New York

James Gardner — Bringing back the bigness

alternate
text
The new addition to John Jay College
on 11th Avenue
Bigness is back. By “bigness,” I do not mean height — rather, I refer to a kind of hulking squatness, an unapologetic, as-of-right occupancy of a plot of land — without any namby-pamby purchase of “air rights,” or any rising up in a zigguratted setback to heights made possible by the construction of some cynically insufficient, “privately owned public space.”

Two recent and conspicuous examples of this new bigness are the Lucida and the Brompton, which occupy the southeast corners of 86th Street at Lexington and Third Avenues, respectively. These structures hark back to the days before the 1916 legislation that mandated how high a building could rise in New York relative to its footprint.

But an even more striking instance of this upstart subgenre is on the West Side — the addition to John Jay College of Criminal Justice (part of the City University of New York) that has just opened in time for the beginning of the new school year.

According to a news release from John Jay, interest in criminal justice has greatly increased in the last decade, in part due to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. As a result, John Jay has doubled in size. Until now, the school was mainly limited to its Haaren Hall Building on Columbus Avenue, between 58th and 59th streets. That building — which was designed by C.B.J. Snyder in 1906 and renovated by Rafael Viñoly in 1988 — stretches less than halfway toward Amsterdam Avenue.

With this new addition, however, the school reaches all the way to Amsterdam, to form a kind of dumbbell shape, with two boxy structures fronting the avenues, linked by a lower-lying building that stands between them.

The new building on 11th Avenue was designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill — once the default architects in New York. Immediately after the Second World War, under the aegis of Gordon Bunshaft, the firm designed everything from the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Branch Bank, at 510 Fifth Avenue, to such emblematic structures as the Lever Building and the Manhattan House.

In recent years, the firm’s record has been more mixed. It was responsible for the poorly designed and executed building at 383 Madison Avenue (formerly known as the Bear Stearns Building), as well as for the mediocre PricewaterhouseCoopers building at 300 Madison Avenue and, almost as mediocre, the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, among many other projects.

At the same time, however, the firm proved that it still had some life left in it when 7 World Trade Center came out far better than many critics (myself included) had anticipated. Skidmore Owings & Merrill also revised Daniel Libeskind’s design for One World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower) in such a way as to improve greatly upon the original conception.

Beyond the Big Apple, it’s been responsible for a number of distinguished projects, among them the most excellent Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, by far the tallest building in the world.

The new addition to John Jay College is not as distinguished or as dramatic as those two projects — this is New York, after all — but the boldness of its bigness comes as a welcome disruption of the architectural stock in that part of the West Side.

According to the SOM website, the new John Jay addition, when linked to the old main building, will make it possible for the first time to unify all of the college’s activities in a single space, so as to create “an academic city within a city.”

To this end, the 14-story, 240-foot-tall building will give the institution an additional 625,000 square feet of space. The total cost of the project is $557 million. SOM’s T.J. Gottesdiener is managing partner on the project, while Mustafa Abadan is design partner, according to the website Arch Daily.

At first glance, the new section of John Jay looks a little like the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue, a slightly top-heavy cube that beetles in staggered “set-forwards” over the street.

But as big as the Whitney is, you could fit at least four of them, I imagine, into the school’s new addition. And whereas the Whitney is a Brutalist monolith fashioned out of granite, the new building engenders a far lighter effect, being formed of wraithlike glass and steel.

Various efforts have been made to enliven the surface of the curtain-walled façade: One trick used throughout is to place flange-like strips of metal across the surface, a device that SOM has used as well at 300 Madison and 7 World Trade. It is not uncommon in recent architecture, and for the life of me, I cannot understand what the designers believe they are accomplishing by using it. Presumably it is supposed to suggest some Postmodern insubstantiality, an emphasis on surface rather than depth. But if it looks somewhat good on the façade of 7 World Trade, it looks a little cheap on Amsterdam Avenue and 58th Street.

Though the building is now officially open — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took part in a memorial service there last month, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — the finishing touches are still being applied, so it is not yet easy to judge how well it fits into the fabric of the Upper West Side.

