November 28, 2009

The atrocity that is Empire State Plaza.

You're walking in a neighborhood of 19th century townhouses...

DSC05703

... and you run smack into this:

DSC05727

New York spent $2 billion to demolish 98 acres of 19th century buildings, displacing 9,000 human beings, in order to build a sickeningly ugly collection of government buildings. Is there a worse architectural crime in the history of the world? I'm sure there must be, but...
... it destroyed a neighborhood, isolated downtown from Center Square and created a stark mall that is lightly used and segregated from city life....
Pure evil.

DSC05767

There's whimsy...

DSC05762

... leaden government whimsy.

Look into the sunset...

DSC05775

... and weep.

117 comments:

Pete said...

Demolishing the original Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden is on par. But I agree, I was just up in Albany a couple months ago and saw the same thing. It's horrible.

Bissage said...

Good grief! Paint that thing black and you’ve got the gate to Mordor.

Government buildings? Then that means you've got to have the Eye of Sauron in there, somewhere!

jimbino said...

If you like that, you'll love Brasilia.

Michael Hasenstab said...

That is criminally bad architecture. It smells of mid-twentieth century Soviet-style design.

Governments do the sorts of horrible things to neighborhoods that they would never allow a private developer to do.

Those buildings were built to honor and glorify government, and for no other purpose. Just awful.

Jason (the commenter) said...

But the consensus at the time it was designed was that it would revitalize the entire area!

Thankfully no one was held accountable.

rdkraus said...

Looks like the result of a "Jobs Package."

rdkraus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deborah said...

It has a Cold War Era look about it.

Deborah said...

Whoops, I didn't see Michael Hasentab's comment. I agree.

John said...

20th Century Architecture fell under the spell of totalitarianism. Le Corbusier pretty much ruined it. Those buildings in Ann's photos are anti-human. They are horrible. They are completely incompatable with anything but themselves. They represent the truimph of the will and ego of the arcitect over humanity. They and pretty much everything designed in that style are an abomination and need to be destroyed.

HelenParr said...

Those buildings look like cruel neutrality.

David said...

I took the New York State bar exam in that building.

Every bit as much fun as it sounds like.

Father Martin Fox said...

Isn't that the city from the "Escape from the Planet of the Apes"?

Scott said...

I agree with what Pete said about Penn Station. Now they're trying to do an architectural Mea Culpa by turning the increasingly more vacant Post Office across 8th Avenue into a new-old Penn Station.

Eminent domain abuse was practically invented in New York State. Read The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro if horror stories like this fascinate you.

Dutch Canuck said...

jimbino:

I was thinking Brasilia too, criminal-architecture-wise, because it destroyed a big chunk of Amazon jungle. But then I realized: if everyone up and left Brasilia, the jungle would return. Nothing will bring back those old neighborhoods.

Unlike our hostess, I actually like the old State Capital building. The interior has a kind of Paris Opera House vibe happening:

Great Western Staircase

... but it clashes horribly with the New Soviet Man Plaza.

Oxbay said...

Demolish the building. Build offices underground. Create a park above the offices complete with glass pyramids to stream light to the offices underneath. Voila, attractive urban space!

AllenS said...

Commies run NY.

alan markus said...

I jumped over to Live Maps (http://www.bing.com/maps/) and took a bird's eye view of the plaza. Looking at "The Egg" from above, I can imagine the thought process was "the goddess of government is a benevolent provider. Not all goddesses are immune from the occasional seasonal flu or cold. To honor her, we shall construct The Egg in the image of a warm steam vaporizer."

Obviously some ready mix concrete association had way too much political pull in that era. Some would say their people have since migrated to Wisconsin and joined the road builder's lobby.

Pogo said...

From James C. Scott's Seeing Like A State", on authoritarian high modernist arcitecture and planned cities:

"The disorienting quality of Brasilia is exacerbated by architectural repetition and uniformity. Here is a case where what seems like rationality and legibility to those working in administration and urban services seems like mystifying disorder for the ordinary residents who must navigate the city. Brasilia has no landmarks."".

and

Compared to life in Rio and Sao Paulo with their color and variety, the daily round in bland, repetitive Brasilia must have resembled life in a sensory deprivation chamber. The recipe for high-modernist urban planning, while it may have created formal order and functional segregation, did so at the cost of a sensorily impoverished and monotonous environment -- an environment that inevitably took its toll on the spirits of its residents."

Quoting Jane Jacobs:
"Jacobs thinks she knows the roots of this penchant for abstract, geometric order from above: "Indirectly through the utopian tradition, and directly through the Utopian tradition, and directly through the more realistic doctrine of art-by-imposition, modern city planning has been burdened from its beginnings with the unsuitable aim of converting cities into disciplined works of art".

