among private developers. Remember those ugly newspaper
dispensers posing as TV sets? Well, the mayor didn’t like
them, either. Grimshaw Architects is devising prettier options, and its sleek glass-and-steel bus shelters are already
popping up around town.
Not to overlook the Department of Environmental Protection’s $2 billion sewage plant makeover near mangy Newtown
Creek in Brooklyn—as if you could. The giant, 54-acre plumbing facility is sprouting shiny, steel-clad onion domes, or “
digester eggs,” designed by the Polshek Partnership, best known
for its planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. When completed, the formerly facility will have a nature
walk and art works by Vito Acconci and George Trakas, who
have been commissioned to help make the site visitor friendly.
“We have a fabulous administration,” says Richard Olcott,
a design partner in Polshek’s New York office. Between bus
shelters and gleaming steel eggs, “it’s the whole gamut.”
The Newtown Creek makeover, he points out, dates back to
the early ’90s, but his larger point is well taken: Despite some
big blips of the only-in-New York variety, the skyline has seen
a distinct change for the better over the past six years, partly
because high design has become a public commodity.
“When 9/11 happened, and all of the activity over what to
do—how to rebuild—that was in a strange way a catalyst,” says
Geier, whose firm, FXFowle, worked with Piano on the Times
building and is busy with other projects around Times Square.
“Now we’re seeing the results.”
Geier pointed to an influx of foreign architects in America’s
cultural capital as symbolic of the change, and to mounting
interest among developers in making brand statements.
“It says something about you,” he says. “It says, ‘I’m in it
for the longer term and interested in a quality project.’” Then
there’s the new emphasis on being green and no longer treating
buildings as throwaway objects. Although quality costs more,
Geier says, it can translate into higher rents, “so the cost is
baked into the formula.”
Or as Dubin, the Harlem developer, put it, “Really good
design is good economics.”
Schrager says the emphasis on aesthetics can actually be
traced back to the ’80s, with the heightened sophistication of
consumers and the “coming of age of the baby boomers.”
“With more free time on our hands we want unique, distinctive experiences,” Schrager says.
Only the Beginning
But, if ground zero touched off a public debate over design, private developers were goosed in a major way by a single project
undertaken in 1999 by the high-profile architect Richard Meier.
To make his first imprint on Manhattan, Meier, author of the
Getty Center in Los Angeles and other big works, opted to
figuratively post his name on two striking apartment towers
on the Lower West Side.
“The power of architects’ names sells now, and that began
with Meier’s towers,” Genevro says.
Exhibitions on view at the NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM
shaping the future
May 3–August 23, 2008
learning gallery just for kids p
October 23, 2008–October 2009
SYMBOL AND CITY
THE ART OF DRAWING ARCHITECTURE
extended through May 4, 2008
NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM | 401 F Street NW Washington, DC 20001
202.272.2448 | www.NBM.org | Red Line Metro, Judiciary Square
Monday–Saturday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Sunday, 11:00 am–5:00 pm
Exploring the world we build for ourselves.
architecture | design | urban planning | construction | engineering