Virtual Front Page, Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just a few more Dog Days left, and after that the news pickings won’t be so slim here in SC. Here’s what little we have today:

  1. Coordinated Attacks Strike 13 Towns and Cities in Iraq (NYT) — As our troops leave, the insurgents start to make their move. After a “mission-accomplished” visit to troops in Texas next week (and you can bet his staff will be on the lookout for any such banners, and rip them down if seen), President Obama will address the nation about Iraq.
  2. Mexican Military Finds 72 Bodies Near Border (BBC) — They were trying to cross into the United States, officials say.
  3. Outsourced Call Centers Return, To U.S. Homes (NPR) — Maybe they should change the term to “in-sourcing.”
  4. Refugees Fill Karachi, Fueling Strife (WSJ) — The human scale is appalling. The one good thing about news being so absent here at home is that at least in August, we notice some of the horrors happening elsewhere.
  5. Toxic chemical prompts warnings at Lake Wateree (The State) — Sammy Fretwell warns us about PCBs in striped bass, blue catfish and largemouth bass.
  6. New Skyscraper to Rival Empire State Building (NYT) — We still haven’t replaced the Twin Towers, but this is impressive. I’m not sure I want anything this close to the Empire State, but I’m a traditionalist. What do y’all think?

14 thoughts on “Virtual Front Page, Wednesday, August 25, 2010

  1. Phillip

    Re #6: It’s an ugly design. The Twin Towers at least were sort of unto themselves at the bottom of Manhattan, but placing this monstrosity (like a supersized version of something you’d find in a place like Charlotte) right in midtown really adversely affects the overall impact of all the Deco skyscrapers nearby, especially of course the ESB. I suppose it’s just one more step in the ongoing “mall-ification” of Manhattan, trying to turn it into Dallas or something.

  2. bud

    I think it’s hillarious that the owners of the Empire State Building want to prevent the construction of a competitor. Once a monopoly is established folks don’t want to give it up. Good for the government of NYC that they overwhelmingly approved the new building. We don’t need anyone to have a monopoly on the sky in mid-Manhattan.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    It amazes me how many folks who eschew all regulation of how they can use *their* property come crying when someone nearby wants to do something they don’t like! If you want design controls, or controls on where a mosque/community center can be built, you will have to have regulations, folks!

  4. Mark Stewart

    I read that story about the NYC skyline yesterday and had several confliction thoughts about it.

    1. The WTC overwhelmed the skyline from outside the city from almost any direction. The new one will be 1800 feet tall (1776!) so the Empire State Bldg. will go back to being second fiddle anyway.

    2. The ESB had the skyline to itself for 80 years in Midtown South – certainly time for a challenger to step up.

    3. The Penn Station area is the appropriate place for continued office space expansion.

    4. The new design is typical of NYC architecture; designed more by the developer than the architect. I think the proposed building looks like a guy in a trench coat lurking on a streetcorner, trying not to look obvious. If you are going to go head to head with the ESB’s height and style, go for it!

    5. Mr. Malkin has always been a whiner. And hardly the kind of person to give a rip about design or civic icons – except as they result in profits for himself.

    6. If a city isn’t growing and expanding; then it’s dying. There is no status quo in the urban environment; only evolution. Now there’s something for Columbia to think about!

  5. Brad

    Thanks for that input, Mark. It was thoughtful and well-informed. At least it sounded well-informed to me, as I know little about the ins and outs of Manhattan development or the politics of architecture.

    But I do know this: I like the Manhattan skyline now. I liked it OK with the WTC, as long as I didn’t look too closely at it. But those plain monoliths, if you really paid attention to them, were UG-LY. And the conceit of building two of them, side-by-side and equally featureless, seemed like mediocrity overkill.

    The ESB is pleasing to the eye. To my eye, anyway. This proposed new building is not. To me it looks like a figure of some sort that’s lost its features to too many coats of paint or lacquer, to where it lacks character — sort of like the Maltese Falcon if you put even more layers on it to the point that you couldn’t tell it was a bird anymore.

    Or maybe a sort of faux-Egyptian thing that serves as a portal to other dimensions, such as Stargate — but only if the movie makers couldn’t afford to pay anyone to make it interesting-looking.

