October 8, 2002
1:45 PM   Subscribe

The New Yorker wonders whether the new Westin hotel at Times Square is the ugliest building in NYC. What do New Yorkers think? Is ugly architecture anything more than just poor business? What is the state of architecture in this country? (more)
posted by pejamo (45 comments total)
15 years ago, Prince Charles berated the state of architecture in Britain "architects and developers have the wrong kind of freedom - the freedom to impose their caprice, which is a kind of tyranny. Competitions even encourage them to come up with the voguish innovations and fashionable novelties that appeal to nobody but other architects. One prominent architect recently confessed, airily and with no apparent sign of shame, that some of his earlier buildings have ceased to interest even him, now that the thrill of creativity has worn off."

With that statement in mind, what do you make of the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic?
posted by pejamo at 1:45 PM on October 8, 2002

it certainly looks more stylin' in that corporate artist's rendition than it seems to in photographs. it has that fashionably distressed "unfinished" look, like some heroin-chic girl in a slip dress. unpretty.
posted by donkeyschlong at 2:06 PM on October 8, 2002

Here's a better picture of the new Westin.
posted by pejamo at 2:07 PM on October 8, 2002

Looks like cheap Miami architecture.

posted by silusGROK at 2:21 PM on October 8, 2002

Ack indeed. Especially the second picture posted by pejamo.
posted by birgitte at 2:24 PM on October 8, 2002

Dear Lord. It's...it's...New York's version of Seattle's resident technicolor turd, the Experience Music Project. Frank Gehry, Paul Allen: we love you.
posted by Danelope at 2:26 PM on October 8, 2002

No way. AT&T Long Lines is way uglier.
posted by jeb at 2:29 PM on October 8, 2002

So *that's* what that building is -- I recently started interning on Eighth Avenue and was surprised to see that sticking out of the skyline. I actually rather like the tower itself, but that orange jagged-boxy portion is ridiculous -- it reminds me of the World's Largest McDonald's in Orlando (which is definitely one for the architecture critics, IMHO). On the whole I actually think I like it, especially in context, but agree that it probably isn't going to have much staying power...
posted by logovisual at 2:32 PM on October 8, 2002

The state of architecture in the US is almost that of nihilism; in other words, people just say no to architecture. In general, Americans don't care about and even have contempt for the postmodern vocabulary of current architecture. Personally, I think the Westin is fun, and considering that I hate Times Square, not too inappropriate. Great architecture it's not, but I think it's alright. I don't think it deserves that ugly tag--ostentatious maybe, and quite garish, but not ugly.

In general, I think the state of architecture is one of stagnation. There's a reliance on Brandname architects, and let's face it, Frank Gehry is old hat. He and the Guggenheim were planning a new museum near South Street Seaport downtown, and I believe plans have stalled (thank Goodness). His older stuff wasn't too good (chain link fences galore) and his newer stuff is just rote by-the-numbers. I love Richard Meier's Frankfurt Museum of Decorative Arts, but that's from '86, and there hasn't been too much good since. I even liked Peter Eisenmann's Wexner Center for the Arts, which is interesting in an art sense but terrible in functionality (the interior grid makes the art galleries unbearable, and it's falling apart already after 10 years). I mean, I'm willing to try and like this stuff, but it's mostly bad. Feh. I love the Chrysler Building.
posted by The Michael The at 2:35 PM on October 8, 2002

At least it doesn't have a fifty-foot-high red neon umbrella tacked on the side of it.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:37 PM on October 8, 2002

Especially after viewing the 9 story atrium, this feels like a 1950's version of the future.

Hey! I was promised a flying car!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:38 PM on October 8, 2002

I think Frank Gehry rocks ... I'd love a house by him. Or by I. M. Pei.F
posted by carter at 2:41 PM on October 8, 2002

I watched this thing going up when doing errands on the west side, and yes, I think it's ugliest new building to peer out on the skyline. It even outmatches the garish apt. buildings that raise up over Chelsea and the East Village, imposing a nasty sense of cheap construction for maximum profit.

I liked the Westin a lot more when it didn't have that nasty, NASTY skin put over it. Architecture is for its own sake now, I think. If you have to live near it (or heaven help you, with that facing your windows), that's really and truly your problem.