Jason (the commenter) said...

Oxbay: Demolish the building. Build offices underground. Create a park above the offices complete with glass pyramids to stream light to the offices underneath. Voila, attractive urban space!

Natural light sucks. People want shelter from the elements, they don't want to live under an open sky. People also don't want to live or work underground.

Pogo said...

bad cut-and-paste....


""Indirectly through the Utopian tradition, and directly through the more realistic doctrine of art-by-imposition, modern city planning has been burdened from its beginnings with the unsuitable aim of converting cities into disciplined works of art."

T J Sawyer said...

A hundred years from now there will be a movement to preserve these buildings as important architectural heritage.

The last remaining newspaper in the area will lament the short-sighted public criticism during the early twenty-first century of this style.

bearbee said...

The concrete lobby must be filling congress critters coffers.

In a previous thread someone mentioned brutalist architecture

ricpic said...

I am power. You are not. That's what it says.

Kevin Walsh said...

Corbusierism run amuck.

http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_4_otbie-le-corbusier.html

www.forgotten-ny.com

EDH said...

But these buldings, and the public servants inside, make us more... equal.

TML said...

Check out the book "The Geography of Nowhere" by Jim Kunstler. He lives near there. His "Eyesore of the Month" feature is pretty depressing.

kunstler.com

He does a great talk called "Parking Lot Nation" Brutal.

PatCA said...

Horrid, a living lesson on the cruel folly of government planning. I wonder if there was any challenge to eminent domain in that case.

For another governmental atrocity, see New London: Empty Lot

Andy said...

It is all Obama's fault.

And Andrew Sullivan!

vet66 said...

This architecture is a self-fulfilling prophecy of monochromatic, ponderous, laborious, plodding, faceless attention to mindnumbing, heavy-handed attention to the death of creativity and the celebration of life.

We had a description of old steam locomotives that were built in this fashion; heavy on the drivers! Much like the preceding paragraph.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

You're walking in a neighborhood of 19th century townhouses...and you run smack into this:

You should have Rod Serling do the narration.

Michael Hasenstab said...

That is criminally bad architecture. It smells of mid-twentieth century Soviet-style design.

That, or Hitler's vision of Germania (the new Nazi Berlin).

WV "hyrode" What the other guy takes to Scotland.

Joan said...

Whoa, that's bad. At least Boston's Government Center has a brick plaza with lots of different levels. Sure, it's a windswept plateau that's impassible 6 months of the year, but it's not nearly as bad as Empire State Plaza.

William said...

It was designed by a visionary skateboarder to create space and a dramatic backdrop for his sport.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

The capitalist profits put power of money accumilation into private hands. Many beautiful works of architectural art showing off the Capitalists' charitable works resulted in a beautiful garden of styles and competing visions of beauty, all of which had their good points. The War against Capitalist profits, called taxation, puts the money power into the hands of the Castro brothers types that dedicate the rest of "History" to glorifying themselves and murdering all other power centers inside or outside "The Party" which is their own lust to control the earth. Therefore these hideous buildings are Obama's fault in the sense that he is the tip of the spear in the Taxation War wiping outits enemy profit everywhere it arises.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I hate to tell all the people who think this architecture glorifies the government, but it doesn't glorify anything. It's all about being within budget, with a heavy dose of expert advice.

No dictator would be happy with this.

amba said...

Michael H is right: it's a monument to the State, designed to dishearten and intimidate. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! The Great Wall of Bureaucracy is particularly despair-inducing. It is unresponsiveness incarnate -- or impenetrability inpetrate.

vw: otopo

Big Mike said...

I have a recollection that back when Nelson Rockefeller caused South Mall (the original name of the Empire State Plaza) to be constructed it was described as being "what God might have built if only he had the money." But I haven't been able to confirm that quotation.

One I have been able to confirm is that the creation of this monstrosity led to Rockefeller's being described as having an "Edifice complex."

Rialby said...

I was just going to post on Boston's City Hall until someone beat me to it. What a monstrosity. I used to walk by it all the time and just shake my head. Empty, open concrete government plazas like that and this one in Albany turn out to be good for nothing but skateboarding on Saturdays.

chickenlittle said...

The new construction looks energy efficient-none gets in or out.

traditionalguy said...

Humans have always been in awe of hugh edifices. The are seldom suitable for human use apart from the political dominance statement that they make saying, "We are the strong horse with influence, so fear us." hose living or working in themwant nothing more than a human size cosy and lived in by people, not monsters, look. Try living inside Hoover/Boulder damn for a few months.

Skipper50 said...

Just more "urban renewal", that great "liberal" philosophy that destroyed communities all over the country in exchange for crap like this. Is learning from the past even possible anymore?

