Developer Related Midwest has announced plans to construct two skyscrapers on the former site of the Chicago Spire, with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s David Childs at the design helm. While renderings for the project have yet to be released, the Chicago Tribune reports that the site calls for two multi-functioning towers, each clad in glass with setbacks that taper towards the sky. Currently known only by its address, 400 North Lake Shore Drive, the project details are to be unveiled by Related Midwest on Tuesday at 7 pm during a community forum hosted by the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents at the Sheridan Grand Chicago. Thus far, the plans call for an 850-foot tower at the northern edge of the site along the Ogden Slip, and a 1,000-foot tower located at the southern edge of the site. The shorter tower will house apartments, with the taller tower to include condominiums and hotel rooms. Both towers will be located on a podium with building amenities. The high rises will take up more space on the site than the Chicago Spire originally called for. Along with the plan for the Spire site, Related Midwest has provisionally agreed to fund a portion of the construction of DuSable Park, a rectangular 3.3-acre parcel of land east of Lake Shore Drive. First dedicated as open space by Mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s, Related Midwest has not indicated if or how the park will relate to the towers. Most notably, Related Midwest has not specified how the construction will address what remains of the defunct Chicago Spire, now a 78-foot-deep, 104-foot-wide cofferdam over a decade old, the beginnings of a 2,000-foot unicorn horn shaped supertall building designed by Santiago Calatrava. If constructed as planned, the Spire would have been the tallest structure in the country. Related Midwest recently released renderings for a 62-acre Near South Side development they are calling "The 78," a serious of mixed-use, multi-phase structures built atop the largest undeveloped piece of land along the Chicago River. David Childs, a consulting partner in the SOM New York Office, is best known for designing One World Trade Center. Other work by Childs includes 7 World Trade Center, The Times Square Tower, and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
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According to New York-based real estate developer RKF, 401 North Wabash Avenue in River North offers unparalleled retail and restaurant opportunities. Located just steps from Michigan Avenue, 401 North Wabash Avenue is “the perfect entertaining and dining destination,” provides “spectacular views of the Chicago River” and proximity to Nordstrom, Dylan’s Candy Bar and the Apple flagship store. A glossy marketing flyer on the RKF website fleshes out the appeal of the 66,000 square feet for lease in the 98-story building. For a potential retail tenant, there is little not to love, except for the five 20-foot tall letters spelling out the owner’s name: T-R-U-M-P. With only 1,000 square feet of the Trump International Hotel and Tower being leased out, RKF is trying a new tactic to sell the nearly three floors of empty space in the building. With the sole tenants being the Anthony Cristiano Salon and a gift shop selling Trump shot glasses and playing cards, RKF is selling Trump Tower’s positive points without using the Trump name, and even omitting the Trump sign in photographs of the building. Marketing materials for the space only note the Trump name once, on a map of neighboring businesses, in small text. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 2008, the terrace and riverwalk spaces inside Trump Tower were never fully occupied. RKF was hired in 2014 to lease the retail space, coming on board just in time for the controversial sign to be erected, sparking a Twitter war between Donald Trump and Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin. First floor retail space was converted to meeting and event rooms in 2015 in an attempt to make the space more marketable. Residential tenants have attempted to distance themselves from the Trump brand, and SOM refers to the building as “401 North Wabash Avenue" on its website.
