S K Y L I N E | Demolition Derby
Forgotten Theaters, Trash TV, Welfare State Decay, Folk Art Nostalgia, On Greenhouses
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About a month ago, the apartment building two doors down from where I live in Brooklyn was condemned for being structurally unsound and swiftly demolished. With the lot then completely vacant, there was not much to suggest that anyone had ever lived there, aside from the vacate order that still hangs next door. Wasting no time on mourning, construction began almost immediately. In the brief moments of respite between the jackhammering and what sounds like sheets of metal being hammered (?), I couldn’t help but think about all the buildings that didn’t live long enough to make it into the pages of the New York Review of Architecture.
Perhaps fatigued by ruminations about existing architecture both new and old, I asked NYRA contributors to retrieve a memory of a building that no longer exists to pen a mini-review. From the reflections compiled below, it’s clear that the afterlife of a structure lasts longer than the time its refuse sits in a dumpster on the side of the road.
— Michael Nicholas
When did old-school Brooklyn end, giving way to something less, well, Brooklyn? Many would say 1957, when the Dodgers played their final game at Ebbets Field, or perhaps 1960, when the Flatbush ballpark’s bricked arches were demolished. Neatly contained within a single city block, the “jewel box” stadium was the borough’s great equalizer—in its double-decker grandstand, every seat was a gem and every game a people’s luxury. It’s where Jackie Robinson integrated American sports, and Bugs Bunny was canonically born. It was legendary, then it was gone. (Blame Robert Moses. Blame capitalism. Blame, of course, Los Angeles.)
Today all that’s left is home plate, encased in bronze, a humble tombstone awkwardly askew in the sidewalk of a shady parking lot. A hulking apartment complex occupies the block, crumbling under decrepit conditions. Upon construction, it had been the state’s largest government-subsidized affordable housing project. It’s as if that spot on Bedford and Sullivan is forever cursed to make, and then break, grand promises to the people of Brooklyn.
— Charlie Dulik
I remember the first time I saw a photograph of John M Johansen’s Mummer’s Theater: I was sixteen, flipping through the reference book Encyclopedia of American Architecture in my high school library. Built in Oklahoma City in 1970 and designed by the least well-known member of the Harvard Five, Mummer’s is a true late-modern cocktail, described memorably by critic Tom Wilkinson as “…an oil refinery converted into a fun house.” Its form is a mix of high-flying distended masses penetrated and connected by various services and pathways. The theaters within borrow the communal tiers of the Berlin Philharmonie and pair them with colors and interiors from the Starship Enterprise. Mummers was a kooky, athletic building; it put the play in playhouse. It was both futuristic and yet so firmly a product of that nebulous, bold, experimental era we call late Modernism. I love it immensely. I wish I could have seen the similarly angular works of Brecht performed there. It is now a vacant lot.
— Kate Wagner
Until a couple years ago, the healthcare workers’ union 1199 was headquartered in The Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center at 310 West 43rd street. It was best known for its 1970 Anton Refregier mosaic mural depicting interracial work, organizing, study, and leisure. 1199 sold the building to Taconic Investment Partners, who tore it down to throw up a standard-issue luxury building. Contrast this with 1199 Plaza, the modernist social housing complex on the East Harlem waterfront this same union inaugurated in 1975, and you will witness what Kim Moody called New York's transformation "From Welfare State to Real Estate."
— Samuel Stein
Despite whatever quality of television a neon bullseye-laden intro sequence might suggest, Blowdown is about as good as it gets. In the first episode of the second season, a family of experts is hired to “obliterate” a sports stadium in the heart of Indianapolis using high explosives. As I watched a demolition designer analyze expansion joints and brandish machinery that slit concrete like a hand through water, I had fallen for the spectacle. Next up was the bombastic leveling of the 3,100-foot-long Kosciuszko Bridge in 2017; a comment read “absolute awesomeness!” Craving something a bit more intimate, I moved on to a suggested video, “House Demolition by Hand & Foot,” in which “human wrecking balls” attempted to beat their own world record by razing a two-story seven-room building “using nothing more than their bare hands... just for kicks.” Rabbitholing, I watched with deranged curiosity as Wolfgang Manicke employed demolition training to recruit members for his karate club in Prince Albert, Canada (as a response to the city's obsession with an inferior sport: hockey). The town hooted as Wolfgang’s team knocked down the roof and pulverized the structure and innards of the building. I may have hooted, too. While demolitions have always been an unconventional kind of pageant, warranting an audience if only because they are evidence of our power over permanence, the range with which we exercise that power has never been broader, or more hysterical.
— Kavya Cherala
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where deindustrialization has caused massive population loss and an increasing reliance on “eds and meds” as the two pillars of an economic development strategy. The main “med,” the Cleveland Clinic, has driven a significant portion of new construction and its attendant destruction. Most recently, the clinic demolished the Cleveland Play House’s 1926 complex. The Play House presaged the regional theater movement in the mid-twentieth century, promising jobs for local working actors in cities across America. The space the Play House occupied for decades was razed to make room for a neurology center, and the Play House primarily hires actors from out of town.
