What's the greatest building in the five boroughs? That was the question posed to a roundtable of architectural heavyweights by New York Magazine
, and the discussion got off to a chippy start when moderator Justin Davidson asked the panel what makes a New York building good. Bernard Tschumi:
Before 2000, everything was about being contextual, and buildings were supposed to be good citizens. And when somebody from out of town asked me what new architecture to see, I had a hard time giving them an answer. Now I can tell them about all these exciting new buildings that break the pattern and don’t play the typical New York game of the podium with the tower on top. So suddenly we have buildings that no developer in their right mind would build — but they did.
This didn't sit too well with Bob Stern:
Well, the buildings that entertain Bernard’s friends, who jet in from wherever, don’t really make any contribution except as big art objects. The city can take them, but what are they telling us? They don’t offer any new insights about how people live, or about the relationship to the street or to the sky. Just a new curtain wall, and a strange one at that. To be a good citizen is to work with the city and not against it.
Greg Pasquarelli, of SHOP architects and a voice of a younger generation, weighed in with a defense of Tschumi's architecture-as-art position:
I disagree. Like other kinds of art, great buildings contradict everything else. They make us think. They start conversations, so people talk about what it means to fit in, what it means to have courage. It’s okay for some buildings not to work.
I like to think buildings should start conversations, but I also think buildings should work—I'm not sure why this should ever be a zero-sum scenario, and the two buildings that the esteemed group latched onto as the best in the city prove the point: Grand Central Terminal and the Whitney Museum. (Seagram and the ESB also got some love). Grand Central took the crown, and no argument, though I'd put in a vote, as well, for the NYPL
, and perhaps a ballot for Cooper's Foundation Building
It's worth noting, on the subject of the Whitney, that last week, in the same magazine, Justin Davidson floated the idea, proposed by Stern, of transforming Breuer's Whitney building, once the Whitney departs
, into an architectural museum. I'm not sure a new architecture museum for the city is realistic—thought it would be great—and certainly the space would be perfect for it. Another option, why not make it a new home for MoMA's Architecture and Design Department. Although I'm sure PJ would cringe at the prospect of his department in a Breuer building (the two men had a troubled relationship), it's a perfect venue, and there's no one who knows the architect or the building better than Barry Bergdoll. Solved!
Your favorite NYC building? Should we even count Central Park in these conversations?