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).