Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Humanity Prevails

It’s the possibility that life-altering experiences are taking place at any given moment somewhere in the city that gives New York its singular sense of excitement and promise.

Here’s an example. I took this photograph of the view from a high floor on the Pan Am Building looking north past the Grand Central Tower. Great vista.

Look closer and you can see the parapets and gargoyles of the tower in detail . . . details entirely hidden from view when the tower was constructed but built nonetheless because back then architects had an understanding of humanity’s romantic character and our deep desire for delight. (Something Thom Mayne will never comprehend).

But look even closer. There are people up there!

While everyone else is droning through the workday and possibly thinking about what to eat for lunch, there are three men clinging to the precariously steep side of the copper roof 40 stories above the city. Imagine what that guy on the ladder is experiencing. Bright sunshine, a stiff breeze, muffled car horns in the distance . . . and his heartbeat.

But they’re not really clinging at all. They’re totally at ease. This is something they’ve done before, maybe hundreds of times before. It’s no big deal to crawl out of a porthole at the top of a century old tower and climb down a fragile ladder to re-point the brickwork on a chimney no one will ever see.

Knowing that these things exist hidden from view is what makes life truly exciting. And compared to the monotonous glass walls that surround the tower . . . which architectural style best captures this essential human craving?

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