris.

Read the rest of Dubé's post here; Rudnick's piece here.

Apparently you need to catch the glimpse of Alchemist's Corner while you can get it; it seems the new NYU law building going up on the ruins of the Provincetown Playhouse will eclipse it.

Last spring I noted here that, from the Brooklyn side, the Woolworth Building would soon be eclipsed by Frank Gehry's rapidly rising, aluminum-clad Beekman Tower. Then things got a little tense when the economy bottomed out and rumors were afloat that the building would be capped at roughly half its projected 76-story height. It would have looked like a late-breaking, tin-foiled addition to Southbridge Towers, a sad little monument to the recession. And as much as I worried that the original design looked like something ready-made for the next Spidey sequel, I cringed at the thought of a little Manhattan twin for that nasty tin-foil building on the DUMBO side of the Manhattan Bridge.

But soon enough, the cranes got higher and floors started piling up once again, and the other morning on my bridge run I noticed that Woolworth had officially vanished as far as Brooklyn is concerned -- for the first time in almost a century.


Compare with this romantic 1927 image, a favorite of ours from the Czech painter T. F. Simon:


A small compensation, as I anticipated in my earlier post: For Bridge runners and other pedestrians heading to Manhattan (and maybe even for motorists), something surprising happens as you approach Pace University. Suddenly the grand old Woolworth pops out from behind the silver rocketship. I imagine this little game of peek-a-boo will be especially effective at night, when Woolworth looks its best.


Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of construction on Woolworth. It was completed in 1913. Check out this terrific Flickr set of the building going up, courtesy NYPL.

Walk This Way

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
The other day in the Union Square Barnes and Noble I skimmed a good portion of the architect and critic Michael Sorkin's new book, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. It's a quick read, but energetic and enjoyable -- a memoir of his morning commute from his West Village walk-up to his TriBeCa studio, seen through the detail-oriented eye of someone who knows how to read buildings and neighborhoods, day-by-day and decade-by-decade.

ArtForum recently published a quickie interview with Sorkin by the critic Brian Sholis (also available on Brian Sholis's personal blog, which I've long enjoyed). It begins this way:

The idea for the book came about fifteen years ago. Walks are contemplative times and spaces, and going over the same territory day after day gave me the opportunity to see things over the relatively longue durée: construction projects, seasonal activities, changes in commercial life, in culture, in the population. After dilating internally on the happy accidents produced by the city and on the quality of my immediate environment, I thought I'd begin to write about it. Not only did I want to do something a little bit popular, but also to bring together discourses that are normally segregated: formal, economic, sociological, political, quotidian. I wanted to show, for example, how the ratio of a stair riser has ramifications up to the organization of property and beyond. Twenty Minutes turned out to be frequently delayed; I probably completed half a dozen other books while writing this one. I was also gentrified out of my old studio midway, which changed my route. But the walks were comparable and in the same neighborhood. The only historical event that doesn't fully register in the pages of the book is 9/11, in part because I have dealt with it at length elsewhere.
"Elsewhere" would be here.

As a more personal postscript, I have to say: Brian Sholis has taste. In a post earlier this year he noted some high quality reading on his nightstand.

The High Line

| | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)


IMG_0380.JPGSometimes New York gets it right. In the middle of the rainiest, coldest, grayest June in the history of all Junes, a bright spot: The High Line Park, ten years in the planning, has opened to the public. You can literally rise above the city streets and walk an idyllically meandering path from Gansevoort Street to 20th street (eventually the park will extend to Penn Station).

So many people -- locals and tourists alike -- are delighted by this new park that, in true New York fashion, on opening weekend there was a line to get in. But last Monday afternoon, when I was there, I saw only handfuls of people walking along, all with the same half-smile on their faces, admiring the park planners' attention to detail, which Robin Pogrebin catalogs in her NY Times review.

The joy with which this park has been received suggests to me that New Yorkers are starved for public green space. It's true, as one blogger wrote, that the High Line winds through real estate that I will never in my life be able to afford, and also true that I couldn't afford the $1,000 ticket to the High Line benefit -- hell, I probably won't ever be able to afford to stay at the new hotel that straddles the park. But I can still sit on one of the wooden chaise longues (cleverly parked on rollers along the old rails) and stare out at the river, or lounge on the wooden "viewing platform"  that looks uptown along Tenth Avenue.

Many people have applauded this park as a testament to creative urban planning and persistence; it is surely that. But what if we also used it as a call to arms, to insist that our city planners turn their attention from high-rise glass boxes to creating public oases like the High Line? I mean, yes, plunking aluminum lawn chairs in the middle of Times Square is whimsical as hell, but is that really how we want to define "public space?"

timesquarechairs.jpgThe High Line proves that we can do much, much better -- let's hope it's not a fluke but instead the start of a trend.

Lego Guggenheim

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

One of the passions in our household is Lego. There are literally thousands and thousands of Lego pieces in our apartment jumbled together from the countless sets that we have bought since my older son first got interested in the bricks about five years ago. Each morning, we can count on the characteristic sound of Lego bricks being dumped out onto the floor by our younger son, who uses them to tell stories about spaceships and battles among pirates, trolls, and Jedi Knights. My older son can often be found assembling pieces into ever more elaborate spaceships, vehicles, and buildings. He has an amazing memory for the Lego inventory and often enlists my help to locate very particular pieces in order to execute one of his designs. Keeping it all organized is, shall we say, a challenge (one that we have yet, frankly, to meet).