The University of California, Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) new San Joaquin Villages by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA), Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM), and Kevin Daly Architects (KDA) opened to student residents during the fall 2017 semester. The expansive project brings over 1,000 student beds and a string of campus amenities clustered around open courtyards to the housing-starved university’s North Campus. The village master plan was created by SOM, which also completed the new Tenaya Towers—a pair of six-story housing blocks—to create 65 new, three-bedroom, two-bath apartments. For the project, SOM designed a pair of parallel towers that are oriented east-to-west that are studded with projecting balconies to help maintain passive airflow and enrich student life. SOM also added a new freestanding pavilion to a plaza located between the two towers that will contain study spaces and a recreation room. In addition, the towers are outfitted with rooftop terraces overlooking the public spaces below. The project also includes a new dinning commons by architects KieranTimberlake. The project site was reworked by landscape architect Tom Leader and Sherwood Design Engineers—which provided civil engineering and site design—to redirect stormwater runoff into new biofiltration planters and bioswales that will purify the captured water before draining it into adjacent wetlands. The adjacent North Village site is carved up into four principal parcels, with LOHA and KDA each taking two sites to create a patchwork of low-rise, interconnected housing blocks. The intentionally utilitarian accommodations are linked by acrobatic exterior circulation and shared student amenity spaces, like a handsome laundromat outfitted with operable awning windows and a spare, wood fin-clad organic market. Together, these areas bring 107 three-bedroom, two-bath apartments to UCSB. Lorcan O’Herlihy, principal at LOHA, said, “UCSB dormitories have typically pushed circulation to their exterior envelope, with an inert central courtyard accessible only from within the building. [Our] design inverts this circulation scheme, [creating] a reductive exterior edge with an open, lively interior courtyard containing all building circulation, encouraging movement throughout the complex.” The grouped structures are made up of shifting, canted geometries and are clad alternately in corrugated metal panels, wood fins, and stucco along the exterior, campus-facing areas. The LOHA-designed blocks feature painted plaster walls along the courtyard exposures. Social hubs—including reading rooms, social spaces, and dining facilities—float around the complex, projecting from second-floor perches in some instances, tucked snugly below elevated walkways in others. The units themselves are designed with passive ventilation in mind, and windows are wrapped in both vertical and shaped aluminum sunshades, depending on the orientation and structure. Overall, the multifaceted project updates campus housing, deeply embedding shared social experiences into campus life through simple ornamentation and permeability.
When the local newspaper in Columbus, Indiana no longer needed its landmark headquarters building, completed in 1971 by Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), the future of the building became unclear. Rumors swirled, but eventually the perfect local partner—the new Indiana University (IU) M.Arch program—pulled through to take over the structure, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. The program—which is part of the IU School of Art, Architecture + Design in and will be named after Columbus native and legendary industrialist J. Irwin Miller— will begin its first year in fall 2018 with an expected 20 students. Studios and classes will be hosted in the former Republic newspaper building where printing presses once whizzed through the night in plain view of the downtown streets. IU President Michael McRobbie also announced the endowment of a full-time professorship for the M.Arch program, which is intended to draw talent to the city. "The generous gift from the president and first lady reflects their continued commitment to the School of Art, Architecture + Design," Peg Faimon, dean of the school, said in a statement. "Their support for the J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program will help attract world-class faculty to what is an exciting new academic program that will provide an outstanding education and increased opportunities to Indiana University students." The J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program is partnered with the Columbus Architectural Archives and the Institute for Coalition Building of the Columbus Education Coalition and builds on the IU Center for Art and Design Columbus, which has been operating in the city since 2011.
As a fitting kickoff to Earth Day weekend, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) has announced the 2018 recipients of its COTE Top Ten Awards. Honoring ten projects that have surpassed rigorous thresholds in integration, energy use, water conservation, and wellness benchmarks, the award showcases cutting-edge buildings that are not only sustainable, but that contribute to the surrounding neighborhood. This year’s jury included:
- Michelle Addington, Dean, School of Architecture, The University of Texas Austin Austin, Texas
- Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, FAIA, EHDD. San Francisco
- Kevin Schorn, AIA, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, New York
- Julie V. Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich, Minneapolis
- Susan Ubbelohde, LOISOS + UBBELOHDE, Alameda, California
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For over eight decades, SOM has been a leading voice in emphasizing structural poetics, or the integration of architectural and engineering efforts into built form. This mashup of rationalism and elegance was on full display at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennale, where they collaborated with Mana Contemporary to deliver a pop-up exhibition titled "SOM: Engineering x [Art + Architecture]," that ran from September 2017 through early January 2018 at the Ace Hotel. Among sketches, study models, and impressive structural mockup systems sat a lineup of more than 30 structural models at 1:500 scale, arranged by height. Hangzhou Wangchao Center has seamlessly grown out of this impressive survey of work—a design that exists as proof-of-concept to SOM’s design approach. Along with a robustly reinforced concrete core, the 54-story mixed use tower is defined by eight “mega-columns,” as defined by SOM, which weave back and forth as they track upwards. Secondary perimeter columns establish uniform bay spacing to the interior, connected diagonally to the primary corner columns with a Vierendeel transfer truss. Beyond creating an expressive formal shape, the structural configuration offers performance benefits such as wind load reduction and flexible column-free interior floor plates. The resulting unitized facade was carefully designed into a rationalized stepped surface to allow for flat planar glazing units. The canted curtain wall, which follows the tapered massing of the tower, is organized into floor-to ceiling units which slip past the finished floor level to create a sense of continuity from the interior. A recessed shadow box and horizontal fin assembly further articulates a reveal gap between floor plates. This carefully developed building envelope detail offers a discrete path for the building to accommodate natural ventilation.The ground floor building enclosure was engineered to accommodate 36-foot-tall glazing panels around the perimeter of the tower, dissolving the boundary between the surrounding cityscape, and highlighting a massive stone-clad core that blooms outward into the space of the lobby. The tower is currently under construction, with piles for the foundation system being driven into the ground. The project will be complete by 2021 just ahead of Hangzhou’s hosting of the 2022 Asian Games, a multi-sport event held every four years.
