Krazy Architecture Critic

February 8, 2010

click image for full strip

From it’s completion in 1913 until about 1930, the Woolworth Building, funded by all those drugstore nickels and dimes across the country, was the world’s tallest.  A “cathedral of commerce” it was promptly dubbed, and a monument it truly is.  The entire facade is clad in white terracotta, intricately sculpted in a dizzying array of ornamental shapes.  The lobby is a stunning melange of gothic and byzantine sytles, with gorgeous gold and azure blue mosaics.  Every little piece of architectural furninture is created with brilliant gothic detail.

The structure was built quickly, and paid for in cash.  Click on the drawing here, from The Building of Manhattan by Donald MacKay, to get a detailed view of the innovative foundations that hold it all up.  (I heartily recommend this book for any urban infrastructure fanatics.)  The topmost surface of the bedrock in Manhattan is not on an even plane; it dips and rises in folds.  To some extent, this subsurface geology is responsible for the clustering of high-rises in midtown and downtown, with a relative slough in between.  The bedrock on the Woolworth site was said to be deep, too deep to excavate the entire pit down that far, so the caisson tubes were sunk instead.  Well, deep is a relative term, and what was deep in 1913 might not pose a problem today.  Thus, I daily watch over the huge “bathtub” of the World Trade Center site, excavated down to bedrock.  (See this post for a video a bedrock blast.)

Here are two views of the tower from the conference room where I work.  Nowadays, here in the United States of Fear, you can no longer visit the lobby of this great building.  Since 9/11, a sign posted on the sidewalk warns away tourists, and guards won’t let you in the door.  Yep, I’m sure those Islamic terrorists are busy scouring the AIA Guide to NYC for landmarks to target.

The golden ball on a pedestal is on the top of the AT&T Building, the lobby of which is shown below.  The building was erected in stages:  in 1927 the Broadway portion, faced in white, severe and enormous Doric columns was finished.  The entry is a vast space with the feel of a temple, and includes a memorial to the dead of WWI.  The contrast with the Woolworth Building, just across the street,  is extreme

And while we’re at it, here’s a Krazy Kat strip illustrating the need for gun control.


Children of The Grid

January 27, 2010

Manhattan is a grid of streets, and the pretentious provincialism of its chauvinistic inhabitants has been ridiculed, lovingly by many, most famously by Saul Steinberg.  I encounter the grid tribesmen occasionally, I mean those who see themselves as such, or at least a segment of that population:  white,  professional, more or less liberal.  (In Europe, perhaps they would be called bourgeois.)  Their company makes me uneasy – I feel as if I’m struggling for breath in an airless room if I’m with more than two at a time.  Bunuel makes me laugh at it.

It’s the suffocating atmosphere of caste.  I guess I am with Groucho Marx who quipped that he didn’t want to join any club that would have him as a member.   I have a bit of envy of people who can so strongly link themselves to a place and a scene, like a barnacle that’s found a home, but I also find it upleasantly restrictive. Nostalgia is not an emotion I feel very much.

It’s all very personal:  When I meet people like this, I sometimes feel as if they are checking me out unconsciously and automatically, seeking to determine if I know the secret handshake or eye movment that signifies that I am of the tribe.   Intelligent?  Went to a “good” school?  Lives in what neighborhood..?  Politics okay, check!”   “Oh hell, just tell me what you think, if you think!”

I guess I’m a wee bit oversensitive, but you see, I come from the antipodes of The Grid.  I am from The Valley.

These photos are from a high school classmate, c. 1975.  That decor, those colors, that landscape, the plush pointless comfortable mentality of it all…how I loathed it.  To move east to attend a university was my dream and my escape.  Those were the thoughts of a silly teenager – it was hardly hell on earth.  And as I learned, the urban sophisticates of the east could be equally boring and trivial, not to mention pretentious.


I am not crazy!!

February 21, 2009

lenny

In an earlier post, Have YOU Heard It?, I commented on the weird phenomenon of the west side IRT “humming” the opening notes of the West Side Story ballad, “There’s a Place for Us.”  In case you missed it, or thought I was nuts, the NYTimes has finally taken note of it with this story:  Under Broadway, the Subway Hums Bernstein.


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