architecture: August 2010 Archives


The last time we were on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum we were partially rained out, even if it was not quite raining. It was the press preview of the completed first stage of Brothers Mike and Doug Starn's extraordinary installation, "Big Bambú" (the Museum closes the beautiful bamboo gates if the surfaces are too wet). We were only able to admire the "forest" from below and, staring up, we could only imagine the experience of actually walking along its ascending, curving, elevated trails.

We were back for another try last Monday, four months later, also to see how much more had been completed by the artists and their team of rock climbers in the interim. Since it had been raining earlier in the morning our chances for getting any higher than we had in April didn't look good, but we were eager to chance it (it was another press preview and we would be able to record the work with our cameras).

We did check roof conditions with the Communications Department before we left, and it sounded promising. By the time we arrived at two the rain had long stopped and a favorable zephyr had done much to dry the reeds. The rewards of our gentle climb were those of being able to see the beauties of the work's more functional forms close up, and the thrill of knowing we were walking where no one would have been able to before this spring, and would not be able to again after this fall.

Once up in the air, born by the squeaky bamboo and its nylon bindings, seduced by the rhythms and the patterns of the paths, and listening to the sound of birds on a misty afternoon, I found it very difficult to come back down. Only the sight of two hawks circling high above, visible through a clearing of the tapering verticals, could remind me of my customary attachment to the earth.

We slowly retraced our steps to the roof surface, and still we lingered.

Oh, by the way, "Big Bambú" is big, and getting still bigger: It's probably about the size of the Temple of Dendur downstairs. Maybe bigger.










Because I believe so strongly in preserving an interesting building's integrity, and an artist's vision, I find it hard to say this, but what's happening to the building that once housed Fr. Bruce Ritter's Covenant House shelter for homeless and runaway youth may just possibly be an improvement over the original concept - and execution.

I've now seen what looks to be the almost-finished "Dream Hotel Downtown" of hotelier Vikram Chatwal, located at 346 West 17th Street. It is a refitting of a building designed and constructed for the Maritime Union half a century ago to accommodate medical and recreational facilities for its members. The 11-story building is located behind the re-conceived Maritime Hotel, and both eccentric structures were designed by a young architect named Albert Ledner.

I remember the buildings when they were new, and the excitement they created, and I'm delighted that at least two of this architect's trio of Village commissions has survived at all.

I say that the new building may be an improvement because, while I've always loved its perfect round windows, along with their beautifully-crafted frames and hopper-like opening mechanisms, the new dancing pattern punched out by the current design team, Handel Architects LLP, in two different sizes of openings, really makes me smile. Also, the building's original tiny ceramic tiles were replaced by stucco years ago, probably because of problems inherent in the materials, and the way the horizontal lines of the (tile-like) rectangles composing the new shiny (hull-like) metal skin wrap around the tilted corners of the main facade, and dip down along the sides, showcases a very different effect, one at least equal to the 1960's original.

The overall building shape remains unchanged.

Now if only somebody would change that name: "Dream Hotel" scares me silly.

NOTE: Except for its romance-novel appellation, I think I could love this building, but now I'm wondering if it's already a doomed affair: While looking for additional information on the building's design and construction, and searching, sometimes fruitlessly, for links to incorporate in this blog, I got the impression that the project may be on hold. There are some indications that the "dream" may be trouble, because of problems related to money, the health of the principal, or (perhaps the least daunting challenge) engineering problems, and I notice that the hotel web site itself is still "under construction".


This page is an archive of entries in the architecture category from August 2010.

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