Brookfield Properties and SOM have unveiled new renderings for a forthcoming $60 million renovation of the Lawrence Halprin-designed public plaza and atrium spaces located at the foot of the Wells Fargo Center towers in Downtown Los Angeles. Originally designed as an “urban, indoor Garden of Eden” with developer Robert Maguire and Modernist sculptor Robert Graham, the Halprin-designed atrium space was demolished in late 2017 without announcement and will now give way for a new kind of “amenity-rich” Eden populated by two restaurants, a fitness center, an indoor-outdoor bar, and other small-scale food vendors. Gone are the Robert Graham-, Joan Miro-, and Jean Dubuffet-designed sculptures that once populated the fountain-laden atrium, to be replaced with wrap-around booth seating, a stepped amphitheater, and a bar. Renderings for the new SOM-designed plaza spaces surrounding the ground floor atrium project depict a more open frontage along the site’s Grand Avenue edge, with existing pink granite-clad knee walls to make way for new planted areas and rounded bench seating. The formal atrium structure will also be softened via the introduction of a new open-web metal awning structure along its front. Areas overlooking Hope Street on the opposite side of the complex will also receive upgrades, with renderings depicting shady terrace spaces and new cabana structures wrapping the second story retail spaces above the street. Halprin’s atrium was designed in 1983 as the first component of the Los Angeles Open Space Network, a string of indoor-outdoor plazas, gardens, and parks linking the new Bunker Hill area with the South Park neighborhood to the south. The network was bookended on its northern edge by the atrium and includes the nearby Bunker Hill steps at the foot of the Pei, Cobb, Freed-designed US Bank Tower, the adjacent Maguire Gardens Park, and Grand-Hope Park. The network was not listed as a historic resource either locally or nationally prior to the demolition of the Halprin-designed atrium. Regarding the atrium demolition, Charles Birnbaum, CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation said, “It’s remarkable and disturbing that the atrium was demolished with no public notice or input,” adding, “By the way, in 2016 the water channel that runs the length of the Bunker Hill Steps was also fundamentally altered (again with no notice or public input); the rocky features over which water once cascaded (a design element Halprin abstracted from the California wilderness) have been replaced with something benign. The entire Los Angeles Open Space Network is at the tipping point." SOM originally designed the twin 54- and 45-story story towers on the site in 1981–they were completed in 1983–amid Bunker Hill’s initial transformation from Victorian-era upper class suburb to the purpose-built postmodern business district in existence today. The austere, reflective granite-clad towers present an angular presence on the skyline and are memorialized in Fredric Jameson’s seminal tome Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism as prime examples of the era’s new “depthless” and “literal” architectural mode. Jameson wrote:
The great free-standing wall of Wells Fargo Court—a surface which seems to be unsupported by any volume, or whose putative volume (rectangular? trapezoidal?) is ocularly quite undecidable. This great sheet of windows, with its gravity-defying two-dimensionality, momentarily transforms the solid ground on which we stand into the contents of a stereopticon, pasteboard shapes profiling themselves here and there around us. The visual effect is the same from all sides: as fateful as the great monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 which confronts its viewers like an enigmatic destiny, a call to evolutionary mutation. If this new multinational downtown effectively abolished the older ruined city fabric which is violently replaced, cannot something similar be said about the way in which this strange new surface in its own peremptory way renders our older systems of perception of the city somehow archaic and aimless, without offering another in their place?The changes to the Wells Fargo Center come amid explosive change in the city’s Bunker Hill area, with a massive Gehry Partners-designed $1 billion mixed-use complex, a new Colburn School complex—also by Gehry—and renovations to the Music Center Plaza led by RCH Studios all currently under development. SOM’s renovations are already underway and are expected to be complete by 2019.
