Sunday, March 11, 2007

Point, Counterpoint

In response to Gridskipper's recent article, "Ugliest Buildings in New York," I'd like to add my own contribution to this meme (I think this means blog topic, but it's anyone's guess). To differentiate myself I'll call my list of ugly buildings "What, Are You Blind?" and as counterpoint to these entries, "Funkiest Buildings No One Ever Mentions in their Best Of Lists." Let the games begin.

1. Hearst Tower: Okay, this is on Gridskipper's list as well, but I have to mention it because it's possibly my least favorite building in New York, yet it's getting the most press as some genius work of art. Look at it. It's a freaking DNA model growing out of the Winter Palace. It would've been okay if they razed that columned monstrosity to begin with, *then* built the double helix. No, the architect, Sir Whatsisname thought it more aesthetically pleasing to have one jutting out of another, like shaft from balls. For the record, they should revoke his knighthood for this one. It makes my eyes bleed just looking at it.

While we're on the topic of buildings protruding from other buildings, these two gems jump to mind.

2. MetLife Building, nee Pan Am Building: Wow, Grand Central Terminal just sold us their air rights. Let's construct the ugliest, no personality, waste of steel eyesore in history! It'll diminish all the grandeur of this lovely rail terminal so badly that it will go right down the toilet, like Penn Station! Gather round, ye contractors. Let us progress into the dark ages of architecture!

3. Penn Station/Madison Square Garden/McGraw-Hill: You're right Charles Luckman, Penn Station is way too pretty for the unwashed masses. Just tear down that Beaux-Arts disaster and put up whatever you'd like. A building shaped like an above ground pool and just as attractive? Great idea. Stick a high rise on top? Why not? What? We have to keep the rail tracks? Okay, but bury them below and make the station so unattractive, stuffy and soulless that we completely discourage anyone from entering the island of Manhattan for all of eternity. Oh, and make sure you have plenty of room for stinky snack kiosks. An assault on all 5 senses should do the trick.

Since we're in the neighborhood of Penn Station, that reminds me of this darling.

4. FIT: Pardon me, but a school that is reportedly renown for pumping out big name designers might want to think about the term "design" when "designing" their building. This place looks like a cross between Police Headquarters and the crappy library at American University. If I were a student here I'd be spending more time thinking about jumping out the window than thinking about my spring line.

And here we have the granddaddy of them all.

5. Port Authority: I don't think it's possible to get any more heinous than this structure on the corner of 42nd and West Shit Street. It's not even a building, it's a bunch of girders. Allegedly, somewhere in its maw there are a bunch of buses waiting to debark to the outer reaches of New Jersey, but I don't believe it. The only props I'll give it is it's being the last bastion of the craptastic New York City of the '70s. Other than that, I highly recommend the city hires that family from Vegas who specializes in imploding buildings and just start the fuck over. I'll even pay for it.

Now I'd like to offer up some of my faves.

1. There's a stretch of East 67th Street that has three buildings in a row that I just adore. One is the archetypical police station, next is the archetypical fire station (sorry, no photo) and the last is one of the coolest synogogues I've ever seen. Report a crime, walk next store and report a fire, then walk next door and report to God. Genius.

2. Delmonico's: Amongst the caverns of downtown Manhattan sits this quiet little oasis of earthly delights. I believe it's been here just about as long as the wall on Wall Street. Doesn't it just beckon you to enter? "Step inside," it whispers. "We have steak and scotch. If you're good, we'll let you even enjoy an after-dinner stogie. Go the distance. Ease your pain. They built it, come in."

3. Grand Central Terminal: the MetLife building humping it not withstanding, Grand Central is one of my happy places. Big shout out to Jackie Kennedy for overhauling the place to its former grandeur, in particular figuring out that a lovely cereulean sky lived under 100 years of soot. Sometimes I'll just go over there and hang on the steps of Metrazur and just stare up at the constellations. No joke.

4. Finally, my favorite building (after the requisite Chrysler and Flatiron buildings): Lever House. I don't know shit about architecture, but I know what I like, and I like Modernism. There's something so simple yet complex and interesting about this little number that it stands out on that stretch of Park Avenue like a sore thumb. I hate that expression. Let's try this: on a street full of suits, it's the dude wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Stan Smiths. It has a garden roof, a four star restaurant, and it's green, for crikey's sake. How many other Park Avenue buildings are green? Seagram Building across the street? Bo-ring. This is my Park Avenue baby, and sometimes when walking home I'll go out of my way to cross through its street level open space. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill - I love you.

Of course, there are many more buildings in New York that I love and hate, but these are the big ones. Plus, I couldn't find pictures of the others.


  1. hey sally tomato--it's commenter josh speed from gawker. and i enjoyed this post--very funny~!

  2. Wow - I don't know what's weirder, your real name (*is* that your real name) or your handle. Anyway, thanks for the feedback! See you in the comments.

  3. I'd nominate 2 Columbus Circle for the single worst building in New York, and put Lever House and the Staten Island ferry terminal on the worst list.

    Most overrated: Flatiron Building.

    I'd add the Jefferson Market Library, Guggenheim Museum, and the Custom House (now the National Museum of the American Indian) on the best list.

  4. Great call on Lever House. I think it's a landmark, if I'm not mistaken. And the way the top tower just kind of sits on the bottom level, on these little stilts... too cool.

  5. I almost passed out when I thought you weren't going to mention the Chrysler. Whew!

    Great uglies / beauties list!

  6. whatever, am i the only person on this little list that thinks every one of the buildings mentioned is really beautiful? i mean brutalism is the only authentic american architectural style, and it should be embraced as such.

    ps - the MetLife bldg is really the PanAm building. and it's amazing.

  7. great list.
    would have been greater with LARGE pictures, no?

  8. Ironies. Charles Luckman had a very successful business career and was the president of the the company that built Lever House. He was so inspired that he quit his job and became a successful architect. Not a good one, a succesful one.

  9. this was hysterical. i peed a bit reading the MSG one. totally agree that that building is a hemmorhoid.

    i love when you get angry and bitchy. me-ow.


  10. Not so sure I agree 100% with your list, but I sure dig your writing.

    After all, isn't that what all this blog shit is about anyway?

  11. I love the Lipstick Building.

  12. This post is like black and white TV. You're net based. You have the power to put these buildings at our finger tips (literally). Why the thumbnail pictures?!

  13. you gotta problem with The American University Library?

  14. The base of the Hearst Tower is landmarked - hence any addition had to be attached to it.

  15. Iceman: 2 Columbus: ah, totally forgot that one. Yes, a complete disaster, though many feel just the opposite. Ye-uck. Also agree with you on Jefferson Market and almost posted that one, but it got bumped for the 67th street buildings.

    Anonys #4 and #9: I did not know that. Very interesting. See, I told you I didn't know shit about architecture.

    Anony #5: Gracias.

    Anony #6: That's one of my faves as well. So shiny...

    Anony #8: I went to A.U. I'm allowed to bitch.

    Ella: "hemmorhoid" - good one!

    Everyone: yes, I know the pictures are small, but I was too lazy to find bigger ones. Sorry.