I began to get paranoid that architects were conspiring to drive the populace crazy with ugly and uninspiring buildings, that need explicating as to its 'meaning' and 'significance'. Now, I believe it's just a result of overspecialization and the (understandable) striving to accomplish something that hasn't been done before. I just wish someone would think that there might be a good reason it hasn't been done before.

Most of all, though, I blame whomever on the board of directors approved the plan for construction. I cannot believe that this was the best plan they received for the project.

The Westin's just another reason to keep to the east side...
posted by Busithoth at 2:41 PM on October 8, 2002

I kinda like that building. It's right by 42nd St and 8th, and it looks interesting in contrast to the yucky neighborhood (used to be called Hell's Kitchen, now hopefully redubbed Clinton).
posted by dammitjim at 2:41 PM on October 8, 2002

Oh, and I agree with Jeb -- that At&T building is, unquestionably, the ugliest thing in New York City. I stare at it every night when I get off the subway to walk home. Shudder.
posted by logovisual at 2:42 PM on October 8, 2002

I think the 'Long Lines' building has a certain brutal elegance to it. But then I like this one too. Quite frankly, developers are often just as responsible for imposing 'a kind of tyranny' on our cities. All too often scale, massing, detail and appearance are dictated by economic concerns, turning buildings into bland cash cows. A little bit of vulgarity is often welcome... The Architecture Hate Page is a good place for debate (often amongst architects themselves).
posted by jonathanbell at 2:49 PM on October 8, 2002

And going back to the original post, what I think is far worse than the Westin is Prince Charles' taste in architecture, which seems to amount to little more than a mythical reconstruction of Edwardian middle class artsy-crafty tweeness..
posted by carter at 3:11 PM on October 8, 2002

AT&T's Long Line building has a reason for being so butt-ugly, though: it's got a jillion pounds of telecom equipment sitting in it. The building is built like a brick shithouse, 'cause it needs to be strong.

A facade, however, would go a long way to eliminating that monolithic look.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:26 PM on October 8, 2002

I too have watched it going up and wondered... and now I know. I agree with logovisual: tower not bad, bottom part feh. And yes, Prince Charles should stick to cutting ribbons.
posted by languagehat at 3:31 PM on October 8, 2002

Me, I love the Centre Pompidou.

Ironically, when I was there, a number of the architecture pieces on display were commissioned for buildings in New York, some of them quite brilliant.

None of them were ever built. Case in point.

I'm still hoping the Eyebeam Atelier gets built...
posted by teradome at 3:37 PM on October 8, 2002

The tower doesn't even look that bad... but ditto on the orange drain-looking thing. What the hell?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 3:45 PM on October 8, 2002

carter, have you seen Gehry's homes? Nothing like his public buildings. I shudder at their thought.

Centre Pompidou = good.

I also LOVE the Seagram Building. Mies van der Rohe done some good with that one. I especially like its beautiful simplicity... your thoughts?
posted by The Michael The at 4:09 PM on October 8, 2002

Teradome: Funny, I was going to comment on how much this controversy reminds me of the Parisian reaction to the Centre Pompidou. I must say, I'm not partial to either.

For a short history of NY architecture, see James Lilek's Postcards of NY.
posted by bonehead at 4:15 PM on October 8, 2002

Oh, forgot to mention... when the Chrysler Building was built, nearly everyone, including Architecture periodicals and the NYTimes loathed it. It was constantly derided as gaudy, ostentatious, a piece of hideous vanity, called it Van Alen's Folly, etc. Even most random New Yorkers who didn't know anything about architecture laughed at it and hated it. And look where it is now...
posted by The Michael The at 4:32 PM on October 8, 2002

I think an ugly-but-different building beats more of the same old, same old any day of the week. Architecture in the states seems to amount to buliding the highest building possible.
posted by The God Complex at 4:33 PM on October 8, 2002

I, too, like the tower much more than the 'bustle'. (Who ever thought that earth tones could be gaudy?) It doesn't so much transition the building into Times Square as protect it. But the tower's skin isn't offensive to me, just playful in a kind of way that gets old quickly and doesn't really satisfy because it's random and pointless.

