So people really like real estate on Central Park. This brilliant insight is courtesy the golden pen of Paul Goldberger, a man who was considered (by Michael Sorkin at least) to be an over-the-hill hack nearly 20 years ago. Things clearly haven’t improved. Everyone — okay, Goldberger and Felix Salmon, a man from whom you will have to pull his CDO’s from his cold, dead fingers — is gaga over the numbers and success of 15 Central Park West. I think it has a fancier name. No matter. You can’t buy an apartment there, and it’s not even done. Whoa! (say that in your best Al Pacino voice). Yeah, apartments facing the park sell well.

Not only that, but they are “instant classics”. The mysterious prewar formula has been unearthed by the imagineers at Bob Stern’s office. I can imagine some dusky eve, fog spilling through the candle-lit offices as a hooded figure marched a book with vaguely demonic figures on the cover up to Bob’s desk, planted it with a thud and opened to a page that revealed… an entrance gallery with an eleven foot ceiling. Whoa! (you know what to do).

I never finished architecture school. So maybe I missed the crucial studio, “Designing apartments with 11’0″ ceilings” and was consequently barred from the star chamber where they hid that book (have you ever seen the News Radio episode where Jimmy James reveals the Secret to Business? I digress. Whoa!). Paul hasn’t either, and has to resort to invoking the names of a couple architects you, I and just about anyone who didn’t furtively sneak a look at the index of 740 Park to see if they were included haven’t heard of. Because they were mediocre hacks in service of a generation of arrivistes that have aged enough to aquire the gilt of institution. And thus their dwellings, at the time attempting to expropriate the grandeur of, say, Kesington, are now being photocopied for the latest generation of people who need the scrim of Anglophile identity to buttress their mania that amassing seven figure fortunes isn’t an adequate accomplishment in a meaningless world, nor apparently a mandate to help the less privileged.

Apparently in the intervening sixty years architects forgot how to design. It’s an old canard, and if you perambulate Manhattan, you would have plenty of evidence to this fact, or at least the continuation of a myth perpetuated by misguided cranks (hello!) and a gullible and uncritical press, namely that architects have much to do at all with the quality of plans in apartments in this city. Sure, some GSD student spent a bunch of time picking this light fixture over that, or argued at length with the sales agents about whether or not luxury could be adequately communicated by Viking, or perhaps the more esoteric Wolf was called for, but otherwise, the failure of new housing to evoke the grandeur of a 30-foot long sitting room isn’t really about limestone sheathing or how big the windows are: it’s about whether or not your sitting room is 30 fucking feet long. And it isn’t.

Maybe that knowledge is lost in the sands of time (except for that paragraph, right there, above), or in that mysterious book Bob won’t lend to anyone, or, hey maybe it’s that people who seek outsize returns in property development are short-sighted, greedy and completely oblivious to the idea they exist in both a community and culture and have a duty to sustain it, rather than just skim the rewards off the top. No, it can’t be that. Otherwise we would be awash in town filled with buildings designed by Costas Kondylis and Richard Scarano (you know, I long for the days of the mid-90’s when you had to be a total development wonk to even know who Kondylis was). Of course, a 30-foot living room isn’t necessarily giving back to the community but I think you can see where I’m going here.

Felix brings up the A.A. Gill article from Vanity Fair about the successes and failures of floor-to-ceiling glass and what kind of role that plays in the perception of a ‘comfy’ room. I’m surprised that he buys it uncritically. Might it not be a more complex issue that the modernist ‘ideal’ is yes, a bit nihilistic, but that’s not a romanticized fetish but perhaps only a rueful conclusion about meaning and life? Nah. It’s about cushions. The overstuffed cushions and Victorian details of a classic six spin a yarn that we may have attacked and devalued pretty thoroughly in philosophical circles, but when it comes time to shuffle off this mortal coil, staring down a stark, empty hallway isn’t the last image we want. A lie about continuity and generations and return and afterlife is far more comforting, regardless of ceiling height

Because we can find us some 11-foot ceilings downtown, and some pretty sumptuous luxury on the part of 40 Bond, which has been the desperate hope of all us avant gardists that hiring the right guy(s) really could forestall the march of places such like the Sculpture for Living. Competing on a per square foot price point, and featuring windows that, frankly, are so big they scare me, everyone probably did the same awkward double take when the images were first leaked. Herzog & de Meuron, who walk an incredibly fine line of material mastery, formal innovations, and finding elegant and clever solutions to age old programs, all without like seeming to be the houseboys for the ultra rich and tasteful, were finally going to kick the legs from underneath this pastiche, be it Gluckman on Kenmare, or Stern on CPW.

Except they don’t seem to have. Sure, those windows are big. But all they are is big windows, with odd and not very interesting extrusions clipped to them. On the upper floors, the plans actually establish a degree of parti rigor rarely seen, but, wow, how about those townhouses? That is the hell you get when developer mandates rule. The renderings actually demonstrate some saving grace, but there is no escaping the fact that the plans are sliver better than something you would see Scarano dump on Berry Street.

Everyone is waiting for the big reveal on those cast aluminum gates, but the whole shebang is going nowhere fast. And that’s sad, since rumors are it’s selling slower than hoped (plenty of units left), and the success of Stern’s project is going to grind down the chance of something interesting. Of course, when that interesting is the sort of tripe we get from Asymptote or Winka Dubbeldam, well, no one really has anywhere to turn. I guess we all have to put our money on Norten.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Archives