If you haven’t read New Dawn by Robert Penn Warren, today’s a good day to do so. Unfortunately, copywrote, so you’ll have to buy a book or be a New Yorker subscriber so that you can read it on the web.
A few months ago, I was at an event at the recently-renovated Williamsburgh Bank. I obviously approve of adaptive reuse, and it’s a gorgeous building, so I was generally happy. However, shoving 400 people onto the main banking floor meant that it was difficult to see some of the beautiful original/restored architectural detail.
So I looked up, at the underside of the dome.
I’m a fan of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was an insanely talented engineer and pretty much defined indefatigable with his launch of the S.S. Great Eastern. (When I last worked for a big company, I had my computer desktop background dark gray with two pictures near the center. One day the head of marketing stopped by my office to ask some questions and noticed the pictures. “Your grandfathers?” she asked. “Not quite.”
The difference between the tubular upper chord and the chain lower chord is a nice expression of structural intent: the upper chord is a compression arch and the tube form is the best to resist buckling; the lower chord is a tension catenary where buckling can’t occur.
The former “World Financial Center,” now being rebranded as Brookfield Plaza, also known as four big office buildings and a mall, is near our apartment. The rebranding includes renovation to carefully remove the 1980s architectural cliches so that they can be replaced by 2010s architectural cliches.
I spent a couple of minutes this evening watching a few men remove some concrete with a pneumatic hammer.
Then I noticed some joker – quite probably their foreman – had spray-painted instructions. Look where the roof of the low building meets the tower on the left. Look closer.
I imagine it as a power ballad of the same era as the original construction.
Can’t you see?
If we’re not “we”
Set me free
Please demo me.
Under the heading of “what the fuck was going on?” two pictures of the building my office is in.
First, 1906 or so. [click to engorge tremendously]:
Note the nice symmetrical roofline with the pretty flags.
Now, 1908. A fraternal twin was built just to the north, across Thames Street, and the Singer Tower is visible in the background.
Note that the building has grown an appendage on the Broadway (east, right) end of the roof. It’s a little copper lighthouse, more or less. It’s unoccupied, means nothing in the ego-game of “who’s got the tallest building?”, and is completely ignored.
I’ll never know why it was added and it gnaws at me.
I admit that this is personal for me. All four of my grandparents passed through the Ellis Island immigration station and the few times they mentioned it in my presence were in terms of the mind-numbing fear of (a) being sent back or (b) being found to be ill. Keeping in mind that three of them did not speak English at the time and the clerks there were famously bad with languages, it may well have been the worst day of their lives.
I worked on the rehab of the Main Building in the early 90s and got a trip to see the museum before it opened to the public. The dissonance between the high-def, large-format pictures of people somewhere on the spectrum between unhappy and terrified, and the adjacent happy-speak about new opportunities in a new land gave me a thumping headache. I’ve been told the text was adjusted a few years later.
Most of Ellis Island is landfill. The island now has a squared-off C shape, with the north arm of the C being where the main immigration hall is, the crotch of the C being the ferry slip, and the south half being no-mans-land. The south half is where problematic immigrants were stored, so most of it is a hospital where any number of people died in sight of their goal.
I’ve been there. It’s a combination of historic and depressing that leaves me at a loss for what should be done there…if, in fact, anything should be done there.