Lunch with the Critics: Park51 and 15 Penn Plaza
Quick post to say that the transcript of my second critical lunch with Mark Lamster, in the creepy climes of the Hotel Pennsylvania, has been posted on Design Observer. We discuss the urbanism, politics and skyline posturing of Park51 and 15 Penn Plaza.
Read the rest here. Note scary rendering of future enormous midtown west above.
AL: The rendering of 15 Penn Plaza that really flabbergasted me was the one showing it in context — the context of a built-out Hudson Yards, remodeled Madison Square Garden, opened Moynihan Station. Are we still believing all of that? Sure, 15 Penn Plaza doesn’t look so big then, but that’s hardly justification for approving it now. Are all those people in Hudson Yards really going to use their one measly subway station, or are they too going to troop over to 34th Street and Seventh and Eighth Avenues? It is a rendering both sneaky and mean: sneaky because it makes millions of square feet for which no one can currently pay look like a fait accompli, and mean because it shows their tower will be better located than the ones rival Related Companies might build on the west side.
And, who needs any of this when there are half-empty office towers on the corner of 42nd and Eighth, and a little thing called One World Trade downtown?
ML: My chief hope is that Hudson Yards doesn’t become another Riverside South — that is, another architecturally uninspired mega-development largely divorced from the city around it.
But what scares me about the rendering you mention is how puny it makes the beast that is One Penn Plaza appear. That thing is an absolute monster. But the truth is, as much as we’re picking on Vornado, I don’t really blame them for exploiting the rules and, in fact, taking some positive step in terms of mass transit. They’re developers, after all. And Rafael Pelli talks a good game. It’s always entertaining to follow along as he so eloquently explains how his massive commercial projects are actually environmentally sensitive enhancements to the cityscape. Certainly, I won’t be mourning the loss of the Hotel Pennsylvania, one of the seediest hives in the five boroughs. I didn’t realize it was a McKim, Mead & White production until you’d mentioned it. Lord knows that if any one of that triumvirate came back to see what was living on in their name — not to mention the crime across the street where their great station once stood — they’d Howard Roark the thing into oblivion.