Thursday, January 10, 2008

Norman Foster Has No Clothes

Robert Campbell, the Boston Globe’s longtime architecture critic, takes another look at the much hullaballoed Hearst Tower by Sir Norman Foster on West 57th Street in Manhattan, and he’s still unimpressed.

In an article in Architectural Record, Campbell calmly disrobes the king: the tower is self-important, it’s rude to its neighbors, it’s inhumane, it could have been plopped down anywhere in the world and look just as inappropriate. But possibly most cutting of all, it’s an unimaginative prototype of an engineering solution in search of a problem.

I totally agree. I can’t stand the vacuousness of Foster’s bequest to New York. If his famous dildotic office building in London is called the Gherkin, then I'll just call this pile the TIE Fighter Storage Depot.

But I’ve always admired the original building, actually just the base for a grand beaux-arts tower, by theatrical designer Joseph Urban.

Hearst ran short of funds in the late 1920s and never completed the tower but the base tells you what he had in mind: a soaring, confident, stone-clad and wholly appropriate skyscraper in the New York vernacular.

We need more of these and fewer Fosters (although Australians would disagree). What we have instead is an instantly dated building that could just as easily be in Southeast Asia, or Dubai, or Atlanta.

But the ultimate irony is that Foster’s boastful “green” creation with it’s computerized awnings and apertures is nowhere near as energy efficient as the original design with thick walls and windows that open would have been had it actually been built. As I like to say with wild-eyed fury to anyone who’ll listen, a truly environmentally sustainable building cannot be a modernist glass box.

This is what proud buildings in a “green” city look like:

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