Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Well, cheer up New York City architecture lovers. Manhattan is about to get another Frank Gehry project. Granted it’s a small one, and you won’t actually be able to see much of it from the street, but at least it will be there (from what I can tell from photographs of the very handsome models, I already like it better than the iceberg Mr. G. built for Brrrrrry Diller on the West Side Highway).

The Signature Theatre Company has announced that, thanks to a $25 million grant from the city, its plans for a $60 million, 74,000-square-foot complex of three small theaters, two rehearsal spaces and a central lobby/bookstore/café—designed by the Titan of Titanium himself—will open in a building currently under construction at 42nd Street and 10th Avenue, former site of one of the Big Apple’s last authentic coffee shops (well, you can’t have everything). The developer had hoped to include a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil on the site, but the city decided that the Cirque was too commercial to qualify for municipal assistance and nixed the idea.)

What was not so hot for the existential Canadian circus was a cool opportunity for the folks at Signature, including founding artistic director James Houghton). The Signature, a standout in the world of not-for-profit companies, was at one point scheduled to have a new home in the phantom building allegedly going up at Ground Zero sometime or other (as things are moving, not before the turn of the next millennium). The 2010–11 season is the Signature’s 20th, and it will be marked by a year-long look at the work of resident playwright, Tony Kushner; the festival will include the first New York revival of his three-part Pulitzer-winning Angels in America (

As for his work in the affair, Gehry calls the project “elegant yet modest,” which is accurate enough. After all, they’re theaters; they function best in the dark. Still, there are some typical Gehry flourishes, and the center probably won’t be boring at least. The scheduled opening is 2012, but don't order your tickets just yet. The project has already been seriously delayed once by matters related to the economy.


And then there’s the impending tower itself, which may be the bad news that more than outweighs the Gehry good. Just what the up-and-coming skyscraper will look like is apparently a Big Secret. The developer, Related Properties, hired Florida-based Arquitectonica to design the building (they are the hands behind the Westin at 42nd and 8th Avenue and other, better-looking buildings, particularly in Miami). When pictures of the structure leaked to the web recently (from a posting on the site of the company subcontracted to produce the glazing), architecture buffs let out a collective howl of dismay at the soulless, anonymous glass box that will tower 59 unaffordable stories above one of the most congested intersections in Gotham (it’s virtually the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel).

The pix were yanked within hours, but way too late. Related claims that they are out-of-date and do not represent the current building plan. But the building is already under construction. Don’t the developers know what it’s going to look like? Is this the equivalent of a movie studio trying to release a stinker of a film without letting critics review it before it opens? How bad can it be? Pretty bad if it’s anything like the picture: anonymous, cold, uninspired—not a feather in Arquitectonica's cap.

Bad design is probably not the best way to get people to move in or visit (it’s approved as a combined hotel and apartment building). At the moment the intersection is two very long blocks to the nearest subway, especially in bad weather. There’s a bus, but chances are that Mayor Bloomberg and his lunatic transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, will shut it down and put up a few picnic tables in the crosswalk instead, as they have elsewhere in the city, making it next to impossible to move efficiently above ground. But that’s another gripe for another post. I wouldn’t want to be alarmist about the thing.—ML

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