Hudson Yards isn’t the only megaproject on Manhattan’s far west side. Developer Brookfield Properties has released a new set of renderings and a fly-through video of what the area will look like once its Manhattan West development is complete. Once complete, the seven-million-square-foot “neighborhood” will link Hudson Yards on the far west side with Penn Station’s renovated Moynihan Train Hall. Hemmed between Ninth and Tenth Avenues and 31st to 33rd Streets, Manhattan West will hold offices, retail, hotels, and residential units, with most of the buildings featuring sleek glass facades. REX’s recent retrofit of 5 Manhattan West; the rising 69 stories of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) One Manhattan West office tower; SLCE’s recently completed The Eugene, a 62-story residential tower and the tallest of its type in Midtown Manhattan; SOM’s Two Manhattan West, a 59-story office tower which recently filed DOB permits and the 13-story “The Loft” are all on track to finish construction by either 2019 or 2020. Fewer details have been released about the more mysterious Four Manhattan West, which will be a 30-story boutique hotel with condo units. A 60,000-square-foot public plaza designed by James Corner Field Operations and 200,000 square feet of ground floor shops and restaurants will round out the public amenities. Now, Brookfield has released a flythrough of the project, starting at a revitalized Empire Station (the forthcoming rebrand of the new Penn Station complex) with stops along each of the campus’s towers. Watch the video below: Brookfield has also created a VR walkthrough of the entire development, including interior views from each of the office towers, as well as street-level shots. Construction on the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall is ongoing, and it may be a number of years before the area comes into its own. That doesn’t seem to be a hurdle for Amazon (who are already renting space in 5 Manhattan West), and reps from the tech giant will soon visit New York to scout out prospective HQ2 office space on the far west side.
After hearing—loudly—from critics and community members, the team behind 140 Broadway's plaza revamp has revised its design for the outdoor spaces surrounding the former Marine Midland Building, SOM's landmarked 1968 corporate modernist masterpiece. Landscape architects at New York's NV5, in collaboration with preservation consultants at Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, have submitted a revised design for the modernist plaza at 140 Broadway to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for a hearing next week. Most notably, the new design eliminates a 14-foot-wide planter at Broadway and Cedar Street that would have sat kitty-corner from the plaza's signature sculpture, Isamu Noguchi's Red Cube. Aside from the absence of the large corner planter, the plaza design is relatively unchanged from the one revealed in January. Like the previous scheme, the new plans call for six, 14-foot-wide circular planters that double as benches along Cedar Street. Meanwhile, the Helmsley Memorial, a blocky black-granite tribute to the late owner, will be re-dedicated as a marker flush with the pavement, and the design team will add metal bollards along Cedar. To further harmonize the space, the design team is replacing pinkish granite pavers installed in 1999 with a light golden-hued granite that resembles the original travertine plaza. When the plaza plans were revealed in January, critics panned the design, saying it would distract from the Noguchi sculpture, which was installed to complement the plaza and its 57-story tower. Originally, the LPC was scheduled to hear the plaza plans in early February, but public debate over the appropriateness of the renovation prompted the designers and owner to withdraw the item from the LPC's calendar. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) obtained an advance copy of the plans that were submitted to the LPC. All the renderings and drawings pictured here are from that document. Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture at NV5, and Erin Rulli, partner at Higgins Quasebarth, said that their overall goal is to add more seating and re-establish the east-west viewshed that extends from Zuccotti Park across the 140 Broadway plaza and over to SOM's 28 Liberty (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza), a modernist skyscraper of the same vintage. The 140 Broadway plaza "is the knuckle in a series of open spaces," Wandres said. "It makes the space feel much larger." A web of fine-toothed zoning designations divides these three seemingly unified areas and complicates the design intervention, however. The park and the two office tower plazas are POPS, spaces that are privately owned and maintained but free for the public to use. At 140 Broadway, the plaza continues out from the building to the edge of the roadway uninterrupted, even though the property line actually ends about 20 feet before the street; the food carts with LED marquees that sling chicken-over-rice and green juice to hungry passerbys sit on the public right-of-way. By obstructing the historical plaza-to-plaza vista, "the carts have caused a dramatic shift in how you experience the space," Rulli said. "It's not the intention to deprive anyone of their livelihoods, but rather, it's a design move for the benefit of the plaza," Wandres added. The pair clarified that any changes to the public area is under the Department of Transportation's (DOT) jurisdiction, not owner Union Investment's. Consequently, the proposed food cart–replacing benches and planters in the right-of-way are being reviewed by the DOT, not the LPC.
