2 Columbus Circle with its new facade, February 2011
Beyond My Ken
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2 Columbus Circle is a 12-story building located on a small trapezoidal lot on the south side of Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. Bordered by 58th Street, 59th Street, Broadway, and Eighth Avenue, it stands on the site of the former seven-story Grand Circle Hotel. It opened in 1964, after A&P heir Huntington Hartford hired architect Edward Durell Stone to build a museum for him at the site. Controversy was sparked in 2002 after the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) purchased the building and planned to significantly alter its design, including modifying its facade. Calls had been made since 1996 for the building to be landmarked, so its proposed landmark status was brought into question with this renovation. The renovations were completed in 2008.
The seven-story Grand Circle Hotel, designed by William H. Cauvet, stood at this address from 1874; later called the Boulevard Hotel, it was demolished in 1960.
In 1964, A&P heir Huntington Hartford hired architect Edward Durell Stone to build a museum for him at 2 Columbus Circle. At the time Hartford had one of the world's greatest art collections, including works by Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Turner, and Salvador Dalí. Hartford commissioned Dalí to paint a painting called The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus for the opening, which attracted many celebrities, such as the Duke of Windsor. 2 Columbus Circle opened as the Gallery of Modern Art, displaying Hartford's collection. Until 2005, the building was a 12-story modernist structure, marble-clad with Venetian motifs and a curved façade. It had filigree-like portholes and windows that ran along an upper loggia at its top stories. With architect Philip L. Goodwin, Stone had previously designed the Museum of Modern Art in the International style, which opened to the public on May 10, 1939. Hartford wanted his Gallery of Modern Art to represent an alternative view of modernism.
The building was often called "The Lollipop Building" in reference to a mocking review by architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable in which she called it a "die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops". However, three decades later she admitted that she got "a little lift, a sense of pleasure" when she walked past it. Nonetheless, Huxtable took issue with the campaign to save the building, writing in The Wall Street Journal that: "It was an unworthy performance that did little credit to anyone who cares about preservation and can only serve as an object lesson of how not to go about it."
The Gallery of Modern Art closed by 1969. Fairleigh Dickinson University received 2 Columbus Circle as a gift from Hartford and operated it as the New York Cultural Center, where art exhibitions were sometimes hosted. Six years later, Gulf and Western Industries purchased 2 Columbus Circle. In exchange for tax breaks, Sumner Redstone got a clause that Hartford had, which said that the building could never be renovated or destroyed. The building went unused until 1980, when Gulf and Western presented 2 Columbus Circle to the City of New York as a gift. The City of New York accepted 2 Columbus Circle and installed the headquarters for the Department of Cultural Affairs. The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau also began to be housed in 2 Columbus Circle.
The Museum of Arts and Design, now at 2 Columbus Circle, was founded in 1956 by the American Craft Council together with philanthropist Aileen Osborn Webb, as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts. It relocated to 40 West 53rd Street in 1986, and was renamed the American Craft Museum. In 2002, it changed its name again to the Museum of Arts and Design.
Concurrently, interest in landmarking this building had begun in 1996, soon after the building turned thirty years old and became eligible for landmark designation. In this year, Robert A. M. Stern included it in his article "A Preservationist's List of 35 Modern Landmarks-in-Waiting" written for The New York Times. Stone's design at 2 Columbus Circle was listed as one of the World Monuments Fund's "100 most endangered sites" in 2006. The same year, Jennifer Raab, Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, reviewed with the Designation Committee of the Commission the possibility of recommending a hearing on 2 Columbus Circle. In 1998, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Convention and Visitors Bureau vacated 2 Columbus Circle, and in 2002, under Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Sherida Paulsen, the Designation Committee reviewed the request to hold a hearing and again voted not to. MAD was designated as the site developer of 2 Columbus Circle by the New York City Economic Development Corporation in June 2002. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation called it one of America's "11 Most Endangered Historic Places". Despite a serious preservation effort, the New York City Department of Buildings approved the permit for MAD to begin removing 2 Columbus Circle's facade.
By the end of renovations in 2008, the museum moved to this building. The new location at 2 Columbus Circle, with more than 54000sqft, more than tripled the size of the Museum's former space. It includes four floors of exhibition galleries for works by established and emerging artists; a 150-seat auditorium in which the museum plans to feature lectures, films, and performances; and a restaurant. It also includes a Center for the Study of Jewelry, and an Education Center that offers multi-media access to primary source material, hands-on classrooms for students, and three artists-in-residence studios.
The museum's plans to radically alter the building's original design touched off a preservation debate joined by many notable people, including Tom Wolfe (The New York Times; October 12, 2003 and October 13, 2003), Chuck Close, Frank Stella, Robert A. M. Stern, Columbia University art history department chairman Barry Bergdoll, New York Times architecture critics Herbert Muschamp and Nicolai Ouroussoff, and urbanist scholar Witold Rybczynski, among others. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) referred to it as "one of New York's most photographed and readily recognizable buildings." However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ada Louise Huxtable, and others supported the redevelopment of the long-neglected site.
Stone's building was listed as worthy of preservation by organizations, including: the New York/Tri-State Chapter of DOCOMOMO, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Preservation League of New York State, and the World Monuments Fund. Despite this, the New York City Landmarks Commission never held a public hearing on its fate. E-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act between NYC Landmarks Commission chairman Robert Tierney and Laurie Beckelman, who worked for the Museum of Art and Design, suggest that the pair worked behind the scenes to keep the building from being considered by the landmarks panel. A city permit to allow removal of the existing facade was issued on June 29, 2005.
