IAC / InterActiveCorp Offices
|West 15th Street and Ninth Avenue (the corner of Ninth Avenue and 15th Street)|
|Late Modern Deconstructivist|
|zinc and glass|
Frank Gehry’s offices for IAC/InterActiveCorp.
“In the past nine months New York has witnessed the unveiling of nearly half a dozen major architectural landmarks,” says Nicolai Ouroussoff. “Frank Gehry’s headquarters for IAC/InterActiveCorp along the West Side Highway, Jean Nouvel’s luxury residential building in SoHo, Bernard Tschumi’s Blue Building apartments on the Lower East Side and Renzo Piano’s tower for The New York Times may not rank as these architects’ greatest works. But they are serious architecture nonetheless, in an abundance the city hasn’t seen in decades.”
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Published: December 23, 2007
LET’S take a minute to pat ourselves on the backs.
For decades I’ve been whining about how far New York has slipped behind other world cities in the support of serious architecture. While Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Beijing and even Paris have been pushing the boundaries, churning out one adventurous building after another, our city was wallowing in a swamp of pseudohistoricism and corporate mediocrity that — to skeptics like me, at least — threatened to transform it into a dull theme park for the superrich.
But this year the city may finally have turned a corner. In the past nine months alone New York has witnessed the unveiling of nearly half a dozen major architectural landmarks. Frank Gehry’s headquarters for IAC/InterActiveCorp along the West Side Highway, Jean Nouvel’s luxury residential building in SoHo, Bernard Tschumi’s Blue Building apartments on the Lower East Side and Renzo Piano’s tower for The New York Times may not rank as these architects’ greatest works. But they are serious architecture nonetheless, in an abundance the city hasn’t seen in decades.
And they will soon be joined by some outright gems. Ground has been broken on Mr. Gehry’s Beekman Tower, whose crinkly, titanium facade will rise more than 70 stories over downtown; Mr. Nouvel’s 75-story luxury tower next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown promises to be the most mesmerizing addition to the skyline since the Chrysler Building in 1930.
What is more, this flowering was complemented by some architecture exhibitions with provocative subject matter and fine scholarship, defying the common wisdom that architecture’s popular appeal in mainstream culture is somehow a sign of its growing superficiality. A Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective at the Whitney Museum and “Piranesi as Designer,” an elegant little show at the Cooper-Hewitt, showed that architecture’s current obsession with deep psychological forces is part of a historical continuum.
The Museum of Modern Art’s architecture and design department meanwhile seems to have new energy now that Barry Bergdoll has taken over as chief curator. In July it opened the hauntingly gorgeous “Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922-32,” documenting the decay of buildings from one of the most vibrant periods in 20th-century architecture.
But the revelation of 2007 was “Robert Moses and the Modern City,” staged concurrently at the Queens Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. A complex portrait of the man who ruled New York’s urban development for more than half a century, the show made a strong case that Moses’ vast infrastructure and slum clearance projects were a nuanced mix of good and bad, as opposed to the outright evil depicted in other accounts. By invoking his legacy, the show raised pointed questions about today’s planning strategies, especially the government’s diminished role in shaping the public realm.
Like most fairy tales New York’s embrace of architecture has a dark side. If many of these shows pointed up our rich architectural past, they also served to remind us that the majority of today’s projects serve the interests of a small elite. And this trend is not likely to change any time soon. The slow death of the urban middle class, the rise of architecture as a marketing tool, the overweening influence of developers — all have helped to narrow architecture’s social reach just as it begins to recapture the public imagination. From this perspective the wave of gorgeous new buildings can be read as a mere cultural diversion.
Additionally, New York is about to embark on a handful of vast developments that could alter its character more than any projects since the 1960s. Twenty-five million square feet of commercial space is planned for Midtown. Madison Square Garden and the woeful Knicks may relocate to the site of the James A. Farley Post Office building, which was supposed to be a grand site for a new Penn Station. An enormous expansion of the Columbia University campus into Harlem has enraged local residents. And let’s not forget ground zero, a black hole of political posturing, cynical real estate deals and outright stupidity.