SteveR said...

Been there, done that. Wintertime, a government building and Albany is a bad combination.

kentuckyliz said...

The "sculpture" in the middle looks like an ark. Is there a government Noah expecting a flood?

Cement ark = likely to sink.

Mian said...

It's Brutalist, but then again, what do you expect from Government?

former law student said...

This is mid-century Brutalism. That building is in fact more decorative than Walter Netsch's Chicago Circle Campus, whose chief decorative elements were the woodgrain patterns and bolt holes left from the plywood forms into which the concrete was poured.

Luckily, nowadays that style of architecture is limited to what 'Sconsinites (and their Minn neighbors) call parking "ramps."

Coffee Guy said...

This is the result of automobile-centric planning. Also, all over the country whole vibrant neighborhoods were ripped out to make way for eight lane highways during this era.

They tried to do this in Madison back in the late sixties/early 70s but forward looking environmentalists stopped it.

Robert Caro's book "The Power Broker" (mentioned above) is a great read about the downside of automobile-centric planning.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

“Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform”

http://pajamasmedia.com/eddriscoll/?s=corbusier

miller said...

Haven't been to Albany.

Have been to Boston in the winter, and have walked through the plaza where City Hall is.

I agree, a monstrosity. It's amazing that a city of such charm and beauty would put a big pile of poop right in the middle.

The plaza was windy, icy, hard to walk around, and thoroughly depressing.

Prudential Center, on the other hand, was warm, crowded, and full of life. Of course, that's a for-profit place, so you'd expect it to cater to humans.

Brooksie said...
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Jason said...

Pyongyang?

WV: grablent. What Christian perverts onserve when they give up groping young women on the subway until Easter.

bearbee said...

re: Walter Netsch's Chicago Circle Campus

The words of Mayor Urban Renewal:

“Just as universities make great cities, a great city makes a great university.” – Honorable Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago.

Freeman Hunt said...

Imagine working there!

Come, cog in the great machine, come hither and be consumed.

Synova said...

My husband and I were just talking about North Korea and the possibility that dear leader is an android.

ricpic said...

EXCELSIOR!

Remember Nelson, with that shit eating grin,
A gravelly voice and a wife named Happy?
Atop a Rubens in aviator glasses
He died the death of an aristocrappy.

Kurt said...

It is every bit as bad as the pictures indicate. I once spent a day floating between legislative offices there. I've never wanted to return to Albany since.

While some are also right to point out the atrocity that is Boston City Hall, what amazes me is just how much hideous architecture keeps being produced.

Just look at this green monstrosity being proposed for a city block in Dallas. It is supposed to be noteworthy because it is designed to operate off the grid. I can just imagine how hideous it will look ten years after it is built, when people come to their senses.

Titus said...

Boston City Plaza or Government Center is pretty appalling.

Similar to what they did in Albany.

Bulldozed the fabulous West End and made and empty, ugly, flat, concrete piece of shit.

Titus said...

Those pictures of Albany kind of look like Pyongnang or however you spell it. Is it Pootang, North Korea? Can't remember.

hdhouse said...

not only is an architectural and city planning example of the worst evils in men's minds, it houses worker bees fitting the to the buildings.

perhaps God in His mercy will wipe the entire thing, buildings and all, from the face of the earth and we can start anew.

Titus said...

In Cambridge we have fab archiey natch.

And really expensive, natch.

Real Americans could never afford it here.

MamaM said...

"It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law."

Louis Henri Sullivan 1856-1924

bearbee said...

Just look at this green monstrosity being proposed for a city block in Dallas.

Oy! It looks like monolithic mold and mildew combo.

Need a gigantic bottle of Lysol Anti-Bacterial Spray and Mold Killer.

mrs whatsit said...

I have work reasons to go to those buildings fairly regularly. The courtrooms and offices and such are actually quite nice, with big windows and lots of warm wood, but the public spaces, inside, are even worse than the public spaces outside. There's a huge echoing windowless disorienting concourse and a nightmare of a parking garage. I took the bar exam in a room off that concourse. The atmosphere of underground gloom mixed with bureaucratized menace was perfectly appropriate.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Ah the time you spent in Cadman Plaza, now forgotten, when you see a bigger mess!