Last year, in partnership with Adam Reed Tucker, a LEGO enthusiast and founder of Brickstructures, Lego created the Lego Architecture series last year, beginning with sets devoted to famous Chicago landmarks, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Canter.

This year is New York's turn. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum, Lego Archtecture and Tucker have collaborated on a model of the Guggenheim, which was released last May 15 in conjunction with the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward, which runs until August 23.

lego_arch_guggenheim.jpgThe set has a list price of $45 and is available at the Guggenheim exhibition or from the Brickstructures online store. A set featuring Wright's famous cantilevered waterfall-house, Fallingwater (located just outside Pittsburgh) will be available in August.

Oh yeah -- the exhibition looks pretty cool too. We'll report back after we've seen it.

Storied Buildings

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
From the Department of Lost Literary Landmarks ...

Bowery Boogie continues to report on the dramatic demolition of the historic Provincetown Playhouse. The site looks like an ancient ruin, and as BB notes, it's hard to pick out what's left among the rubble:


It's hard to know what to think about this situation. Apparently the facade of the first floor and the four interior walls of the original theater are the only thing to remain in the new structure, which from the outside will look much like the old building, with the addition of lots of south-facing windows and a penthouse situated on a sizable set-back. You've got to admit that occupants of south-side rooms will be happy for a little sunlight, but then again, there's a clear pattern of disregard for community sentiment that's no secret to folks in or out of the institution I work for, and plenty of people inside and out are unhappy about that fact.

poe.jpgCB2 helped get the concession from NYU to scale back the size of the new building and keep parts of the original structure. Landmarks had determined that the building had been altered too significantly in the last half century or so for the building to warrant historic preservation. It's true that the post-1940s renovation of the building was pretty horrendous: I always found it kind of sad that Off-Broadway's birthplace looked like a cheaply erected post-War elementary school. But I'm also not sure that token gestures toward preservation -- keeping parts of a facade and a few lousy bricks here and there -- are much better than wholescale redevelopment. (Actually, I take it back: I think the Poe House [right] is probably better than no house.)

I'm less equivocal about the loss of Frank O'Hara's longtime residence at 791 Broadway and the apparent lack out outcry on its behalf. Jeremiah brought it to my attention, and I don't really know of anyone else who's even bothered to notice its imminent doom.    

Beekman Capped?

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
Just one day after I posted my lament for Woolworth's eclipse, Curbed spent the day fielding, disseminating, and updating rumors that Gehry's Beekman Tower was going to be capped at its current height.

It's not clear yet what the full story is. Apparently a permit had been sought for a concrete "roof," which some tipsters interpreted as a signal that the tower had topped out early, but the Tribeca Trib is reporting that the permit was simply for the first of three planned setbacks (forming a terrace from which the building will continue its ascent).


I suppose time will tell, but I'm not sure which I feel worse about -- a garish 76-story silver rocketship, or one that gets cut off half way up, nipping in the bud Gehry's stab at the skyline, a permanent memorial not just to Bloomberg's developmania but to the recession.

P.S. Can we call a moratorium on the nickname FiDi for the Financial District? It sounds like a brand of dog food.

Woolworth Eclipsed

| | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (0)
For weeks I've been meaning to take a camera out on the Brooklyn Bridge and snap a couple shots of something I've noticed on my morning bridge runs: The Woolworth Building is gradually being eclipsed by Frank Gehry's new Beekman Tower. Soon Woolworth's gothic spire will be no longer visible from most spots on the Bridge, for the first time in its almost 100 years of existence.

See what I mean?

The eclipse effect gets worse as you approach:

DSC00648.jpgRight now the Beekman Tower is, I'm guessing, only about half as tall as it will eventually be. When completed, it will be the tallest building downtown, 76 stories encased in shimmery silver skin. One rendering looking west (note the dwarfed Woolworth):

2369_1_Beekman 1big.jpgAnd another looking south:

beekman.jpgIt's been a while since anything this dramatic -- building-wise, anyway -- happened to the lower Manhattan skyline. I can't help but feel a little sad for Woolworth, which has enjoyed renewed prominence in the downtown skyline since the Twin Towers, which overshadowed it for the last quarter of the last century, were destroyed.

Given that they roughly shared a birthdate (and were both enabled, probably, by the same advances in steel technology), I've always thought of Woolworth as the spiritual sibling of the Titanic.

If there's any silver lining (er, sorry) to this story, it's that once the new tower is completed, walkers crossing the Bridge toward Manhattan will reach a point, during the descent toward City Hall, at which Woolworth will spring out from behind the silver behemoth quite dramatically:

DSC00646.jpgMore on Woolworth, the "Cathedral of Commerce," here and here. More on Beekman Tower in this glowing Times preview and in Curbed's ongoing coverage.

Tag Cloud

Powered by Movable Type 4.32-en

Our New Book