Outrageous!

The 12 best architecture controversies of 2017

National
The 12 best architecture controversies of 2017. Pictured here, clockwise from left: Manica Architecture's Oakland Raiders stadium, Zaha Hadid's 666 Fifth Avenue, Thomas Heatherwick's Pier 55, and border wall prototypes under construction in California. (Montage by AN)
The 12 best architecture controversies of 2017. Pictured here, clockwise from left: Manica Architecture's Oakland Raiders stadium, Zaha Hadid's 666 Fifth Avenue, Thomas Heatherwick's Pier 55, and border wall prototypes under construction in California. (Montage by AN)

As 2017 fades away, we look back at some of the controversies and debates that stirred up the waters. Here are our most memorable, outrageous topics of the year. We love it when our readers respond and add to the conversation! (See the rest of our Year in Review 2017 articles here.)

Pier 55

Pier 55 (Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

It was dragged through the courts. It lived. It was taken back in, only to be killed again. Less than two months later, Pier 55 was resurrected for good, ending one of the most entertaining public spectacles of 2017, an epic troll-fest that had two of the city’s richest men running to almost every New York paper to leak informationdrop disses, and escalate their mutual antipathy with a vigor rivaled only by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio’s pettiness. An October deal between stakeholders and opponents assures that key parts of Hudson River Park will be rebuilt, and the governor has promised state money for these projects.

Zillow’s legal crusade against McMansion Hell

A typical critique from Kate Wagner's McMansion Hell. (McMansion Hell / Image via puddingstonepost.com)

A typical critique from Kate Wagner’s McMansion Hell. (McMansion Hell/Image via puddingstonepost.com)

Back in June, real estate site Zillow told Kate Wagner, creator of popular architecture blog McMansion Hell, that she had violated Zillow’s terms of use on her blog and warned she had just days to delete all offending images from McMansion Hell. When Wagner posted the shocking letter online, architecture Twitter brought the roof of wrath crashing down on Zillow. Just two days and one threat later,  Zillow backed off its legal claims, allowing us to resume laughing at and learning from the nubs and weird turrets of suburban America’s mega-homes.

The fake architect

Paul J. Newman is serving time for providing design services while posing as a licensed architect. (Courtesy New York State Office of the Attorney General)

This year, Paul J. Newman, 49, president and sole employee of architecture firm Cohesion Studios, pled guilty to posing as a licensed New York state architect for work on multiple projects, including an Albany, New York senior center and townhouse developments in the Capital Region. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office dubbed its two-year investigation “Operation Vandelay Industries,” a nod to the fake company George Costanza invented on Seinfeld to collect unemployment benefits. In September, Newman was sentenced to a maximum of seven years in prison in Saratoga County, New York, with more arraignments to follow.

Building Trump’s border wall

(Twitter/CBP San Diego)

Border wall prototypes along U.S.–Mexico border. (Twitter/CBP San Diego)

In late February, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was accepting bids for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and the first prototypes for this highly controversial project were revealed in October. Beyond its dubious efficacy and shaky moral foundation, the wall’s construction will also destroy wildlife preserves and homes in Texas and possibly other states.

Trump tax plan guts Historic Tax Credit

https://unsplash.com/photos/1HtojWDvEWE

Capitol Hill (Jomar Thomas/Unsplash)

The House’s tax plan eliminates the Historic Tax Credit (HTC), an important revitalization tool for municipalities across the country. The Senate’s rules are only slightly better: Its bill would spread out the current 20 percent credit for recognized historic structures over five years, and eliminate the ten percent credit for buildings erected before 1936. When the bill (officially known as Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) went into conference early this month, the AIA said it would lobby hard against the proposed HTC cuts.

The sinking Millennium Tower

(Courtesy Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons)

Millennium Tower, San Francisco, in August 2016. (Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons)

The 58-story Millennium Tower, designed by Handel Architects, has sunk nearly 17 inches since its opening in 2009. Recently, engineers with Arup—employed to work on the currently under-construction Salesforce Tower designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects next door—inspected the Millennium Tower’s rooftop height and found that the tower had sunk an additional 2 ½ inches beyond the initial 14 ½–inch drop recorded last year. Troublingly, the tower is not only sinking, but it is sinking unevenly, resulting in a measurable slant to the 645-foot-tall complex. As the muddy and sandy soils beneath it give way, it continues to tilt precariously toward the Salesforce Tower. Whoops.

