Drinking in Manhattan


Kristen Richards, of ArchNewsNow.com, got Victoria, Billy and I onto a tour boat sponsored by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The vessel, of the Classic Harbor Line, is called the Manhattan, appropriately enough, and the tour was led by AIA’s John Kriskiewicz, who talked us all the way from Chelsea Piers on the Hudson, around Lower Manhattan and up the East River to about the Chrysler Building, and back around the horn again, 90 minutes in all. A marvelous tour, and many thanks to Kristen and Classic Harbor’s Meghan May Hart for arranging it all.

The ten photos hardly reflect all there was to see in two loops along the lower third of the island. Photographically, I am more interested in shooting the traditional buildings of old New York (and bombarding the others). Several of the photographs suggest the extent to which the old feel of Manhattan circa 1940 or 1950, with its jumble of 1916 zoning law setbacks, can be captured by narrowing your camera’s focus on a particular set of old buildings – and the extent to which that recapture is difficult, if not impossible. Tedious modernist buildings are now so ubiquitous when the skyline is viewed from a distance that the city’s modernity cannot be blinked away. Sustained bouts of real beauty in the city may be experienced mainly by walking between the avenues, not by taking in the skyline from a distance. This is sad, but it could change in future decades if more buildings by Robert A.M. Stern, Peter Pennoyer, or even George Ranalli (if he can go higher in his special way than he did with his Saratoga Avenue Community Center, in Brooklyn) – and of course please fill in the blank with others who have designed traditionally inflected buildings in Manhattan in recent years. And don’t forget to count the future work of the classicists emerging from various schools and programs today. Someday they may catch the wave of the future, and the Jetson cartoon of today may recede slowly into the sunset.

New York may not be a beautiful city today – no doubt arguments can be hosted on that issue! – but it is certainly an amazing city. Nothing like it in the world. Even such extraordinary skylines as that of Hong Kong, Tokyo and other great Asian cities, or Dubai, or in other parts of the world, hold no candle to New York – precisely because its classic skyscrapers offer the sort of spice that every other notable big city skyline lacks.

It was great to discover that however much classic beauty has receded on the Manhattan skyline, it remains that skyline’s most romantic feature. What a great boat ride!

I am too tired to label the buildings in the pictures below, but many readers will know them well. And I will answer any questions of identity that I can. By the way, the bearded gentleman in the first photo below, seated and looking toward the camera over the head of my son Billy, is John Kriskiewicz, the boat tour guide. And speaking of the boat, Kristen and I were in agreement, later that evening, that the vessel is of that enviable type of yacht that was featured as the boat owned by the U.S. senator that was blown out of the water by Japs on Dec. 7, 1941, in the excellent sci-fi film The Final Countdown (1980).


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Drinking in Manhattan

  1. barry says:

    I wonder if you have any observation or comment about whether or not New Yorkers can better enjoy their Hudson River waterfront, especially after the decision not to have a west side expressway and the redevelopment of the “high line.” Perhaps that is not answerabe from the river.


    • Kristen Richards loves the High Line. I haven’t been there. I planned to go but couldn’t make it. Between the High Line and the Frick, I chose the Frick, against Kristen’s advice, and am glad I did. But I’m still dying to try the High Line. You can see it from out on the Hudson, but you cannot assess it. I wanted to see the High Line at dusk, and that proved impossible, Frick or no Frick. I want to learn whether the High Line is genuinely engaging or just an overblown example of that new “Landscape Urbanism.” My guess, throwing my trust with Kristen, is to assume It is truly engaging. I also failed to visit Frank Gehry’s new apartment complex – I wrote that I might dislike it in spite of my praise a while back if I actually saw it in person – though I’m sure it will be there next time I am in NY.


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