Unbuilt New York (Whew!)

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Images above and below from “Never Built New York” (The New Yorker)

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The architectural writer Alexandra Lange reviews Never Built New York in The New Yorker: Her piece is called “The New York that Could Have Been,” a title that suggests she yearns for it. The book, written and compiled by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, illustrates profusely just how many bullets the city has dodged over the years. There are a number of examples from a century ago, such as the Egyptian pile proposed to replace that era’s City Hall in 1893 by Scottish architect George Ashdown Audsley, that might have been admirable additions to the Big Apple, but the book is chock-a-block with the sort of crash-and-burn modernist egotecture that Manhattan has wisely avoided countless times over the years, but, I’m afraid, not quite enough.

Lange points out that New York is filled with many architects’ worst work, but adds that “it’s difficult to feel real regret that many of these plans never came to be.” As the design of One World Trade Center shows, some relatively modest designs have replaced more ridiculous designs (often described as more ambitious), for which the city may count its blessings.

But The New Yorker does Goldin and Lubell proud with its slide show of images from the book. Click on the link above, because the illustrations are a wonder to behold. Lange describes many of them as if she wishes they’d been built. Most New Yorkers (and visitors to the city) will beg to disagree. The reasons they were not built are often painfully obvious – which, because so much that is regrettable was built, doubles our relief that so much was not.

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, 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 Unbuilt New York (Whew!)

  1. Steven Semes says:

    As I wrote many years ago in a review of the Robert A. M. Stern et al volume “New York: 1960” (which also showcased many unbuilt projects), the history of recent architecture in New York can be described as “the horrors that didn’t happen and the horrors that did.” We can be grateful for many of these projects to have remained on paper, but that doesn’t lessen the damage that many of those realized did to the city.

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    • Yes, Steve, how sadly true. Success at getting a project built does not necessarily equate to the success of a project, but alas, getting built is enough to encourage them to continue devastating the civilized city. Its success as architecture or as city building or as human habitat is someone else’s problem.

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