    But that’s just my gut. It’s not an informed opinion.

  6. Jane Frederick


    Like Mark Stewart, I also have conflicting thoughts on the project.

    1. The negative is that the Hotel Pennsylvania is being torn down to build 15 Penn Plaza This link has some photos of the Hotel Penn. Hotel Penn. opened in 1919 and was design by McKim Mead and White. It was built as a companion to Penn. Station that was also design by McKim Mead and White. Penn Station was demolished in 1963 and that decision has been reqretted ever since.

    2. On the positive side – the developer Vornado is opening and refurbishing an old passageway between Penn Station and and 6th Avenue. (They are receiving a 20% sq. footage bonus for the transporation improvements.)

    3.I like the gracefullness of the proposed building and the way it meets the street. My understanding is that the project is only in preliminary design phase and there is not a major tenant signed so the building could possible change. The architects Pelli Clarke Pelli do very nice work. How the building is detailed and the materials will make an enormous difference in how successful the architecture is. This article in The Architect’s Newspaper has more renderings.

    4. In this recession, as an architect, I am thrilled to see a major project underway…it might have more in common with the Empire State Building than they would like. The EMS building was finished during the depression, barely rented and didn’t become profitable until the 50’s.

  7. Brad

    Thanks for the thoughtful and informed input, Jane (and Mark)! So much better than my own poor contribution. Training and experience DO matter (something I keep arguing with Doug about with regard to politics, but never mind).

    Folks, you’ll remember Jane. She’s the Lowcountry architect who ran for Congress against Floyd Spence awhile back. She was the strongest opposition either Floyd OR Joe Wilson have faced since Jim Leventis ran against Floyd in 1988.

  8. Doug Ross


    Training and experience in politics yields buildings like Innovista. ‘Nuff said…

    I’m sure it took Al Capone a while to come up to speed on being a crook as well.

  9. bud

    Nice comments from everyone on the Empire State Building. But I’m confused. Are these comments merely a discussion about taste (the new building is nice vs. the new building is atrocious) or is this a discussion about whether the NYC government should or should not LEGALLY allow the building to go forward. The two issues are very different.

  10. Phillip

    Bud, they are of course two different issues. Most of the squawking over the new building comes from the ESB owners; Jane’s link to Architect’s Newspaper shows that you can skew the perspective to make it seem like the new building is either going to dominate midtown or fit harmoniously into the context, depending on which side you’re arguing.

    The ESB owners had no legal right, I think, to really influence the debate. However, the City of New York does have some kind of approval process for proposed new buildings, especially of this magnitude; aesthetic considerations definitely come into play in these debates. Several times during the years I lived in NY (80s and 90s) various mammoth proposals (including some more or less in midtown Manhattan) came up and were rejected. I suppose if the proposed building were really hideous or of the dimensions of the Burj Khalifa, the City Council might have rejected it or demanded changes. But in this case, they just voted 47-1 to approve it yesterday.

    I’m just a little bored with these middle-of-the-road postmodern buildings…kind of starting to get nostalgic for the hardcore modernist buildings. The big debate in architectural preservation now concerns these 50’s and 60’s-era buildings, a period that many people dismiss as a bad time for architecture, so OK to tear down some of these structures. But is that just a matter of current taste and how much will we regret that decision later? We’ve lost so many late-19th and early-20th century buildings because they went “out of style” and now we regret not having them, instead incorporating their features (often very inorganically and in a “hoky”-ish way) into some of our current architecture.

  11. Kathryn Fenner

    Ditto what Phillip said, except that I believe that buildings should look like when they were built–no Styrofoam pastiches like the National Advocacy Center. In place with cutting edge architecture like Chicago and Toronto, beautiful, highly functional buildings that look like “Now” are being built, and the older modern buildings preserved and maintained. It makes for a vibrant environment–the contrast between the early 20th century Monadnock Building, the Carson Pirie Scott Louis Sullivan facade, the 60s “Willis” Tower (f/k/a Sears Tower), the recent additions in the Chicago Loop brings tourists and remains a hotly desired location to work, and increasingly, live. Ditto North Lake Shore Drive, the Magnificent Mile…
    Columbia’s Main Street isn’t half bad, for what it is.


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