Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Roadside Motel Comes to Brooklyn

Holiday Inn is, of course, one of the largest hotel/motel chains in the world. It began as a dream of Memphis building-industry mogul Kemmons Wilson. In the 1950s Wilson travelled the newly-created Eisenhower Interstate highway system, and was appalled at the slovenly conditions that he found in America's roadside motels. He envisioned a chain of motels, offering clean, convenient, standardized accommodations across the country. The idea of franchising was relatively new then, and Wilson and Ray Kroc (of McDonalds fame) really revolutionized the concept. Holiday Inn was the first mass-produced hotel/motel chain, and is still one of the largest in the world.

Now, other than as a business model, Holiday Inn has never been spectacular in any way. In fact, the chain became a bit slovenly itself in the 80s and 90s, and the company (now British-owned) decided to undergo a chain-wide image makeover. This seems to have chiefly involved a new logo, and a new architectural image, which seems, by all accounts, to basically be cheap and pseudo-neoclassical, or something.

This new design loses on all fronts. At least the original Holiday Inn aesthetic was current-- it may have been cheap, but it perfectly embodied the futuristic aesthetic of the 1950s, and thus fell in line with the designs for automobiles, airstreams and the other new products of postwar America. The new design prototype, at some pitiful attempt at connoting class, manages to do nothing but summon up shell-shocked, horror-stricken architectural flashbacks of Michael Graves:

The new Holiday Inn in Gowanus' "Hotel District" (image at the top of this posting) embodies the worst of this.

The saddest part is, before this company-wide re-imaging campaign, there were actually some pretty interesting Holiday Inns going up around the world (see below images, of inns in the Maldives and Sao Paulo). Or maybe they just saved their good designs for overseas.

Honestly, I hope this whole thing backfires on them. Stick to your roots, Holiday Inn. If you wanna go for historicism, why not go back to your original car-culture aesthetic, rather than this stupid, un-founded and un-urban 'classical' look? Now Gowanus has another shitty stucco monstrosity. Fuck you, Holiday Inn.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The AIA's Ugliest Building List

The American Institute of Architects' NYC chapter has published its list of the city's top ten uglies buildings. Here's the link:

I gotta say, this is a strange list, given that it has supposedly been compiled by architects.

First off, why would the NYT Building make the top spot? Sure, it is 'old' and 'grey' like the paper, and certainly less inspired than nearly all of Renzo Piano's other buildings, but, really? the ugliest in the city? The building was surely designed to connote respectability and sobriety, a fitting request from the most trusted newspaper in the country. If you'll recall, the Seagram building was designed to be banal for the same reason--so people would respect Seagram as a veritable business, even though they make a product that gets people drunk. But the AIANY would never dream of putting the Seagram Building on this list, probably because of the bizarre deification of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe by the architectural elite, even though Mies is basically the inventor of modern ugly. And furthermore, if "God is in the details", as Mies famously stated, then Piano's NYT building is far superior to any of Mies' famous works.

Second, why the Bear Stearns headquarters? Are some of the AIANY members still angry at the company for fucking up their retirement funds? This skyscraper is nothing spectacular, but it is certainly far more elegant than the majority of its' neighbors in Midtown. I gotta say though, I do agree with the AIA's inclusion of the Trump buildings.

Hey AIA, here's a few biggies that you bizarrely overlooked:

1 Penn Plaza - Not only is this one of the most uninspired designs in the city, it also lies on the hallowed ground of the old Penn Station, the greatest building ever to be demolished in NYC.

MetLife Building - Sorry Philip Johnson, you fail. This drab monstrosity would be bad enough on a normal block of Midtown, but it also sits in between two of the city's treasures, the New York Central tower and Grand Central Terminal, and casts is foreboding shadow over both.

Verizon Building - Please, please give me a facelift.

Javits Center - the 'Death Star on the Hudson'. This has got to be the ugliest convention center on the planet. It looks like this is where you go if you want to get transformed in to a robot and simultaneously have your soul sucked out. Even FXFowle's new project to renovate the building won't save this thing from scaring little children.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

1142 Bedford Avenue - Brightness/Contrast

Oh, 1142 Bedford....... It's not so much that you're homely (and you are), it's more a matter of contrast.