The August 9, 2005, edition of The New York Times reported that members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission took the rare step of public disagreement over this issue, despite City Hall's insistence that the case against the building had been closed for nine years. Roberta Brandes Gratz, a commission member, said in a letter to The New York Times, "Neither I as an individual commissioner nor the current commission as a whole has rendered a 'professional judgment' on whether there should be a hearing or a designation." In addition, telephone interviews conducted by The New York Times suggested that at least some of the other eleven commissioners also favored a public hearing. Yet the commission's executive director, Ronda Wist, said chairman Tierney "is not inclined to revisit this question." Tierney said his principal architectural education occurred when he took an undergraduate course with Vincent Scully, now the Sterling professor emeritus of art history at Yale University. On August 14, 2005, Scully stated in a letter to Tierney:
Something rather wonderful has occurred, by which the building, rarely anyone's favorite in the past, is looking better every day ... Its own integrity, its uniqueness, the indomitable determination to make a point that produced it, are coming to the fore and are powerfully affecting the way we see it. ... It is in fact, becoming the icon it never was, one about which the city now cares a great deal.
The New York City
Landmarks Commission's refusal to hold a public hearing on the building was based on a consensus reached in June 1996 by a four-member committee made up of the Rev. Thomas F. Pike, Charles Sachs, Vicki Match Suna, and Professor Sarah Bradford Landau. However, on August 18, 2005, The New York Times
reported that Landau joined other former commissioners – William E. Davis, Stephen M. Raphael, Mildred F. Schmertz, along with Gene A. Norman, a former chairman, and Beverly Moss Spatt, a former chairwoman – in calling for a hearing. She wrote:
Had there been such a large and broad demand for a public hearing about the building in 1996, I'm not at all sure I would have voted the way I did ... It is in the long-term interest of the commission to maintain good rapport with the preservation community. Whether the building merits designation is another issue, and should be decided by the current commission.
On December 25, 2005, New York Times
architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote:
Recent landmark preservation battles in New York suggest that the civic powers-that-be insist on defending a narrow view of the past and of Modernism in particular. That became apparent during the crusade to preserve Edward Durell Stone's so-called lollipop building at 2 Columbus Circle, a landmark of late Modernism. ... As a result, the facade is being utterly revamped. ... This was an atrocious betrayal of the public trust. ... A similar debate is unfolding in Berlin, where the German government plans to demolish the 1970s Palast der Republik. ... Both 2 Columbus Circle and the Berlin building represent important moments in their cities' collective memories. The pressure to remake or raze them is arguably a form of censorship, a drive to cleanse history of anything but a strictly prescribed view of the past.
In 2008, Ouroussoff named the building as one of seven buildings in New York City
that should be torn down because they "have a traumatic effect on the city." He also wrote:
The renovation remedies the annoying functional defects that had plagued the building for decades. But this is not the bold architectural statement that might have justified the destruction of an important piece of New York history. Poorly detailed and lacking in confidence, the project is a victory only for people who favor the safe and inoffensive and have always been squeamish about the frictions that give this city its vitality.
The redesigned building has the same massing and geometric shape as the original, but has channels carved in its exterior. The original white Vermont Marble has been replaced with a glazed terra-cotta and glass facade.
Ada Louise Huxtable, who had originally coined the term "Lollipop Building" for the original structure, wrote:
Two Columbus Circle was on the down curve of an architect who had done his best work in the 1930's ... Something has gone noticeably wrong. This is a precisely calibrated aesthetic that can be destroyed by one bad move, and that move has been the late insertion of a picture window on the restaurant floor. The client insisted and the architect resisted, and we will never know when and where the relationship fell apart – but at some point it obviously did, and so did the design ... The eternal banality of the picture window is forever with us ... Even with the building's flaws, however, criticism of the structure has been alarmingly out of proportion and flagrantly out of control.
Of the newly uncovered redesign, James Gardner, architecture critic for the New York Sun
Say what you want about Stone's building, it was indubitably a landmark; the best that can be said for its replacement is that, if we're lucky, no one will ever notice it ... A thought occurs that might help us out of our newfangled mess: Assuming that what was done to the interior is what needed to be done all along, it might be relatively easy – not now of course, but after a decent interval of, say, five years – to restore the original façade.
Francis Morrone, also of the Sun
The new façade ... uses glass bands, or "cuts," rather than conventionally patterned fenestration, across a plane of ceramic tiles glazed so as to change color subtly when viewed in different light conditions. For me, I am sorry to say, it's all scaleless. Where Stone's original building read as neatly scaled to its setting, Mr. Cloepfil's redesign reads as a piece of abstract sculpture that, at building scale, seems all wrong.
Paul Goldberger praised the new building's "functional, logical, and pleasant" interior in a review in The New Yorker
, but wrote:
Ultimately, Cloepfil has been trapped between paying homage to a legendary building and making something of his own. As a result, if you knew the old building, it is nearly impossible to get it out of your mind when you look at the new one. And, if you've never seen Columbus Circle before, you probably won't be satisfied, either: the building's proportions and composition seem just as odd and awkward as they ever did.Witold Rybczynski
wrote in Slate that the new design:
feels like an alien presence ... Slots appear at random, and a continuous ribbon of fritted glass zigzags down the building, graphic effects that belong more to the packaging of consumer products than to architecture. At the base, several of Stone's original Venetian columns are preserved behind murky glass like body parts in formaldehyde. As for the glazed terra-cotta tiles of the exterior, they are dull and lifeless and make even the slick steel-and-glass facade of the Time-Warner Center next door look lively. The new Museum of Arts and Design is artsy and designy, but it is not good architecture, and it makes me miss Stone's winsome palazzo all the more.
Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, Justin Davidson, said:
This version won't satisfy those who thought it should never have been touched, and it's not bold enough to overpower their arguments—or, I suspect, to turn the Museum of Arts and Design into an essential destination.