Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 10.14.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

The Sound of Waves


There’s a lovely confluence of modern architecture and waterfalls on the east side of Manhattan, and we managed to hit three excellent examples of the type during Open House New York. Our destination was the Japan Society, which just opened a lovely show of mostly stencilled textiles by 20th-century Japanese artist (once a Living National Treasure) Serizawa. There’s a kimono in the show from 1976 as luscious as any Morris Louis painting. My husband had never seen the Japan Society because he (like me until recently) had embarrassingly thought it was the same thing as the Asia Society.



















The 1971 building by Junzo Yoshimura was the first by a leading Japanese architect in New York City, and is exactly what you would expect a Japanese architect, tasked with building a monument to his own traditions in Manhattan in the 1970s would do. From the outside, it looks like SOM in modest mode, with dark metal siding and long horizontal balconies. The underside of the second-floor balcony, which holds lighting for the sidewalk below, is lined with thin wooden flanges, softening the lights and the corporate lines.

Walk in, and the city literally falls away. The interior of the four-story building (later expanded to five) is filled bya fountain whose falls create a sonic hum that blocks all other noise. Trees and grasses grow around and in the water on two levels, and a wood-tread staircase leads you up to the second-floor gallery, also housed behind wood walls. It is as if a Japanese house and garden had been transplanted wholesale. The atrium has a plaque thanking Blanchette and John D. Rockefeller III, and it is another Rockefeller, John’s sister Abby, responsible for the falls (louder still) at GreenAcre Park on East 51st Street.

We happened upon GreenAcre, which I had read about many times in William H. Whyte’s Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (watch his films on YouTube) walking from the 6 train and had to stop. There’s a snack bar, and a pergola, and green-painted Bertoia chairs around tiny Tulip tables. This is one of the parks that Whyte used as the positive argument for the midtown plaza bonus in his book, and a rebuke to all those building owners who purposely design repulsive piazzas. It is both intimate and able to be scanned from the street, shaded and wide open. Once up the short flight of steps you could be anywhere. The Japanese influence is plain in that pergola, and in the stepped fall of water that separates the park from the synagogue to the east. The architects, Sasaki Associates, landscaped most of the modern corporate campuses of the 1960s, using water, naturalistic plantings, and changes in grade (all tricks of the Japanese garden) to make places appear larger than reality.

The last falls are adjacent to 100 United Nations Plaza, a double-waterfall set a few steps below the sidewalk and hard by First Avenue. There are just enough built-in brick stools and low walls for three small groups to happily eat lunch, and the rush of water masks the traffic. Right around the corner is the Choux Factory, selling the delicious custard puffs that are big in Japan. The owners obviously felt right at home next to the falls.

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).

The Astrodome and the Challenges of Preservation
The Astrodome and the future of preservation.

Not Afraid of Noise: Mexico City Stories
A photographic tour of Mexico City, house by house, wall by wall.

Genzken and the City
A review of Isa Genzken's current retrospective on view at the MOMA.

Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.