The Oculus leaks

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hbarrison/33332268855/in/album-72157679305169490/

The World Trade Center Transit Hub, also known as the Oculus. (Harvey Barrison/Flickr)

Last year, we asked architects what they thought of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus, the train station in a mall near the World Trade Center. Besides its grand spindly dino bone shape and horrific interior detailing, leaks in the ceiling deposit puddles on the marble floors, and these slippery surfaces have sent multiple people to the hospital. Not only that, a malfunctioning escalator injured two passengers in April. It may prove to be an iconic transit hub, but watch your step for now.

The Raiders hoof it to Las Vegas

Oakland Raiders Las Vegas

Rendering of (the soon-to-be) Las Vegas Raiders stadium. (Courtesy Manica Architecture)

This year, National Football League (NFL) owners approved the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas, heralding what could be the final play in the nearly two-year-long drama that has unfolded as several West Coast teams reshuffle hometowns. Las Vegas city officials courted the Raiders for months, offering $750 million in public financing for the team’s Manica Architecture–designed $1.9 billion (yes) stadium proposal. The 65,000 seat stadium—a recycled scheme left over from the team’s attempt to move to Carson, California last year—features a large-scale, retractable side wall that would allow the stadium to become partially open-air. In May, the team purchased a 62-acre site for their future stadium, but it can’t move into its new digs until 2020, an awkward situation given the emotionally fraught pre-move negotiations.

Zumthor’s LACMA scheme

(Courtesy LACMA)

The latest rendering of Zumthor’s LACMA proposal. (Courtesy LACMA)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) $600 million expansion by Atelier Zumthor‘s will demolish the entirety of the existing William Pereira–designed campus, including a 1986 addition by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer done in the postmodern style. The proposed changes would leave in place the 2008 Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum addition as well as the Japanese Pavilion by Bruce Goff from 1988. Despite the 390,000-square-foot expansion’s hefty price tag and the sacrifice of several key works of late modern and postmodern architecture, Zumthor’s proposal will generate a net loss in gallery space for LACMA. Instead, the new museum will be designed as a singular mega-gallery carved up into differently-sized rooms. Plans call for the proposal to undergo further review over the next several months, and construction is expected to begin sometime in late 2018.

Monument removal

NYC announces commission to review public monuments. (TarHeel4793/Wikimedia Commons)

Statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle. (TarHeel4793/Wikimedia Commons)

After white nationalists provoked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and amid a national climate of heightened bigotry, cities and towns across the county are re-evaluating their public monuments. With little fanfare, under the cover of night, the City of Baltimore took down four Confederate monuments in August. After protests, New York City established an independent commission this fall to review the city’s public monuments for “symbols of hate.” Other monuments are being tried in the court of public opinion: Is Christopher Columbus an Italian hero, or an imperialist monster? What about Teddy Roosevelt? The weight of history bears heavily on these questions.

Zaha’s sidelined Manhattan supertall

(Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects)

Zaha Hadid’s supertall for Kushner Companies is definitely not happening. (Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects)

The major redevelopment of the Kushner Companies’ 666 Fifth Avenue building by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is stalled for good. Kushner’s partner on the project, Vornado Realty Trust, has decided to simply renovate the site’s existing structure. Kushner’s original plan with ZHA called for stripping the current building down to its steel core and extending it up into a 1,400-foot-tall slender cigarette of a tower.

‘Hands off my Johnson’

(Courtesy Snøhetta)

The current state of the AT&T Building (550 Madison), left, and Snøhetta’s proposed redesign, right. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

Architects took to the streets to protest changes to the AT&T Building, Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s iconic postmodern tower. Among other changes, the Snøhetta-led redo would glass in the building’s signature 110-foot-tall arched stone entryway. Denise Scott Brown, Sean Griffiths, Adam Nathaniel Furman, Paul Goldberger, and others took to AN‘s pages to weigh in on the design (TL;DR glassing in the base is clearly a bad idea). Thanks to activists’ efforts, the pomo marvel on Madison Avenue is now up for landmarking.

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