Today is Open House New York‘s Art Deco Scavenger Hunt, which I’m taking part in, so I wanted to share with you some of the city’s Art Deco wonders because many were inspired by the natural world. These first three photos from the Barclay-Vesey Building, designed by Ralph Walker for the New York Telephone Co.; the building today is utterly dwarfed by the neighboring WTC tower in height, but certainly not in terms of character, quirk, and decoration. “Art Deco” is a fairly loose term, but we tend to know it when we see it. The name is derived from the title of the 1925 L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industrials moderns in Paris; the tendency — it was never really a movement of manifesto and/or school — flowered between the two world wars. Jazz age streamlined, it is above all eclectic, incorporating cubist and medieval aspects, the machine age and the iconography of ancient civilizations; such crafts as stone-carving and metal-working with high steel and advanced, for the day, communications. Some have called it modern classical; it was definitely not Modernism, the “International Style” of white boxes, which triumphed in the long run. Above is a detail of the original RCA Victor building at Lexington & 51st; subtly chamfered at the corners so that its narrow tower is actually eight-sided, this brick high-rise miraculously complements the church it towers over, the peak to its foothills; its spire-top, with its geometric lightning bolts and stylized faces with flame-like halos, is I think, a match for the Chrysler’s stainless steel rays as the most exciting in the city.
Virtually every building today is an interchangeable glass box or rectangle. That shit is cheap, after all, and that’s what counts to the tiny minds in charge, cost/revenue per sq. ft. But when you look at New York City’s skyscrapers, which buildings stand out? Which ones ones do you love? Sure, I like the Lever Building, most particularly its (open) secret brick spine, and, across the street, the Seagram’s Building has its moments, but I love the Chrysler Building, and 70 Pine St (originally Cities Service), and 20 Exchange (originally City Bank-Farmer’ Trust). There is no exuberance or joie de vie in a shiny, reflective glass slab on a grid of steel. There is no detail for the human eye, the human imagination, to grasp ahold of. Often, there is nothing human at all in these cold, corporate command and control towers, and their offshoots, the blank apartment towers.The bronze frieze above the ground floor of the Chanin Building tells a loopy story of evolution on the three exposed sides: 42nd, Lexington, and 41st Sts.But keep looking up, because the forth floor has this band of lush foliage running around it. The Chanins were developers, no doubt as ruthless swine as their contemporary manifestations; but compare their face to the world with Donald Trump’s brute gracelessness. The Chanin lobby is also amazing, as are many of the lobbies is in these buildings. (Sadly, the lock-down state prevents many of them from being open to the public). One lobby that is still open is the Chryster’s Building. Imagine going up in those elevators ever day! The Chanin is diagonal the intersection from the Chyrsler’s stainless steel raptor and winged hubcap gargoyles, making this intersection the veritable Art Deco heart of the city.I don’t need a building to reflect the sky when I can look at the sky. Consider the moral, philosophical, political distinctions between the cold and the warm, between the individual and the group, between citizen and corporation.