But then, this is decorative deconstructivism. A really bold statement would have been to leave the crown naked concrete, as in those construction-era photos.
posted by dhartung at 4:44 PM on October 8, 2002

I intern this year on the 42nd floor of the Viacom Building (aka 1515 Broadway aka the giant evil blue thing that perfectly exemplifies the corporate HQ of the third (or second?)-largest/evilest company on earth). I have to look at the Westin on a regular basis.

You know what? it's not the building. Times Square itself, to anyone not visiting for only a few hours, is fucking ugly. It's a mish-mash of old and new architecture all of which are completely tarnished and robbed of a remote level of value by construction equipment, neon television screens, and 8-story pictures of Cup Noodle with actual smoke coming out of them.

The nearby Empire State Building and Chrysler Building are pretty to look at to me not because of their structure or style, but merely because their the only buildings in my entire line of vision that don't have the architectural equivalent of eight pop-up ads materializing in front of them.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:45 PM on October 8, 2002

Sometimes the door needs to be obliterated with ugly architecture so really progressive (but pleasing!) architecture can be accepted.

"We're not sure about this proposal, but at least it's not as bad as the Westin!"
posted by Stan Chin at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2002

sometimes bad architecture is good.

the berlin tv tower?

most beautiful ugly tower ever.

warning: there's a large JPG in there. see if you can find it!
posted by fishfucker at 5:07 PM on October 8, 2002

The Westin will look much nicer in twenty years when they repaint it all one color.
posted by kindall at 5:25 PM on October 8, 2002

Why do so many people want to build buildings that make it look like we live in a cartoon? Are cartoons REALLY that much better than real life?
I guess it could be worse, they could be designing hotels that look like H.R. Giegers artwork.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:37 PM on October 8, 2002

The Weston will never look like anything but a bad pastiche of justly-aborted 80's trends. With its Memphis-Arquitectonica-Sottsass "wackiness" and "whimsy," it's an embarrassment to a city that invests in truly good architecture oh, about once in every fifty years.

As others have pointed out, AT&T Long Lines has a reason to look like it does. (I rather like its brutally functional look, but that's me.) By contrast, the Westin looks like it was focus-grouped into being by a quorum of Homer Simpsons.

Why this should surprise us, when America as a whole has been surprisingly resistant to the most innovative architecture of the last decade, is beyond me. (I'm not sure whether to be cheered or disturbed that some of the best is coming from the Federal courthouse program.)

The flipside, from the perspective of Tokyo, where most of the "new architecture" that gets built is pompous, cheap, and poorly considered, is that New York's parsimony sometimes looks like a good thing. No innovation also equals no Westins.

But who'd want to speak against the freedom to dare, even if that means the occasional excrescence of noxious whimsy?
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:43 PM on October 8, 2002

My biggest complaint with modern skylines is the lack of color. Anything to remedy that can't be so bad, can it?

Bring on the red skyscrapers!
posted by Kevs at 5:50 PM on October 8, 2002

But who'd want to speak against the freedom to dare, even if that means the occasional excrescence of noxious whimsy?

beautifully put.
posted by pejamo at 6:52 PM on October 8, 2002

I look out my office window at home almost directly at the thing - just a few blocks away. I love it. As I write this, they were doing something funky with the lights on it tonight ... (the curvy thing lights up, but they had it flashing from bottom to top - though it has stopped now - almost looking like something was blasting off). It makes the view from my aparentment way more interesting. The NYT guy is just a nasty, cynical, pretentious old fart.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:56 PM on October 8, 2002

TMT. The only Gehry house I was aware of was his own in Santa Monica, which I think is cool, if a bit Monsieu r Hulot. I don't think Pei does houses. I have however seen his Miho Museum which is fantastic. Mies van der Rohe could do me a place anytime: preferably a glass cube half buried into the side of a mossy bank in a g reen forest.ii
posted by carter at 7:09 PM on October 8, 2002

Well, I gotta say that while I think the coloration and design of this new building is pretty darned ugly, it's a whole lot better than any of the countless plain glass boxes that Mies van der Rohe inspired. The sooner they tear down those monstrosities, the better.
posted by crunchland at 7:51 PM on October 8, 2002

What a bitchy review. Ok, I don't love the Westin building with all my heart. Judging on the fly, it does look a little cheap, maybe. But on the other hand, it beats the hell out of the dull gray box next to it. Maybe architects should listen to Dave Eggers. If it were up to Dave, there wouldn't be many dull gray boxes.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:53 PM on October 8, 2002

I totally disagree with you guys. What, after all, is the primary function of a building? Is it to provide decoration for a city's skyline, or to support the life and work of those people who use it on a daily basis?