This building went up on the northwest corner of Bedford and Monroe, in Bed-Stuy. At the time of its design, one block away at the corner of Gates Avenue, on the same corresponding corner lot, there existed a beautiful old building housing a community mental health center. See below.

To the neighborhood's dismay, this building (1124 Bedford) was torn down, even though it was still perfectly structurally sound, to make way for a condo tower. And while this is super-unfortunate, the new tower at 1124 is actually not bad as midrise condo towers go. It is well-detailed, with a classy metal storefront system, dark red brick facade and a decorative cornice that looks surprisingly appropriate. Nothing special, but worthy at least of the status of extra in the cast of NYC's built environment. It is nearing completion now.

Unfortunately, back down the block at Monroe Street, 1142 did not fare so well. This lot fell victim to the usual modern plague of mediocre grey brick, cheap clear aluminum metal detailing, non-functional balconies, and overall absence of any narrative or character. The design also has a serious massing issue-- the bottom corner of the building is all glass, and there is no celebrated structural element in the vicinity. Therefore, the building appears to neither 'float' above the glass storefront nor 'rest' on top of it. Instead, the whole building appears to sit precariously on the site, resting its entire weight on the flimsy and awkward aluminum glass mullions.
Unfortunate. And it looks even worse because you can see the same design problem solved so much more eloquently, only a single block away. Note to the designers: as soon as you build something permanent, it can immediately be seen by everyone in context with its neighbors. There's a chance that its neighbors will be a lot better lookin'. So step up! And fuck you, 1142 Bedford!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

134 4th Avenue - Flagship of The New Fourth Avenue

If you'll recall, a few years ago the city re-zoned the stretch of 4th Avenue that runs through Park Slope / Gowanus. At the time, Marty Markowitz said that 4th Ave would be Brooklyn's "Park Avenue". So I was very excited to see this building go up, one of the first to take advantage of the new 12-story height limit here.

Boy was I disappointed.

I hear through the grapevine that the building was actually designed by an engineer, and just stamped by an architect. This helps to explain the horrific final product, but doesn't make me feel any better about having to look at it. What a terrible start to our Park Avenue. It does nothing right. It looks like a cut-and-fold model of a suburban Ohio branch of the IRS. Assuming that the designer actually made a conscious decision to do somethin' kinda historic-lookin', they didn't even take the tiny step of looking at the rudimentary basics of traditional design, evident if you look pretty much anywhere in the city (hint: check out Park Avenue!). Harmonious proportions? Some kind of cornice? Symmetry? The only thing traditional about it is the piano nobile, which in this application only serves to create a stark, lifeless streetscape, as opposed to elevating and glorifying the building. Fuck you, 134 Fourth Avenue!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

134 St. Marks - a really ugly building

I spent two years watching this building go up. Maaaaaaan was it a disappointment when it was done. I remember, about halfway through it's construction, I asked one of the carpenters about it. His reply was: "It's going to be killer-- it's going to blow every other building on the block out of the water!" Thanks for the warning, hard hat guy. It certainly does suck.

I think the building has two main problems: It tries to do too much, and it tries to do it cheaply. Those metal panels should have been outlawed 20 years ago. They're everywhere, and they never look anything but cheap and flimsy. And what's the deal with the balconies? They're like 12" deep. It would be okay maybe as just French doors, except the balconies are solid, so they don't even give you the feeling of openness that a French door would give. Nor could one use them as a real balcony, for, say, grilling or drinking games. Fuck you, 134 St. Marks!

Here's the first sticker, on it's new home, 900 Metropolitan!

900 Metropolitan Avenue - Ugly Building #1

This building is ugly. And it is a fitting first building for the NYC DUB because it's ugliness is so representative of the new ugliness sweeping the city. There are a million little buildings like this in the five boroughs (well, four boroughs), and they all look so... incomplete. Like they're really just a small part of a giant robot, like Voltron's leg. Alone, they say nothing. There's no harmony, no message, no story. Just some brick and some glass and some metal. Fuck you, 900 Metropolitan!