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Misfits’ Guide to New York

Here’s some different things to check out next time you’re in New York or, if for those not that different, maybe a new way of looking at them.

Cherokee Apartments

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history cherokee

Cherokee 1

The building is organised as four courtyard blocks with stairwells naturally lit and ventilated. All apartments are double sided for better light and ventilation. All windows are large and have balconies, something still unusual for New York.

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    Inside, floors are concrete to prevent permanent carpeting. Rugs had to be removable for cleaning. The concrete floors curved up to the wall to eliminate corners where dust could settle. Radiators were mounted on the walls, so a broom could pass easily underneath.

At 550 sq.ft (51 sq.m) these are one-bedroom flats and not microflats in any sense of the word.

625 West 57th Street

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Yes, it’s taken shape. Definitely. Taken shape.

There’s no space left on site for materials storage. It looks like cladding and glazing panels get delivered to the elevator and stored on the staging platforms you can see below. Curiously, the tip of the building is still unclad and unglazed. Will cladding be installed from inside? Can it be? Or will gondolas be slung off the top? You have to admire the project managers on jobs like this.

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What I find curious is how we’re told the building the logical result of crossing a European perimeter block and an American tower. This is one of those things that sounds true the first time you hear it but perimeter blocks have more history in New York than towers.

The Dakota is from 1884, Riverside Buildings is a perimeter block from 1890. Besides, is the perimeter block even European?

In Moneymaking Machines #2, I went on about how the site was assembled and how the permissible envelope is where a south-facing wedge intersects a north-facing one. This would produce a pyramid and it annoys Durst to hear you call it that. Sure a tetrahedron has a base and three sides but a pyramid four. But why so touchy?

My guess is BIG and Durst are trying to draw our attention away from that rounded fourth corner that rushes to meet the maxxed-out retail space on the W57th corner. It screams of contrivance, like somebody said “Yes is More!” Besides, who wants to have their building nicknamed “The Pyramid”? Especially when the apartments facing W58th look like they’re going to be rather tomb-like anyway in terms of space and light.

Hotel Shelton

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The Shelton was planned as a “club hotel” – a residential hotel for men, with club features as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, billiard room, bowling alley, and, on the setbacks, rooftop gardens. The joys of living in such a hotel were detailed by a writer for Edison Monthly: “In a house of monumental beauty raised to the heights especially for you – if you are a bachelor – you will find all the comforts of a country home, and the luxuries and camaraderie of a university or great club always at your disposal and command.” The male athletes carved above the column capitals at the entrance symbolize this original use. This use as a residential hotel for men was not a success and soon after its completion the hotel became a more traditional residential and transient facility.

The hotel became a symbol of modernity as soon as it was completed, appearing in publications and inspiring people worldwide. Georgia O’Keefe was a fan. Between 1926 and 1928 she made several painting of it and views of New York from it.

Painter Hugh Ferris was inspired in 1922 before it was even completed.

In the late twenties, Czech architect Karel Teige understood its implications for new types of collective living, referring to it in his book The Minimum Dwelling.

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Let’s not forget the architect, Arthur Loomis Harmon. Harmon was based in Chicago but the huge success of the Hotel Shelton must have caused the New York firm of Shreve & Lamb to make him an offer for they were soon to become Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. If ever you’re asked who designed the Empire State Building, it was them.

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Rem Koolhaas does not mention the Hotel Shelton in Delirious New York despite it sharing a parent with The Empire State Building and being a programmatic precursor to the Downtown Athletic Club that he devoted a chapter to.

Grand  Central Terminal

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By the end of the 19th century, Grand Central Terminal had grown to be a large and lethal short-cut to pedestrian workers commuting east-west.

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William J. Wilgus was the chief engineer for the New York Central Railroad. He proposed having two levels of tracks to increase capacity but his more important idea was to deck over the tracks (which would be electrified) and to sell the space above for building. This was the world’s first instance of air rights.

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This next image shows why Park Avenue is unusually wide, and also the extent to which those air rights have been used. This required calculating the anticipated heights and weights of the buildings the piers would be expected to support. The construction of piers between functioning tracks to support new construction exceeding those predetermined limits is not something proposed or done lightly.

