I was on a scaffold in midtown yesterday and there was a nice view. In no particular order…
- That’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the foreground. Saying that means it’s time for a reminder that New York City’s patron is Saint Nicholas, despite the cathedral’s name.
- The tall limestone building on the left, behind the south tower of the cathedral, is the International Building at Rockefeller Center. It’s the second-tallest building of the original Rock Center group and the least interesting, as opposed to the RCA Building (not visible, off to the left) which is the tallest and best architecturally. It’s also where my childhood dentist was located, so perhaps I’m biased.
- The similarish building just to the right of the cathedral tower is 75 Rockefeller Plaza, a fairly boring 1940s addition to the original group.
- The brown-glass tower on the right is the 1960s Olympic Tower, nice on the inside (apartments on top, offices in the middle, public atrium on the bottom) and excruciatingly boring on the outside.
- The green-glass tower to the right of 75 Rock is an interesting story. 640 Fifth Avenue is a 1940ish nondescript office building with that glass vertical extension constructed in 2005 to use all of the site’s air-rights. The glass curtain wall on the extension is reminiscent (I assume intentionally) of any number of late 1950s and 1960s curtain walls in New York, before people became obsessed with the walls being entirely glass with no visible metal mullions.
- The brown building with the blank side wall facing 640 is 650 Fifth, yet another fairly boring tower (horizontal stripes of window alternating with thin and unornamented granite) with a history of legal tangles: it was completed in 1978 for the Pahlavi Foundation, run by the Shah of Iran, who was deposed the next year. The building has been an asset fought over in various ways by the governments of Iran and the US ever since.
- Finally, the thin pointed building behind 650 is 53 West 53rd Street, a condo tower next door to the Museum of Modern Art. It’s 1050 feet high and so just barely into super-tall territory; its location on 53rd Street sets it apart from the super-talls of Billionaire’s Row up on 57th and 58th Streets. It’s an interesting building architecturally, not that you can tell from this angle.
I used the word “boring” a lot in the list above. It occurs to me that I really don’t like much of the 1940s through 1990s architecture in New York. People were saving money by simplifying facades and the overall massing of buildings – otherwise known as working towards the International Style ideal – as opposed to the complex masonry curtain walls of earlier buildings and the sculptural curtainwalls and shapes of current buildings. I’m not a fan of many 2010s and 2020s buildings but at least a lot of them are aspiring to something more than being a rectangular prism of featureless glass.