Architectural Pain in the Ass
I have to apologize for this cringe inducing intro wherein I attempt to translate an old kindergarten joke from Russian into English. Sorry, but I really can’t find a better way to do this.
So, in an enchanted forest a wolf catches a rabbit. A talking rabbit, apparently, as the rabbit says — look, how about this — I’ll give you two puzzles to solve, and if you do, I’ll take you to the place where my friends and family hang out. If you can’t solve them — you let me go. The wolf agrees. The first puzzle is : “Two rings, two ends and a bolt in the middle.” The wolf does not know. “It’s scissors” – says the rabbit. OK, then, the second one. “No doors, no windows, house full of guests.” “No idea” – says the wolf. “It’s a cucumber” says the rabbit, and the wolf lets him go. Next day a bear catches the wolf, and the wolf makes a similar deal with the bear. OK, what is it – “no doors, no windows, ass full of cucumbers?”
Every time I pass 2 Columbus Circle that’s what I am thinking about. An ass full of cucumbers. (I shudder to think about where this page is going to be located in Google search results).
Edward Durrell Stone created this perforated windowless museum that looks like a Soviet-era public bathroom on crack. In fact, I am pretty sure that’s what Mr. Stone was smoking. Well, actually according to Great Fortune by Daniel Okrent he was a hardcore drinker during his earlier years and later quit. So I guess he either drank too much or not enough.
Unsatisfied with uglification through regular soulless International Style this architect came up with a whole new kind of ugly. He took the starkness of modernism and combined it with unnecessary and non-functional ornamentation. For his own house he took a normal 19th century brownstone and paced a perforated grille over it. Funnily enough, even though he raped the creation of a Victorian architect, his own widow could not undo the concrete monstrosity that he wrought — together with other brownstones his house is now protected as a landmark.
2 Columbus Circle is thankfully not considered a landmark. There are some people out there though that think that it should be. Even they agree that Stone’s building is ugly and useless. But they like the fact that it’s a challenge, a slap in the face of architects who built beautiful and/or useful buildings in Manhattan.
I remember seeing Edward Durrell Stone House while passing it by in a cab and immediately turning my head around and going “WTF!??”. None of the hundreds of good looking brownstones in New York ever evoked this reaction from me. They mostly make me count along these lines as I walk by: “2 million, 4 million, 6 million, 8 million, 9.5 million, 12 million and a carriage house – so let’s say 12.5 million worth of brownstones on this street in Brooklyn”.
Stone reminds me of another architect who also created some terribly ugly and uninspired buildings, in one of which I spent many years. Wallace Harrison spent most of his entire life building terrible International Style buildings. Actually, he started his career together with Stone, working as one of the architects working on the Rockefeller Center design. Rockefeller Center was severely criticized while it was being constructed, but later on became an almost immediate favorite of both critics and laypeople, becoming one of the most celebrated architectural landmarks of New York. His later creations were mostly in International Style. He designed the 6th avenue Rockefeller Center Extension which mixed Deco and International style, and then a horrible row of International style nightmares.
I absolutely love the quote from Grea Fortune: “”The new buildings, with their broad plazas, generous promenades. and underground concourse system… are an exciting integral extension of Rockefeller Center in design, concept and philosophy.” But this was like saying that nuclear war is an integral extension of Quakerism …”
Interestingly enough, Harrison, after being rejected by critics and his patron, Nelson Rockefeller, became very bitter and disillusioned with International Style as evidenced by this rather homophobic quote (also from Grea Fortune):
“His late life, he claimed was “ruined … by the German Bauhaus and its groups of friends who have had a disastrous effect on American architecture.” Elsewhere he characterized the proponents of the International Style as “homos who found it a good public relations [sic] to hang their hats on” “.
Well, I think that homosexuals (yeah, blame it all on them, right) have nothing to do with Harrison’s and Stone’s solidified nightmares. It’s just that they were horrible architects.