The Year in Review
What are the most important buildings, products, or events of 2013 that have ramifications for the future?
(page 5 of 6)
Layers of History
Illustration by Lief Parsons
ANTHONY FLINT: RAZING THE PAST
Over the last year we’ve seen how modernism can’t catch a break. A Frank Lloyd Wright home almost got demolished. A Wright showroom in Manhattan was gutted. A report came out of New York claiming it’s worse for the environment to let midcentury office buildings continue to operate because they are such energy hogs—that it would be “greener” to tear them down and start over. One of the candidates for mayor in Boston ran on a platform of demolishing the Le Corbusier–inspired City Hall. I wonder: Is this layer of modernism destined to be erased from architectural history? Will it be a combination of popular culture backlash and dubious environmental claims? What does the historic preservation community think? Remember, they wanted to tear down the Eiffel Tower after the Paris exhibition, too.
Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
JOHN KING: STRIPPED TO THE BONE
There’s an interesting phenomenon going on in San Francisco. Developers are stripping 1960s-era buildings of their facades and reusing the structural bones. It’s a total inversion of the old manner of renovation, when nineteenth-century buildings were reused for the tactile delight of their details. Now the bones are all that is desired. It’s a testimony to the value of buildings. The basic workaday buildings nobody thought anything about are the buildings we now treasure. And what we’re starting to see with the buildings of the modern era is this total disinterest in their character, but an appreciation of the space and forms they created.
King is the urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.
ALEXANDROS WASHBURN: AFTER THE STORM
Even though it happened last year, a superstorm named Sandy was this year’s big idea that changed everything. Sandy was the kind of idea that starts as an abstraction and becomes a fact. Inarguable. Unstoppable. It left us physically, emotionally, economically, even morally changed. These are the most dangerous ideas, the ones that change the way you look at things. We can’t see our city in the same way as before. We can’t build in the same way. Our idea of living in the city is now one of adapting to climate change.
Washburn is the author of The Nature of Urban Design: A New York Perspective on Resilience.
New York's Pennsylvania Station building, which was razed to make space for Madison Square Garden. This photograph was taken in 1962.
Courtesy the Library of Congress
MICHAEL KIMMELMAN: LANDMARK DECISION
The New York City Council’s decision to deny Madison Square Garden's request to stay put, in perpetuity, and instead grant the Garden only a 10-year permit, is a potential watershed. It's meant to compel negotiations about moving the arena and redesigning Pennsylvania Station underneath it, undoing one of the most calamitous urban decisions of the past century—the demolition of the old Penn Station. The move is in keeping with an increasing global focus on transit hubs as an economic and social engine. The welfare of millions of commuters who use Penn Station is at stake. The council's decision may ultimately produce nothing—it will depend on whether somebody with real authority can force the parties to negotiate. But it may also be seen as a critical turning point in 21st century urbanism and public-spirited politics.
Kimmelman is the architecture critic and senior critic at the New York Times.
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