Which segues into Lost New York, Silver, 1971 ed. (The history of NYC architecture is a metaphor for the City; the story of commercial buildings, houses of worship, museums, arteries, monuments, etc. that have been destroyed as well as those that have been (so far) allowed to stay up in some fashion. These stories & extensive pictures are of those that have been destroyed before “Landmarking”; all missed but not all appropriate for salvage. He quotes Le Corbusier’s belief that in NYC change was a fixed condition & its basic nature was a city which will be replaced by another city. And he notes that change was one of the great disturbing symbols of Herzog’s NYC world in Bellow’s eponymous novel. But he realizes that

"Perpetual change is just as difficult to live with as perpetual unchange…Venice faces the other problem. The entire city is treated as a museum, and since there is no intention of materially altering it, the lives of its citizens must be adapted to whatever can be made of the old city form… The frozen past is undoubtedly a curse and a hardship for many. Yet should the world be deprived of Venice? …

"Prhaps the question of change in both New York and Venice is resolved by the fact that a city ultimately selects its own people."

In the end, Silver seems to opt for saving everything through government. For example, he feels that commercial building should’ve been forced to move north of 59th Street instead of destroying Park Avenue. In his 2000 Revised Edition, which I have cursorily looked at, he has, in one brief paragraph dismissed Moses’ revitalizations as simply destructive & unworthy.

That would describe Empire State Plaza, for sure.

Tari said...

It's such an embarrassment, and even uglier from up in the air. Speaking of which, the Albany airport was uglier (if such a thing is possible) until they remodeled it a few years ago.

Joe Giles said...

Greetings from Pyongyang.

paul a'barge said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8

The horror. The horror.

Michael said...

This "Urban Renewal" was another genius idea of the left. Smash down the old, hire some cheap architects and presto the people have been scattered like ants, their "communities" dispersed. Yech.

Brooksie said...

It's no surprise that a government that would foist these terrible buildings on its citizens would govern them with the same arrogance.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Imagine when the economy wasn't so good and all those beautiful old buildings were in desperate need of a paint job, had boarded up windows, and people got mugged along the streets. Then building a fortress probably sounded like a god idea. They probably wished they could have bulldozed down the entire city. They're doing that in some places now, God bless 'em.

Kirby Olson said...

I like the Capitol building, but didn't realize quite how bad the surrounding Plaza was, and the way in which all the cement broke up that neighborhood.

The neighborhood just to the north is rather Bohemian with lots of apartment buildings and sandwich shops. Didn't our coiuple like their sandwich, or the prices, or what they ordered? The whole experience sounds somewhat dyspeptic. I always like going up there, and am surprising by how stunning some of the architecture is. The inside of the State Capital buiilding is thrilling. It was handcarved by Italian stone masons and is basically irreplaceable.

The same architect designed our local courthouse here in Delhi, NY (about an hour to the south). can't remember the man's name. It was about 1880 when these buildings got going.

Albany is definitely strange. Just north of the Plaza is a Bohemian area. Then north of that is a black area. Then north of that is the university area, and north of that is a suburban sprawl that goes up to Crossgates Mall. People have lawns, and sidewalks, and it seems pleasant. There are some Indian restaurants.

I don't think Albany is such a tragic disaster. They even have a first class novelist in William Kennedy.

I think the Bohemia just north of the Plaza (where our couple ate sandwiches and drank coffee without commenting on the quality) has many lonely people in it who work in the office buildings of the Plaza area.

They probably dream of meeting someone and moving out to the suburban area and having a house and a collie and going to the mall on Black Fridays, and to churches on Sundays.

Is that so horrible?

You're about an hour from the Adirondacks, and if you go south you can come to the Catskills, and see where I live, in the western Catskills. Our courthouse was done by the same guy who did the State Capitol building. It's much lovelier in person, and in summer.

http://img34.imageshack.us/img34/200/img3599dp.jpg

schlesmail said...

Chicago's not immune from wonton, willful destruction of historical buildings either. Read 'em & weep:

http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/theskyline/2009/10/chicago-back-to-its-wreckfirst-ways-demolition-crews-begin-wiping-away-gropius-touch-at-reese-campus.html

http://www.savemrh.com/news/2009/10/28/alert-chicago-destroys-first-gropius-building.html

http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=999

Joe said...

I grew up near Albany and remember going to the Empire State Plaza quite often as a kid. At the time--the late 60s through the 70s--it was surrounded by crap, not by the quaint, upkept buildings Ann photographed. In the 60s and 70s, Albany WAS a slum, especially in that part of town. (Head down to upper state street in Schenectady or half of Troy and think "uglier" and you'll get a SMALL picture of what it was like.)

schlesmail said...

Oops, I meant "wanton," not "wonton." Had some Chinese soup about an hour ago & I'm hungry again.

PatCA said...

When I was growing up in Chicago they called it "Urban Removal." The residents even then hated it.

Here's an idea for cash-strapped cities: sell these awful buildings to a private developer and restore the old buildings. Those Boston row houses, even new, would sell like hotcakes.

MadisonMan said...

See, is the Humanities Building really that bad?

From Inwood said...

Michael Hasenstab said at 8:59...