In the midst of World War II, three new cities sprung up across the United States, built from scratch by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Between 1942 and 1945, Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington would become home to more than 125,000 people, but, officially, none of these places even existed. In fact, everything that happened inside the three "secret cities" was strictly confidential—even their locations, which were completely off the map. Now, some 75 years later, the National Building Museum is digging through the archives to present a declassified picture of the three cities at the core of the Manhattan Project, the research and development mission behind the first atomic bomb, with the exhibition "Secret Cities: The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project," which opens from May 3. The show examines the exceptional design thinking required to build three clandestine cities at the height of the war, but these were not simple military encampments. Coinciding with the early moments of modernism, the hidden cities were a laboratory for the most cutting-edge explorations of town planning, engineering, and efficiency of mass and scale. To realize their vision, the Army Corps turned to architects like those at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who provided the master plan for the community at Oak Ridge, which would grow to encompass 10 schools, a hospital, 17 restaurants, and 300 miles of road. To make it all possible, a team from SOM, led by led by John Ogden Merrill himself, set up shop in the town. The Tennessee office would grow to include some 300 architects, making it among the largest firms in the country at the time. Not only would the town prove a testing ground in which Bauhaus and other early modernist principles were utilized to create the type of planned suburb development that would dominate the following decades, it was also an opportunity for SOM's designers and engineers to experiment with new techniques and technologies, using prefab and modular construction methods combined with cemesto panels (names for their a mix of concrete and asbestos). At the time, the work was strictly confidential—not even the residents of the secret cities knew what they were working on. Only now, with the distance of time, is it possible to examine the legacy of these instant cities that sprung from the atomic race.
When news broke last week about JP Morgan Chase’s plans to tear down 270 Park Avenue, otherwise known as the Union Carbide Building, by Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), the New York architecture community predictably went up in arms. Critics like New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson lambasted the plans as “obscene,” while Curbed’s Alexandra Lange called the plan “shortsighted.” But after the initial shock at such a huge building being torn down has faded—it would be the tallest building to be voluntarily demolished—there has still been little to no convincing argument offered for JP Morgan Chase to save the building. The Union Carbide building should be torn down. In fact, we should cheer as it falls because it represents the worst of midcentury American corporate architecture, something that at the time was totalizing, banal, repetitive, and dogmatic—when everything began to look similar. The Union Carbide building is derivative of the Seagram Building just down the street, an exemplar of a time when copying Mies had gotten completely out of control. In fact, Stanley Tigerman’s “The Titanic” addressed exactly this phenomenon: Mies was great, but his copiers were not. Buildings like Union Carbide are what inspired Tigerman and his peers to develop architectural postmodernism. By defending this building, critics are creating an echo chamber reinforcing bad corporate architecture that offers very little to architectural culture. By 1961, almost 70 years of seminal modernism had completely altered the way we build and the way we see our cities. Just in the United States alone, there are many important projects of the movement, including Mies’ Farnsworth House (1951), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Building (1939), and a number of projects in California by Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra that stand as important works that need to be saved to preserve this history. A nondescript corporate box from 1957 that isn’t even one of the most important buildings on its own block—the Seagram Building, the MetLife Building, the Lever House, and the PepsiCo Building are all better—shouldn’t be cried over. The Union Carbide Building is an offender of the high modernist co-optation of the guiding principles of Modernism—a movement originally fueled by a socially progressive agenda (better, cleaner, more egalitarian cities) and made possible by radical innovations in building technology, most notably machine precision and mass production. Davidson rightly notes that “before the 1950s, builders could hide approximations and errors with ornament or tolerant stone.” However, this disregards that fact that buildings like 270 Park paved the way for the co-optation of the original machine aesthetic of mass production in modernism. What started as something beautiful and new became something developers used to cut costs. The result is today's banal stream of terrible, stripped-down glass boxes that litter our skyline today: the late capitalist use of the modernist aesthetic and efficient production process to justify cheaper and cheaper buildings. Davidson claims, "To demolish one of the peaks of modernist architecture in the name of modernity is obscene, a sign that you consider your city disposable.” Unfortunately, this is an odd conflation of the idea of modernity and the contemporary. In architectural terms, modernity and modernism are historical periods, linked by the advent of the industrial revolution and the refinement of the machine aesthetic alongside it. However, Davidson’s linguistic trick falters when we realize that tearing down 270 Park would not be a quest for modernity, as we are now postmodern or something even further removed from modernity. Once we can move beyond an ideological idea