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Makeover for New York's 10-storey oddity


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Makeover for New York's 10-storey oddity

By Andre Vornic

In New York City

One of New York's most curious buildings is to be given a radical new appearance. Architects are putting the final touches to a controversial re-design of the derelict 1960s structure, derisively known as the "Lollipop", to make space for a new museum.


Plans for the refit include sheathing the building's skeleton in glass

At 2 Columbus Circle, 10 storeys of once-luminous marble, squat in the shadow of the new Time Warner headquarters.

Boxy with Moorish features, the windowless folly was built by one eccentric for another. A millionaire, Huntington Hartford, commissioned it from the architect Edward Durrell Stone to house his private art collection.

Either too far ahead of its time or too far behind, the gallery closed within five years, its improbable bulk abandoned on the edge of Central Park.


The architect selected to re-design the edifice, Brad Cloepfil, plans to sheathe its skeleton in glass. Soaring through the floors, translucent cases would display the artefacts of the Museum of Art and Design (Mad), whose collection is currently crammed in tiny Midtown premises.

In a politically charged battle, the Mad trounced rival bids for the site, including one by the real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Rosie, resident of neighbouring building

But pointing an accusing finger has been the author Tom Wolfe, an avowed enemy of modern architecture and, some have argued, much that is modern in general.

In a vitriolic piece for the New York Times, Mr Wolfe raged against all those involved in the plan.

He predicted a "what-have-we-done shock" when "one of the most important buildings in the history of 20th Century architecture" had been "vaporised".

His words echoed, albeit more vehemently, the concerns of several other critics and architects.

At a panel meeting earlier this year, one described the building as a "precious bauble".

Looming over the debate is the memory of an act that still makes New Yorkers squirm - the demolition of the old Penn Station some four decades ago.

That neo-classical edifice, with its waiting room modelled on the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, was torn down and replaced with a bland, much-maligned version.

Mindful of that precedent, a preservation group has now filed a lawsuit to preserve 2 Columbus Circle in its current state.

In truth, Mr Stone's creation was savaged from the moment it went up in 1964. New York was in thrall to the international style pioneered by European architects. A few years earlier, Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building, a dark, pared-down slab on Park Avenue, had blazed a trail for restrained glamour.

By the time it opened, the Huntington Hartford gallery cut a lonely figure indeed, like a giant Turkish bath stranded in the New World. Sneering at its columns and cod-Islamic portholes, the Times labelled it a "Venetian palazzo on lollipops". Only in retrospect did the building come to be seen as an early exercise in postmodernism, the nostalgic, whimsical aesthetic which was to dominate corporate architecture in the 1980s.

'Stone lasts forever'

Aaron Betsky is a critic who helped select the likely re-design. Speaking from Rotterdam, where he heads the Netherlands Architecture Institute, he described the present building as dead - "an empty hulk on an impossible site".

By contrast, the refit could "capture the delicate quality of the light filtering through Manhattan skyscrapers on sunny afternoons."

This is not good enough for Rosie, who lives in an apartment tower next door: "I've grown used to the building," she told me. "It's not beautiful, but I look down on it from my window - it will be like losing an old friend."

Louis, who raises money for the homeless opposite the Lollipop, agreed. "What do they want to bring it down for? It's a nice, old building. Glass can break quick, stone lasts forever."

But this stone, marble dulled to a muddy hue, to be precise, may not last beyond a few months. The spat over the Lollipop's fate has confirmed New York as a place of clashing urban agendas, where public space is forever debated by a passionate citizenry.

It prefigures a much fiercer battle over plans to re-shape Lower Manhattan, still scarred by the empty footprint of the World Trade Center

From The BBC

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