Governments do the sorts of horrible things to neighborhoods that they would never allow a private developer to do.

Alas, not so when the private developer is a friend & contributor.

Example: Madison Sq Garden replacing Penn Station.

And look at what Fordham U. did when it had cost overruns on the rock removal in its Lincoln Center parcel: scrapped the “U” shaped low-rise plan, put up a mega building, & left a chain link fence & undeveloped property with a BIG rock on Amsterdam Ave.

And, it’s not, simplistically, Old, Good, New, Bad &, unfortunately, as shown by the failure to rebuild the WTC, NYC also apparently needs a new czar to produce results. As apologists for autocrats, Left & Right, are wont to say “the (City, State, Country, Planet) is sick of parliamentary politics.” But both the extreme anti-capitalist Left & the welfare-for-capitalists Right are against individualism in general and especially individualism in a free-market economy. Unlike the extreme Leftists, the welfare-for-capitalists Right does not want government ownership of the means of production. They just want the government to provide money & land at fire-sale prices for development & insurance against poor business decisions.

And so when you say “governments do”, NYC is famous for abuse of the theory of eminent domain & the developers for whom NYS or NYC use the eminent domain do arguably bad things to arguably bad neighborhoods.

This misuse of eminent domain was blessed by SCOTUS in the infamous 2005 Kelo decision, in which the Court, while acknowledging that the city could not take petitioners' land simply to confer a private benefit on a particular private party, held that the city's proposed disposition of such property to private developers qualified as a "public use" within the meaning of the Takings Clause since the “takings” would be executed pursuant to a carefully considered development plan, which had not been adopted "to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals". Justice O’Connor presciently noted in her dissent that

“the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.”

(THe WSJ quotes that today)

While many states have since strengthened their laws to provide safeguards for the “little guy”, (according to Bloomberg News - haven't read the decision yet) on November 24th, NYS’s highest court, in a 6-1 decision, followed the historical NYC trend whereby well-connected developers are encouraged & allowed to propose developments knowing that the State will use its eminent domain power since the property is, of course, “blighted”, as certified in a survey paid for, er, funded by, the developers. Specifically, the court held that NYS may legally seize the property of small businesses & homeowners for the benefit of a private developer & a sports team (the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards mega development) Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp.. The dissent noted, laconically, that

“the bad news is that the majority is much too deferential to the self-serving determination by Empire State Development Corporation that petitioners live in a ‘blighted’ area, and are accordingly subject to having their homes seized and turned over to a private developer.”

From Inwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

I grew up about 30 miles West of Albany. My dad took the family to see it once or twice during its construction. It was amazing to me, but then, I was about 10, and huge construction projects are always amazing.

As an adult, I lived in Albany for about a decade. I lived for a while in the townhouse district above the plaza, then lived for another spell down by the Hudson river where I could see the plaza (and the equally destructive highway 787 spur) from my loft windows.

I've lost the ability to be outraged anymore. Like the Tunguska event, it is what it is.

From Inwood said...

Big Mike:

"what God might have built if only he had the money."

Is based on, I believe the quip by Oscar Levant: about some POSH place:

“where God would go if he had the money”

blake said...

amba wrote My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!


Which, of course, ends:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away


I never thought of that as being cause-and-effect till just now.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

BTW, to make it clear, even as a kid, I wasn't that impressed with the Empire State Plaza [as an older teenager; I was probably impressed with it when I was 10.] I thought it sterile and not very practical. I was never impressed with post-modern architecture. I have a memory that the parking was terrible (though that may have been due to the construction still going on.)

For a French parallel, check out La Defense Business Center. Some of the buildings are nice, but the place is an ode to concrete (and the wind blows almost constantly due to the design.)

mazeartist said...

For more on Albany architecture:

http://mazeartist.com/morealbany.htm

David said...

Government also built the Parthenon.

But that was then.

This is now.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
victoria said...

I don't think it is that bad, kind of like it. It reminds me of Kennedy Airport. I suspect that the architect was influenced by Aero Saarinen and Louis Kahn. Not much for modern architecture, Ann? Where were all you guys in 1965 when they designed these buildings and built them? The indignation is a little late. It is just like here in Pasadena when they were tearing down Greene and Greene buildings (The masters of craftsman architecture) in the late 60's to make way for condo's. People lament their passing but didn't do squat when it was time to stand up and protest. Live with it people, you made you bed, now you have to sleep in it.


No sympathy , no pity.

Vicki from Pasadena

victoria said...

See John, I couldn't disagree more. I actually like the clean lines of Le Corbu, Philip Johnson and Pei. Louis Kahn was a master. Look at the buildings in Bangladesh or the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, major lovely. Now, I like the old stuff as much as the next person buy please, don't wax poetic about it.
We have many wonderful modern buildings among the old ones here in Pasadena. Look at the pics of Art Center, totally cool. Look at the structures of Neutra and Gregory Ain, fabulous.