To date, there is little sign that intelligent design will play a major role in any of those projects. On the contrary, every revision heightens our creeping awareness that when serious money is at stake, business will be as usual.
But it’s the holidays. Cheer up. Drink some eggnog. There will be plenty to worry about in the new year.
Frank Gehry's IAC headquarters arouses either rapturous mooning or fierce antipathy. Like with pregnant chicks, one is either inappropriately attracted to its curvaceous body or horrified. But when the IAC finally opened on Monday, only one man's opinion counted, that of father, Barry Diller. As the LA Times reports, he did what all dads do: Bitch about stuff.
"Today I'm walking in for the first time," he said. "Of course, all I see is 'unfinished.' ...Around the corner, linen and flowers decorated a long table below a much larger video wall—120 feet wide—showing scenes of the High Line park being created atop 22 blocks of deserted elevated train tracks in Lower Manhattan..."Is this what you're going to see when the people come in?" Diller asked several technicians, gesturing at the park-to-be images on the wall. "Why have you chosen to have the frames so small? Make it big. OK? Soon after, by a bank of elevators, he had another question, about the up-and-down buttons: "Why do we only have these on one side?"
Later he upbraided the building for making him feel like shit and called the frosted-glass edifice a "thoughtless little pig." —Josh
Frank Gehry Drops Anchor in New York
Gehry’s New York Debut: Subdued Tower of Light
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Published: March 22, 2007
In the year since the concrete frame of Frank Gehry’s first New York building began to rise along the West Side Highway in Chelsea, architecture fans have been quarrelling over its design. Are the curvaceous glass forms of the IAC headquarters building, evoking the crisp pleats of a skirt, a bold departure from Manhattan’s hard-edged corporate towers? Or are they proof that Mr. Gehry’s radical days are behind him?
Frank Gehry designed this Manhattan building, the home to Barry Diller’s media and Internet business.
Well, both. Mr. Gehry is adding a much-needed touch of lightness to the Manhattan skyline just as the city finally emerges from a period of mourning. The IAC building, serving as world headquarters for Barry Diller’s media and Internet empire, joins a growing list of new projects that reflect how mainstream developers in the city are significantly raising the creative stakes after decades of settling for bland, soul-sapping office buildings.
Yet the building, which is not quite complete, also feels oddly tame. For those who have followed Mr. Gehry’s creative career, these easy, fluid forms are a marked departure from the complex, fragmented structures of his youth. Rather than mining rich new creative territory, Mr. Gehry, now 78, seems to be holding back.
The results — almost pristine by Mr. Gehry’s standards — suggest the casual confidence of an aging virtuoso rather than the brash innovation of a rowdy outsider.
New York has long been a frustrating place for Mr. Gehry. It has taken him decades to land a major commission here, and now the IAC building joins a string of high-profile towers, all part of an effort to transform a noisy strip of the West Side Highway into a glamorous waterfront promenade for the kind of wealthy socialites who once scorned him. Three luxury high-rise apartment buildings by Richard Meier, with tenants like Martha Stewart and Calvin Klein, are a 10-minute walk to the south. A much-anticipated residential tower by the French architect Jean Nouvel is beginning to rise just across West 19th Street.
Mr. Gehry’s structure, the most fanciful of these, looks best when approached from a distance. Glimpsed between Chelsea’s weathered brick buildings, its strangely chiseled forms reflect the surrounding sky, so that its surfaces can seem to be dissolving. As you circle to the north, however, its forms become more symmetrical and sharp-edged, evoking rows of overlapping sails or knifelike pleats. Viewed from the south, the forms appear more blocky. This constantly changing character imbues the building’s exterior with an enigmatic beauty. And it reflects Mr. Gehry’s subtle understanding of context. Rather than parodying the architectural style of the surrounding buildings, he plays against them, drawing them into a bigger urban composition. The sail-like curves of the west facade seem to be braced against the roar of the passing cars. The blockier forms in back lock the composition into the lower brick buildings that extend to the east.