I have no problem with designed exteriors, and I acknowledge how critical architecture is when branding cities (look at the return Bilbao has reaped from its investment in Gehry, Foster, and Calatrava, for example). But, come on, when we fall to the level of "we need more red buildings" we've stopped discussing architectural design and started reviewing style.

(Quasi self-link: see my piece here for a better explanation of what I mean by distinguishing these two terms.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:04 PM on October 8, 2002

I'm not stuck on the exterior...but inside is another story. Beautiful use of color, IMHO.
posted by davebush at 8:26 PM on October 8, 2002

i love it when people 'discuss' architecture. regardless of anyone's opinion about the design, the bldg, precisely because of all of the loud reaction (which actually started when the initial drawings were first published way back when), is now an instantaneous new york landmark. everyone will know where it is, and when people book a room in new york, there is good bet a lot of them will recognize it in brochures for nyc, and that's good for business, one would guess.

adamgreenfield is correct. architecture has many parts and the facade and external form are only one. does the bldg work? perhaps go back and reread goldberger's review towards the end about the interiors. if anything it sounds like it is mundane but serviceable. but again, it is the facade and form (the signage) that brings them in. economics has a large part to play in design, for good or bad.

an interesting example of how a bldg which is generally despised on first unveiling can over a relatively short period of time become a positive part of a city fabric, even though it is still!! generally despised as an individual bldg, one need only look at johnson's ppg place in pittsburgh.
posted by buffalo at 9:31 PM on October 8, 2002

I lived in a dorm designed by IM Pei my freshman year of college (New College of Florida). They were built to his plans, but with substandard materials and were perceived by many as an eyesore but the experience of living in the structure was amazing.
Sadly, I've never been able to find good photographs of the building online.
Overall, I'm still a fan of pre-20th century architecture, mostly because modern architecture demands such precision that most designs just come off alienating and dull, and since they rely on perfect, unbroken forms they don't age well.
I'm afraid of what the Westin will look like in 30 years, after the windows start to sag and the paint cracks.
posted by twitch at 12:26 AM on October 9, 2002

It's funny. I just noticed this building today while walking through the area, though I must have seen it in earlier stages of construction. It must be my usual reaction of avoidance, and annoyance of these massive constructions. I have enough dust and noise just outside and inside my apartment already, thank you. My initial reaction was revulsion at its garish cartoon swaths of blue. I wondered what the colors tinting the windows must do to the interior light and view from the rooms. I couldn't see the hideous orange Miami-condo-looking bottom from where I stood. But yes, no doubt it will become a landmark, we do use these distinctive protrusions into our sky in navigating the streets, and I guess it does fit right into that Bladerunner/Las Vegas landscape that Times Square has become. I'll have to check it out at night. Who knows it might grow on me.
posted by gametone at 12:51 AM on October 9, 2002

I find this building to be intriguing because of Arquitectonica's willingness to seemingly combine Post-Modernist symbolism and colorfulness (which I usually have a problem with) and the somewhat bizarre formal expressions of the deconstructivist movement. The combination that this provides is possibly one of the most easily stomachable deconstructuvist (stylistically - I don't know if they're working with all the theory there) works of architecture in recent memory. However, it does appear that there has been a bit of a "homerization" of it - the earlier sketches and proposals were much more obviously comet-like at the base of the building with more of an explosion of billboards and colors (left the book in the States - can't remind myself exactly of what I'd like to describe) than this "yellow drain."

Yes, it is nice to see a colorful skyscraper, and one with intent, no less. Does it work? Don't know yet - it just opened. And why shouldn't we be trying new things in architecture? Architecture is the only art that truly reaches all the people - one can't avoid architecture.
posted by danbeckmann at 1:29 PM on October 21, 2002

Well, this fellow certainly couldn't avoid the architecture.

I just kill me sometimes. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 PM on October 21, 2002

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