It is not a communist plot.



Vicki from Pasadena

Youngblood said...

Althouse,

The area that the plaza replaced was, in a word, a crime-ridden slum. The houses in your first photo didn't look all pretty like that at the time the Empire State Plaza was conceived. What you're seeing is the result of nearly three decades of gentrification and rehabilitation...

...which wouldn't have happened if the Plaza hadn't been built.

As "evil" and ugly as the plaza is (and I'll admit that I am not fond of Brutalist architecture) it's inifinitely better than 98 acres of decrepit 19th century buildings in a crime-ridden slum being allowed to decay until they are eventually condemned.

Tim Wright said...

I did some research several years aqo in the state library. A librarian referred to the empire st plaza as america's premier example of fascist architecture.

I agreed.

Tim W

section9 said...

Albany worked when it was run by Big Dan O'Connell and the Irish mafia. Dan was the political boss who ran upstate New York from the Depression through WWII and into the early Fifties. Albany worked in those days. It was a clean town, too.

O'Connell made his money off the fact that in the Twenties, Albany was a huge transmission point for rum and liquor coming out of Canada during Prohibition into New York City. The Hudson, of course, runs through Albany. He used the proceeds to control the New York State Democratic Party, run the German American bund to ground for Hoover, and divvy up the organized crime business in Upstate New York with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. J.Edgar knew all about Big Dan and left him alone.

The Albany police and county sherriffs were on the take, by the way, and were basically Big Dan's personal gang. Sadly, time caught up with Big Dan O'Connell and Albany and Big Dan passed away, and New York State was overrun by wretched progressive "reformers" like Nelson Rockefeller and the wretched John V. Lindsay. These people knew nothing about patronage, how to get things done in government, punishing enemies or rewarding friends, or how to run liquor to the Mob. Upstate New York hasn't been the same since. Look at Buffalo!

Once Rockefeller took power in Albany, Rocky's money was able to trump Big Dan's mob connections. One of Rocky's pet projects was the Albany Government Center, which you see here in all its East German Revivalist glory. Downtown Albany makes the Flatblocks from A Clockwork Orange look positively homely and inviting.

HT said...

Is there a worse architectural crime in the history of the world?

________

See: K Street, NW - Washington, DC

gpm said...

Could those dumping on the (execrable) Boston City Hall/Plaza at least get their facts straight?

City Hall has (almost?) nothing to do with the "bulldozing" of the West End. That bulldozing resulted in the infamous Storrow Drive "If you lived here, you'd be home now" Charles River Park.

What City Hall replaced was Scollay Square, which might or might not result in quite the same moral/aesthetic judgments (pause here for a chorus or two of "Charlie on the MTA").

FWIW, the plaza was supposedly based on the Campo in Siena. I have been to Siena and, you, sir, do not resemble the Campo in the least once you get past the red bricks underneath.

--gpm

p.s. I grew up on the South Side and went to high school in the late 60s/early 70s about half a mile from Circle Campus, but I will reserve comments on that score for the moment.

Lem said...

In one word ..

Feo.

Simon Kenton said...

What Ms Althouse's photo reminded me of was this classic photo by Margaret Bourke-White. Water is about the most fungible medium and the crenulated regularity of the dam is to restrain it. I think the discomfort when comparing the dam to the Albany building is that we don't like to think of ourselves as a fungible medium; obviously that's how the building and its designers think of us.

From Inwood said...

Kurt

You're right about that Dallas crap.

All those who believe in Global Warming, er, Climate Change will wanna move in when it opens. Right.

Pogo said...

Once a state crosses from service to minor corruption to heedless hubris, the end is certain.

That narrative arc is written in cornerstones, again and again. Some survive millennia, some are soon but dust.

The glorious state here exalted can crush me to my bitter bones. But it, too, will be crushed and similarly forgotten.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
holdfast said...

My wife wrote the NY Bar Exam in that Egg, and although she passed, I think the experience scarred her for life. I was lucky enough to write at the Marriott by the airport.

Alex said...

Why am I not shocked that victoria(the commie one) loves Brutalist architecture? She love everything that is soulless and inhuman, like Communism.

N said...

I'm not from Albany, so I have little background info to offer - but in 2003 I attended the Fleet Blues Festival held there in the Empire State Plaza (what the place is called, I think).

In the spirit of recognizing the role of context in an experience -- I found the square inspiring. The atmosphere of wandering (and dancing) people of all ages and the rhythms of electric blues music took control of the space and used the oddly shaped and mixed style buildings for a backdrop. The long reflecting pond, the lawns, the walkways, and even the stairs to the buildings became part of a happy playground.