— Kevin Ritter
I wish I could’ve visited the American Folk Art Museum’s 53 St building, especially with my mom, herself an American folk artist. It would’ve been nice to see the kind of work she devoted a life to making housed in an exquisite wunderkammer of a building fit to purpose. Even better that it sat next to the Museum of Modern Art. I’d like to believe that while it was there, the building’s (ultimately lethal) proximity to the titanic cultural arbiter helped destabilize some people’s conception of what counts as Art, and maybe even uplifted, in the minds of some, the oft-derided titular category of “folk.”
— Nicholas Raap
2/15: College Art Association Annual Meeting
NEW YORK – Last week, the College Art Association gathered at the Midtown Hilton for its 111th annual meeting. A number of panels leaned toward the architectural side of things. “The Extractive Nineteenth Century” included a compelling presentation by MAUR DESSAUVAGE linking the restoration of the East Prussian Marienburg to the “conquest of nature” in Poland. “Drawing (New) Stories,” sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians, ranged widely across theme and era, and included an extraordinary discussion by ANA MARÍA LEÓN of how Chilean architect Miguel Lawner, a planner for Salvador Allende, reimagined his architectural drawing skills to document the concentration camp where Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship interned him. Architecturally speaking, the conference’s last hurrah was a panel on “Eighteenth-Century Atmospheres: Science, Politics, Aesthetics,” which explored interior and exterior airs. Through his case study of 1770s Eastern European bathing architecture, ALEKSANDER MUSIAŁ convincingly argued that bathhouses and orangeries have much in common. After four days spent in the very interior air of the Hilton, it was time for attendees to go their separate ways.
— Alexander Luckmann
2/20: Aleksandra Jaeschke, Distinguished Speaker in Sustainable Cities Series
ITHACA (ZOOM) — ALEKSANDRA JAESCHKE (architect and assistant professor of architecture at The University of Texas at Austin) presented her lecture titled “In Emergency Break Glass, and Other Exit Strategies for Designers” at Cornell AAP as part of their Distinguished Speaker in Sustainable Cities series. Jaeschke’s presentation, divided into chapters, covered some of her research and “its current and potential impact outside the academy” by recounting her Wheelwright Prize travel adventures exploring the culture and architecture of greenhouses. After spending 150 days on the road, Jaeschke returned convinced that “most problems do not have a technological solution.” As a teacher, she applies her learnings by trying to foster a broader dialogue about sustainability. Jaeschke finished the lecture by inviting us to “grab the intellectual hammer and break glass” as it is time to abandon the greenhouse “as a model and, most importantly, mindset with which to address the current ecological predicament.”
— Brandon Koots
EYES ON SKYLINE
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IN THE NEWS.
The Venice Biennale for architecture (curated by Lesley Lokko, opening on May 20) announced its lineup, and Architect’s Newspaper helpfully published a list of most of them.
Elon Musk is moving Tesla back to California, to what Alexander Luckman points out is an architecturally significant digs: the former HP building at Stanford Research Park. Speaking of big buildings in California, apparently earlier this month Oliver Wainwright paid a visit, to write about a Catholic megachurch.
On Thursday at 2:20pm (EST), NCARB killed the rolling clock. Kind of. This headline will only interest you if you understand what that means.
The City of New York is launching a new Engagement Division that will tackle everything from affordable housing to employment programs to changing arcane parking requirements and converting Midtown offices into apartments and we are sure it will work out just brilliantly. Speaking of which, Justin Davidson went to the new MOMA exhibit highlighting optimistic visions for New York’s public spaces and found it too optimistic.
As we close in on a no-snow winter in New York, those wondering what a real urban winter is like should read Jennifer Gersten’s piece on ice, featured last month in Anjulie Rao’s excellent pop-up winter newsletter.
Henry Grabar called out the role consultants play in blowing up the budgets of transit projects.
Apparently there is a home-makeover streaming service aimed squarely at architects and Zach Mortice is on the story.
The death count from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria continues to rise, as does the blatant role of shoddy construction and dodged codes.
Data Mourning with Marina Otero Verzier
12:00 PM EST | Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
'Futures of the Architectural Exhibition' Book Launch with Mario Ballesteros, Giovanna Borasi, Ann Lui, Ana Miljački, Zoë Ryan, Martino Stierli, & Shirley Surya
5:00 PM CST | Rice University School of Architecture
Timber in Architecture with Shigeru Ban & Matilda McQuaid
6:30 PM EST | Japan Society
Circular Museum: Ways of Collecting and Commissioning with Frances Morris, Tino Sehgal, Carson Chan, & Luise Faurschou
11:00 AM EST | Museum of Modern Art Emilio Ambasz Institute
Libertarian Noir: Exit Strategies and New Enclosures (1960 to the Present) with Raymond Craib & Elisa Iturbe
12:00 PM EST | Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
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