But far too many of the rough edges have been smoothed over. As a young architect Mr. Gehry often said that he tried to capture the raw energy of a construction site in his finished buildings; he was actually taking aim at a complacent status quo. Forms collide, materials clash, buildings tear open to reveal the crude steel structures beneath. Later in his career, as the work became more surreal, sexual imagery performed the same function: forms pull apart to suggest a hiked dress or gently parting legs.
The lobby entries of the IAC headquarters are discreetly located on the two side streets, giving the building’s main facade a smooth, uniform appearance. Horizontal, fritted white bands line the windows, an oddly decorative element meant to control the flow of light inside. The windows’ prefabricated panels meet the ground abruptly, their aluminum frames lining up end to end in a neat grid. They have neither the compulsive precision of a Meier building nor the raw, exposed quality of Mr. Gehry’s early work. Instead they look, well, tasteful.
This toned-down, more accessible approach continues into the lobby, conceived as a public living room for the neighborhood. Its back wall is dominated by an 118-foot-long video wall, which will project video art or abstract color compositions. A sinuous maple bench snakes its way around one end of the room. A staggered row of titled columns runs along the zigzagging glass facade overlooking the highway, giving the room a slight air of instability. The effect conjures up a luxurious fish tank, a nice metaphor for our narcissistic era.
As you travel deeper into the building, what first seems tame becomes more rigid. The floors that house the main corporate offices are dominated by a two-story atrium that overlooks the roof of the Chelsea Piers and the Hudson River, the kind of tough waterfront view from which Mr. Gehry once drew his inspiration. But the room is bloodless. The translucent glass partitions that surround the atrium are stiff and flat. A curved staircase, clad in pretentious tigerwood with brushed stainless steel handrails, looks imported from a Park Avenue office building. It may qualify as the most blandly corporate space Mr. Gehry has created.
Compare this with the service stairwell at the back of the building. Made of rough exposed concrete, the 10-story staircase is pulled back from the glass facade, creating a narrow, vertigo-inducing slot that allows you to peer down into an outdoor courtyard. The staircase overlooks a romantic, perfectly framed view of the Empire State Building, but the clash of raw concrete, glass and aluminum has more in sympathy with the surrounding rooftops: a clear indication of where Mr. Gehry’s heart lies. It may be the most gorgeous service staircase anywhere in New York. (It has now been painted various shades of yellow, however, dulling the effect.)
But it is when you step onto the sixth-floor corporate terrace that you glean what’s missing from the design. Leaning back against the rail, you get your first close look at the glass cladding on the upper floors, at a point where the building narrows. The faceted geometry here is more extreme, the connections between the glass panels more awkward.
Joints don’t line up perfectly; corners look hurriedly patched together. At certain points the unusual curvature of a window, created by the building’s odd geometry, makes it impossible to span the opening with a single piece of glass, and the additional mullion creates an odd, patchwork pattern.
The effect bristles with energy, as if the building were beginning to crack at the seams. It brings to mind early Gehry projects like the 1972 Ron Davis Studio in Malibu or the 1989 Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Reim, Germany. Neither work is perfect, but their imperfections are important. What you feel is someone struggling to make sense of something he has yet to fully grasp — the incompleteness of the creative struggle.
It is a reminder that Mr. Gehry’s courage as an architect has stemmed in part from his distaste for perfection, for architectural purity — which in his mind comes perilously close to oppression. His aim has been to redeem the corners of the world that we often dismiss as crude, cheap and ugly. He intuitively understood that what seems ugly now may be only unfamiliar. If the ideas underlying a design are strong enough, its beauty would eventually reveal itself.
The IAC building is elegant architecture. But it doesn’t make us rethink who we are.