I think Ann likes to look at the process of idea development and change - so this seemed interesting to me: when i saw her grey and depressing photos of the plaza i understood exactly what she meant. But my experience of the plaza, and the photos and video and the experience i have, was totally different. i even talk to friends about the square as a place to see sometime....

I was at the festival doing production work as part of a series of visits to blues festivals around the country. There is a short clip (QuickTime) and a few photos showing the plaza here: www.sealionestates.com/fleetbluesfest.

This post isn't about whether the plaza is good/bad/etc... I think it's about how what we do with things changes their value, and their aesthetics... :)

Brad V said...

We have a similar dark prospect in order down here in post-K New Orleans. A giant proposed medical complex would destroy acres and acres of classic, historic Nola architecture.

I've been fighting it (and the Kelo-esque use of eminent domain that would accompany it) on a side blog. Lots of pictures, too.

http://www.insidethefootprint.blogspot.com

Kirby Olson said...

Well, thank you very much for coming. We hope you had a good time, in spite of your dislike of our architecture! We tried very hard to make something you would remember what with the egg, and what with the complexity of our capitol building. I guess we blew it, but we sure tried, and hope you will come again, and maybe next time you will see through the surface of our buildings, into ours hearts!

Kirby Olson said...

Please come again, and tell all your friends.

From Inwood said...

Kirby

Yes, your Catskills area is very beautiful.

In my early boyhood we went to Cairo & Leeds & in my 18-21 years I went there again to East Durham on the 4th & Labor Day weekends (one had to be 21 to drink legally on The Jersey Shore, but only 18 in NYS).

We had a summer home in the 'gunks, right off the Appalachian Trail.

Except for a few buildings, Albany is too cold & dreary & ESP is a mistake.

I agree with Youngblood who pointed out to Prof A that the area of quaint Brownstones (are they called that in Albany?) she photographed (do we still use that word?) were not so, er livable, when the ESP was being built. Point taken, but still ESP is not "livable" now.

40+ years ago I went from my hotel downtown to some bash in the Washington Ave (then) NG Armory. Was advised not to walk back later that Night. That building is a landmark, as I’m sure you know.

Hey, I can Google, but is the Roscoe Diner still going strong?

Youngblood said...

From Inwood,

I don't disagree that the Empire State Plaza isn't "livable". I don't really like it. (But, to be fair, I don't like most post-WWII architecture, be it Brutalist, or High-Tech, or Glass Block, or "Turn of the Century Box".)

However, what I was getting at is that, at the time the Plaza was built, Albany, like all Northeastern cities, was hemorrhaging population. That 19th century housing stock was underutilized. Vast swaths of it were vacant and blighted.

That wouldn't have turned around on its own. What would have happened, without development, was what did happen elsewhere: those lovely 19th century housing stock would have deteriorated until the majority of it was condemned. It would still probably be slum today.

The construction of the Plaza, however, reduced the neighborhood's housing stock to a level that could be gentrified and rehabilitated, which is why Althouse could wander around that quaint neighborhood of renovated, refaced, and cutely painted homes the other day.

Miles White said...

That building is horrendous, and I always thought the liberal position was to use government regulation to protect beauty in landscape or architecture from big businesses or shopping malls. Apparently not if the government wants to plop one of it's monstrosities over it's gobbled up property.

gpm said...

Theo Boehm: I agree that there are some grounds for confusing the bulldozing of the West End with the bulldozing of Scollay Square (that's why I threw in the "almost?"), though anyone who thinks they can speak about the West End probably ought to know better.

As for escaping to the leafy burbs, you can count me out. I've been living in the (very leafy) Fenway since 1980. Admittedly not for everyone, but this city boy who has never owned a car still looks upon seven years in Cambridge as the "rural" period in my life.

--gpm

Megaera said...

Why, it's the Ministry of Love! How very Progressive of them.

Balfegor said...

Premier example of fascist architecture -- yes, it is! But what makes it "premier" here is that, in its own way, it's actually good, isn't it? Compare it with the Boston abomination -- with its monotonous and fussy little windows, its lack of visual intelligibility. Where is the entrance? What is the focal point of the building? The monstrosity in Boston is a lump of concrete. Compare that to say, the Cultural Education Center. There's a kind of mad glory in its mixture of architectural textures -- that vertical fluting in the style of Mordor, those squat arches, the massive, solid cap at the top. It avoids the monotony of most architecture, by scaling its details appropriately (contrast with Boston and some of those gargantuan Communist buildings, where the scale of windows and other architectural detail is absurdly tiny against the grandiose vastness of the building itself). And there is an intelligible massing of shapes -- the body of the building, its little platform, a staircase, etc. It's totalitarian architecture done right. If the boot must stamp us in the face, let it be this kind of boot, not that grotesque thing, that nameless horror, that was erected in Boston.