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The terminal building contains the largest public space in the city. It has many features and quirks, some of which are explained in this overview of its design and construction.

ships' rat guards and mock rats as ornamenting the main entrance canopy supports

ships’ rat guards and mock rats as ornament on the main entrance canopy supports

the cornice next to Cancer wasn't completely cleaned of accumulated tobacco smoke

a spot on the cornice next to Cancer wasn’t completely cleaned of accumulated tobacco smoke

The northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Grabber Building has some lesser known ceiling art that's very Futurist. (thanks Self-Absorbed Boomer)

The northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Greybar Building has some lesser known ceiling art that’s very Futurist. [thanks Self-Absorbed Boomer]

Citicorp Buidling

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Grand Central Terminal is popularly known as Grand Central Station as its proper name never stuck. The Pan Am Building successfully become the MetLife Building but it took twenty years. The British are more resistant. After twenty years, London’s Tower 42 is still known as Natwest Tower. The Citicorp Building is actually Citicorp Center but now wants to be known as 601 Lexington Avenue. New York buildings are lucky to have these default names.

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  1. That brown building to the lower left is a church that didn’t want to relocate.
  2. The church allowed building in the air rights but didn’t want to be part of the new building or have its columns passing through it. The building is supported at the midpoints of its square floor plates so it can cantilever over the church. (Floorplates supported at the corners would have only half the area.)
  3. Structurally, it goes like this.

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It gets interesting. The story continues here.engineering crisis

There’s many articles now on this case frequently referred to in professional ethics classes. Kremer LeMessurier Citicorp should get you there.

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Meanwhile, in some parallel universe, the church was keen to be part of the new development, a different building was designed and different stuff almost didn’t happen.

The roof of Citigroup Center slopes at a 45-degree angle because it was originally intended to contain solar panels to provide energy. However, this idea was eventually dropped because the positioning of the angled roof meant that the solar panels would not face the sun directly.

In another parallel universe, they received better advice. In yet another, they came up with a more convincing story. For New York, a solar panel inclination of 40.8° is optimum but the difference for ±5° is marginal.

Austrian Cultural Forum

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Designed by Raymund Abraham and completed in 2002, the building has a lot of activities wedged into a site 7.2 metres wide. Abraham’s unconventional idea of placing the stairs at the rear of the building made for a building that works. There’s much to like about how this building is configured.

The angled facade is a unique way of responding to New York City’s complex setback requirements.

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Beyond that, there’s also a lot of things happening aesthetically with big things on the front facade giving it a commanding monumentality despite its size.

Facade incident is symmetrical and stacked and suggest the presence of a profound symbolism from a culture we can’t decipher. The building is slightly disturbing for refusing to allow itself to be read, and I like it for that.

• • •

FURTHER INFORMATION
Cherokee Apartments:
New York Times article current listing two
Hotel Shelton: Historic Districts Council entry Wired New York article 1920s slideshow
Grand Central Terminal: New York Times article
Citicorp Building: solarnewyork

a good guide

a good guide

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the best pizza

2 thoughts on “Misfits’ Guide to New York

  1. Farid Ziani

    Hi Graham and thanks for the post.
    I was so happy that you included the BIG project (625 West 57th Street) but then was disappointed by the absence of any real comment !! Is the reason that the building is not yet done ? I would like to hear more from you concerning this project as I am interested into the “stories” projects and BIG is a monster storyteller.

    Reply
    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Hello Farid and thanks,

      I think one of the stories BIG has been telling is about how the shape was generated. True, they have some largely self-imposed pressure to do something ostensibly oddball yet according to some property developer level completely rational. A simple T-shaped building would have provided better views for more people if that had really been the objective.

      The question is then on what level is it rational? We’re told is the building the logical result of crossing a European courtyard building and an American tower. This is one of those things that sounds true the first time you hear it but courtyard buildings have a longer history in New York than towers. The Dakota is from 1884, Riverside Buildings is a perimeter block from 1890. Besides, is the courtyard building even European?

      In Moneymaking Machines #2 I went on about how the site was assembled and how the permissible envelope is where a south-facing wedge intersects a north-facing one. This would produce a pyramid and it annoys Durst to hear you call it that. Sure a tetrahedron has a base and three sides but a pyramid four. But why so touchy?

      My guess is BIG and Durst are trying to draw our attention away from that rounded fourth corner that rushes to meet the maxxed-out retail space on the W57th corner. It screams of contrivance, like somebody said “Yes is More!” Besides, who wants to have their building nicknamed “The Pyramid”? Especially when the apartments facing W58th are fairly tomb-like anyway.

      Reply

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