Good news from Big Apple

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111 West 57th St., designed by SHoP Architects.

The New York Times has published an article that, because it is in the New York Times, is sure to uplift the status of beauty on the architectural scene, in that city and elsewhere. “Bygone Romance Makes a Return” (“The Return of Golden Age Design” online), by Tim McKeough, ran on Page 1 of the Oct. 18 real-estate section subtitled: “With so many glass towers vying for attention in New York City, some developers are looking to the past for inspiration. The result: new buildings with Art Deco and neo-Georgian flourishes.”

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Rendering of Vandewater, in Morningside Heights. (Binyan Studios)

I doff my hat to Kristen Richards, editor of, the thrice-weekly free roundup of architectural news from around the world (in English). She warned me (heh-heh) by email that this article would be on her website. Most of her selections tend to validate her modernist disposition, but she is one of that extraordinarily rare breed, an honest and genuinely objective journalist. (Even I don’t claim to be the latter!)

Shortly after introducing readers to this remarkable turnabout in Big Apple projects, McKeough adds:

Rather than trying to develop buildings with contorted forms or monastic minimalism, they are aiming to evoke the romantic glow of New York’s past with new buildings that recall Art Deco, neo-Georgian and neo-Gothic style.

The comments at the end of the article include one by Arturo Eff. He writes, “I’d like to say bravo. I should love to see NYC in say 100 years. If the 20 year + trend of building tall mirrors in the sky is replaced by a new version of older more traditional designs, then hooray!” I’ll second that emotion!

There are plenty of passages and quotations that warm the cockles of your peripatetic classicist. Here’s another one, with McKeough quoting Akash Gupta, the recent purchaser of a condo in the Rose Hill, designed by CetraRuddy with Art Deco touches at 30 East 29th St.:

“There was a lot of supply in the area,” said Mr. Gupta, 47, who works in finance. But when he saw the Rose Hill sales gallery, “It was an easy decision,” he said. “It was a great building that jumped out as something differentiated. It felt special, like it was not just another building. Everything else was regular glass and steel.”

According to Beth Fisher, a senior managing director at Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, Mr. Gupta is far from alone in his opinions. “There has been a backlash against all-glass towers, particularly in neighborhoods or areas that are really seeking to have a highly residential character,” Ms. Fisher said. “And I think, fundamentally, people seek a sense of solidity for tumultuous times.”

All music to my ears, of course. But I looked down through the illustrations of these fine buildings, and visited the 21 images in the slideshow, without finding a single building that could possibly be confused with anything of the sort erected before World War II that many find enchanting today. Most of the buildings feature setbacks in their massing, vertical piers separating ranks of windows, and more overt decoration on the exterior façades (mostly at the entrance level) than in most modernist towers. But the setbacks are often minimal, and so is much of the decoration. The bulk of the Times’s examples seem to be takeoffs on Art Deco, which, if dumbed down, can almost be hard to distinguish from some of the more frisky modernist glass towers.

The website for 111 West 57th Street (top image) sort of lets the cat out of the bag. Text for an interior view reads: “All of [interior designer William] Sofield’s projects imbue a restrained luxury in design through choices in materials and craft as well as through a process of discovery where clients decipher their very own concept of luxury.”

That could mean anything, and imbibes of a sensibility that favors the anti-traditional theories of deconstructionism that are intended to degrade our ability to say things (and mean things) in a straightforward manner.

But if Tim McKeough and his editors at the Times want to try to fool us into thinking there’s a genuine revival of traditional work that is being applauded by the Times itself, then please, by all means, let the good times roll.

There are probably quite a number of buildings designed by architects such as Robert A.M. Stern (who is quoted), Peter Pennoyer and other classicists – more so, it may be, among the less dizzying examples of recent residential architecture. Maybe, if it really wants to cause a stir, the New York Times should feature some of them.

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Penthouse of Fifth Avenue triplex not pictured in NYT article. (Peter Pennoyer Architects)

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,, 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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3 Responses to Good news from Big Apple

  1. leveveg says:

    Reblogged this on LeveVeg and commented:
    Får bare lyst til å sitere Audun Engh:

    “Riksantikvaren slår til og fremmer innsigelse mot bygging av høyhus ved verneverdige gamle fabrikkbygninger ved Akerselva i Oslo. Forhåpentligvis vil ikke Riksantikvaren bli overkjørt av departementet, hvis utbyggerne og kommunen ikke gir seg. Forhåpentligvis vil denne saken bidra til å stanse den grønnvaskede høyhusbyggingen som byrådet, inkludert MDG, nå tror på. Høyhusbygging bør stanses, ikke bare av hensyn til gamle enkeltbygg, men også for å ivareta det sentrale Oslos historiske karakter, preget av kvartalsbebyggelse med bygårder i moderat høyde. Normen bør være maks. ca fem etasjer. SITAT: «Riksantikvaren reiser imidlertid innsigelse mot både Avantor og PBEs alternativer.

    – Disse planalternativene sikrer ikke en reell bevaring av Redskapsfabrikken. Plangrepet med å etablere tre boligtårn innenfor fotavtrykket til Redskapsfabrikken svekker både opplevelsen av den lave, horisontale industribygningen og kulturmiljø og landskapsdrag langs elva, og er klart i konflikt med både bygningen og kulturmiljøets nasjonale kulturminneinteresser, skriver Riksantikvaren i en uttalelse.

    Les også: Slik ønsker eieren å utvide Oslo Spektrum

    Riksantikvaren viser til at Redskapsfabrikken har høy kulturhistorisk verdi «som en godt bevart og autentisk del av den tidlige industrialiseringen i Norge og langs Akerselva».”


  2. LazyReader says:

    The Grandiose of Art Nuveou and Deco is making a comeback in aesthetic details. Not necessarily the whole design language. Because modern architecture looks the same wherever you go, but what makes New York original, BRICK and steel.


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