that modernism is still important to the contemporary, we can treat it fairly as what it is: a historical style. Furthermore, 270 Park and many other midcentury buildings were built by the most ruthless cabal of capitalists the world has ever seen. They did it with style, but let’s not forget that the Madmen of this era reinforced a power structure that we are still struggling to shake off today. Theirs was a world fueled by misogyny, exploitation, white supremacy, and capitalist imperialism. Union Carbide is or should be notorious as the perpetrator of the worst industrial disaster in the history of the world, the Bhopal disaster, in which almost 4,000 workers and at least 15,000 people total were killed by a toxic gas leak at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. Midcentury clients were sometimes bad people with good taste. We shouldn’t tear the building down because of Union Carbide’s transgressions, but we should not assume that JP Morgan is a new evil desecrating some holy landmark. In fact, demolition is the only logical conclusion for a building like Union Carbide. It is a structure built precisely for the logic of the market to consume it: Capital exploits and extracts maximum value from whatever it uses and leaves behind a smoldering husk once it has been deemed worthless. Why not just let 270 Park die a natural death at the hands of the 21st century equivalent of Union Carbide: a multi-national bank? It’s really a beautiful story if you think about it correctly. It is true that this is a wildly wasteful proposal. But this building can be torn down as an exercise in tearing down such tall structures. The demolition could offer a useful case study to learn from. As skyscrapers age, this will become an important preservation issue. How will we deal with tall buildings in urban settings that can’t be imploded? What are the techniques for taking away glass at 40 stories? How does a curtain wall removal differ from a typical window assembly? This is not always a question of waste, either. How do we take down tall buildings that are severely damaged by fires, earthquakes, or other disasters? If the demolition is done correctly, companies like Rotor Deconstruction could also salvage much of the architectural heritage by saving a good amount of the building material, which could find new life in newer buildings. A strong proof-of-concept would help the entire profession. The Union Carbide building is the type of building that really isn’t that important, but has somehow become more revered because it is located in New York. However, this building is not any more remarkable than many like it all over the world. This myopic obsession with New York's past holds it back. Even Ada Louise Huxtable—who Lange quotes in her attempt to rationalize saving Union Carbide—once said in 1957, the year 270 Park was completed, “Today the old Park Avenue is being buried with remarkable and ruthless efficiency...For we must no longer just bury the past, we destroy it to make room for the future.” We have to wonder what she would think of the predicament today. However, just because 270 Park is not worth saving does not mean that what replaces it couldn’t be worse. The big question now is: What’s next? Architect Andrew Zago likes to say, “It’s ok to tear anything down, as long as you replace it with something better.” This is likely not JP Morgan Chase’s mantra, but the banking giant certainly has the resources to choose any architect it wants. How do we persuade Chase to hire an architect who will guarantee design excellence? One way is if the Department of City Planning were to hold the firm's feet to the fire. On such a high-profile project at the beginning of a neighborhood-scale transformation that the de Blasio administration seems invested in, DCP should have a say in what goes up. And they should care about design excellence. Let’s redefine what it means to be contemporary, not dwell on what it means to be “modern.”
Shortly after JPMorgan Chase announced that they would be demolishing their Midtown Manhattan headquarters at 270 Park Avenue, preservationists, architects and critics railed against the move on social media and through letters to the city. Now, the U.S. and New York/Tri-State chapters of non-profit preservation group Docomomo have teamed up for a joint effort to persuade New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to consider protecting the building. In a letter sent to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, both groups stressed the importance of the SOM-designed Union Carbide building in the canon of corporate architecture, and the role Natalie de Blois played in its design. Seeking to get ahead of the demolition, the letter states,
“As the agency charged with implementing the Landmarks law, we urge you--as the Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission--to immediately calendar 270 Park Avenue for local designation. We appreciate the need to partner and work with other city agencies to advance the goals of the City on behalf of its citizens. However, the goals of one large corporation should not nullify or ignore the public interest, the law or the authority of one agency over another.”Now that the tower is on the chopping block, calls for the building’s calendaring have intensified, as the New York-based Historic Districts Council has also advocated for the landmarking. It’s important to note that 270 Park Ave. had been identified as a potential landmark by the city once before, in 2013 ahead of the rezoning, and that 12 surrounding buildings were given protection. The city had also seemed on board at the time, saying in the Greater East Midtown Rezoning Final Environmental Impact Statement that, “One of the City’s greatest modern buildings, this 53-story [skyscraper] exudes strength and elegance in its protruding stainless steel mullions and simple but bold façade patterning created by the black matte metal spandrels...The ultimate pin-stripe building.” It remains to be seen whether these letters and lobbying will fall on deaf ears, as Chase is on track to raze the tower early next year, giving it the dubious distinction of being the largest voluntarily demolished building in history.