And they call it the "Cultural Education Center!" Even the name is appropriate!

From Inwood said...

Youngblood

I was agreeing with your comment about the Albany 'hood contiguous to ESP. As I noted in my comment, I probably saved my life for another 40+ years by cabbing from the Armory to my hotel rather than walking. And I agree with you on Post WW II architecture.

And your point shows why Caro's book on Moses is flawed. For instance, Caro seems to blame the decline of The South Bronx solely on Moses's Cross Bronx Expressway, a vast oversimplification of reality.

Regards

Inwood

howzerdo said...

I grew up in the Catskills, and have lived in the Capital District and worked in Albany since 1985. I worked in Agency Building 2 at Empire Plaza during the '80s, and at SUNY's HQ (an incredible building) during the '90s. (I now work at the uptown UAlbany campus, another odd piece of '60s architecture.) There are wonderful festivals at Empire Plaza in the summer, and ice skating in the winter (unless it gets the budget axe). The view of the Plaza as a whole is quite striking from across the Hudson River. I love Albany, its history, architecture, even weather! Yes, the politics are a rollercoaster - but fun to watch.

Kirby Olson said...

I don't agree with Ann's assessment of the Capitol center. I think it's striking and bizarre and wonderful, and filled with odd juxtapositions. I like it.

To From Inwood -- do you remember when we had the floods about three and a half years ago? Roscoe was inundated with 8-12 feet of water, and the diner was covered up to about eight feet.

However, I think they are operating again. That's about a forty-minute drive from here, and is past where I turn off to get on Route 17.

That corridor is growing, I think, but I don't ever get off in any towns except Middletown, because I sometimes go to the mall there to go into the Barnes and Noble.

The Capital Plaza in Albany is filled with very rich surprises. the State Museum is wonderful and has a very complex set of exhibits that is rich and fulfilling.

I'm sorry that Ann didn't like it. I think she's thinking more through a theory stemming from Jane Jacobs rather than really appreciating the beauty of the area through her own eyes. It's a very complex and charming neighborhood. The bigness of the architecture isn't it's only principle.

The Capitol Building itself is filled with ornate wonders and interesting rooms. I asked her to go in and enjoy the tour, but I don't think she and Meade did that. I think they preferred to hate the place for some reason and didn't allow it to seduce them.

I want them to come back with more open hearts, and open minds, and to tell all their friends what a good time they had.

There is such a thing as being prejudiced toward architecture, just as there is toward people of various kinds.

It's possible that Le Corbusier can work in certain contexts!

Don't deny it all just because of that goofy guy Robert Caro!

some of the stuff that Moses did is incredible -- the bathhouses on the beaches of southern Long Island are stupendous. And I often wish he did manage to drive a highway through the East Village. It's impossible to get through New York, and there's such a thing as too much bric a brac and rococo squirrelliness. There's also got to be room for efficiency and straightforwardness.

At his best, Moses could drive a highway right through where it needed to be driven, and to put a more or less Egyptian ziggurat feeling into the monumental spaces he carved and curved into time.

Big isn't necessarily bad.

And small isn't necessarily good.

Coziness is overrated. There also has to be room for smashing and flattening and straightening and clearing and pounding space into squares and lines until it makes sense. Look again, please, and enjoy it more this time.

Thank you! And do come again.

Balfegor said...

There also has to be room for smashing and flattening and straightening and clearing and pounding space into squares and lines until it makes sense.

I'm sympathetic to the sentiment here, but in the context of this thread, could there possibly be a more inappropriate word choice? It's precisely the sense of malevolent, radical violence against messy human order, with all its fiddly bits and irrational curlicues, that people are objecting to. Talking about smashing and pounding and flattening -- employing all that rhetoric of dominance and destruction and power -- simply reinforces what people find abhorrent about the Plaza. A thing can be beautiful, after all, and still be evil.

Unless you meant it all ironically. In which case, good show.

Kirby Olson said...

A place can show some capacity to clarify and yet still be good!

Anomian proliferations aside, the state has to set down some definitions, and some clarity.

It can't all just be nature rising up. Nature can also be pounded down, and repressed, and that can be a good thing. I recommend it at least.

Evil is wild.

Goodness is tempered by the power of the state.

We take formless metal and pound it into coins. Would you rather be trading formless metal?

Greg said...

Don't forget that the band They Might Be Giants wrote a tribute song titled "The Egg". It's worth a listen as it highlights the architecture ("No corners for you..")

Wally said...

There are endless numbers of places you can see old row houses. Go live there if it's so important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.