Thursday, August 21, 2008

Old York

Why do we love New York? Because, according to this fine book by Nathan Glazer, "its most recognizable icons predate the rise of high modernism in architecture and design." In other words, because it's not new.
"New York is still, compared to Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, San Diego, cities that are new and growing faster, the old city. And in an age when things change so fast, that exerts some fascination."
And make no mistake, the old buildings didn't survive by accident. Thirty seconds of studying the tenets architectural modernity is sufficient to pick up on its patronizing disdain for the past.

The disdain demands resistance, and one of the reasons Glazer's insights are so nourishing is because he provided it - and not merely in a classroom. His was one of the prominent voices that protested the (now universally lamented) destruction of Old Pennsylvania Station in 1964. The failure of that protest means that the New Jerseyan's welcome to New York is no longer this, but, well... this.

There is, however, a bright side: "It was such vandalism, effected or proposed, that expanded the preservation movement and made it a power." And so Old Penn Station can be considered an architectural martyr that laid down its life for its friends.

Can we expect anything like it in the future? I'll let Glazer explain:
"Not only would it embarrass architects to design decorative detail or call for it; they wouldn't know how to do it, and there would be no craftsman to provide it. The workmen who once carved and sculpted what seems like acres of decorated surface simply don't exist."
You'll pardon me if I continue to turn to Glazer for my architectural and urban criticism instead of to the theorati.