According to the initial renderings, the 11th Avenue façade was supposed to have emblazoned across its lower level the college’s name in bold block letters, several stories tall. Fortunately, this plan did not materialize, though the present entrance looks a little like underwhelming and unimaginative default architecture.

The other main entrance, between the avenues on 59th Street, is adorned with a somewhat retro, angulated canopy that is similarly unimpressive and that suggests — I assume intentionally — an early sixties Modernist idiom. In the rendering, this area is arrayed with flags of many nations that would certainly add to the overall effect. But it is unclear if that plan will ever materialize.

The interstitial area, the Campus Commons, will serve as the institution’s quad. It is marked by a massive glass ceiling that will maximize natural light. Along it are roomy stepped lounges that are intended to facilitate circulation, while serving as gathering spaces.

It remains to be seen, of course, how well the new space functions. For that, the building complex will need a few semesters under its belt.

For now it can be said that what the new building lacks in beauty, it certainly possesses in the form of pugnacious character. John Jay College has succeeded in making a strong statement that, in urbanistic terms, this institution is emphatically alive.

COMPANIES AND PEOPLE

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New York

James Gardner — Bringing back the bigness

alternate
text
The new addition to John Jay College
on 11th Avenue
Bigness is back. By “bigness,” I do not mean height — rather, I refer to a kind of hulking squatness, an unapologetic, as-of-right occupancy of a plot of land — without any namby-pamby purchase of “air rights,” or any rising up in a zigguratted setback to heights made possible by the construction of some cynically insufficient, “privately owned public space.”

Two recent and conspicuous examples of this new bigness are the Lucida and the Brompton, which occupy the southeast corners of 86th Street at Lexington and Third Avenues, respectively. These structures hark back to the days before the 1916 legislation that mandated how high a building could rise in New York relative to its footprint.

But an even more striking instance of this upstart subgenre is on the West Side — the addition to John Jay College of Criminal Justice (part of the City University of New York) that has just opened in time for the beginning of the new school year.

According to a news release from John Jay, interest in criminal justice has greatly increased in the last decade, in part due to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. As a result, John Jay has doubled in size. Until now, the school was mainly limited to its Haaren Hall Building on Columbus Avenue, between 58th and 59th streets. That building — which was designed by C.B.J. Snyder in 1906 and renovated by Rafael Viñoly in 1988 — stretches less than halfway toward Amsterdam Avenue.

With this new addition, however, the school reaches all the way to Amsterdam, to form a kind of dumbbell shape, with two boxy structures fronting the avenues, linked by a lower-lying building that stands between them.

The new building on 11th Avenue was designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill — once the default architects in New York. Immediately after the Second World War, under the aegis of Gordon Bunshaft, the firm designed everything from the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Branch Bank, at 510 Fifth Avenue, to such emblematic structures as the Lever Building and the Manhattan House.

In recent years, the firm’s record has been more mixed. It was responsible for the poorly designed and executed building at 383 Madison Avenue (formerly known as the Bear Stearns Building), as well as for the mediocre PricewaterhouseCoopers building at 300 Madison Avenue and, almost as mediocre, the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, among many other projects.

At the same time, however, the firm proved that it still had some life left in it when 7 World Trade Center came out far better than many critics (myself included) had anticipated. Skidmore Owings & Merrill also revised Daniel Libeskind’s design for One World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower) in such a way as to improve greatly upon the original conception.

Beyond the Big Apple, it’s been responsible for a number of distinguished projects, among them the most excellent Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, by far the tallest building in the world.

The new addition to John Jay College is not as distinguished or as dramatic as those two projects — this is New York, after all — but the boldness of its bigness comes as a welcome disruption of the architectural stock in that part of the West Side.

According to the SOM website, the new John Jay addition, when linked to the old main building, will make it possible for the first time to unify all of the college’s activities in a single space, so as to create “an academic city within a city.”

To this end, the 14-story, 240-foot-tall building will give the institution an additional 625,000 square feet of space. The total cost of the project is $557 million. SOM’s T.J. Gottesdiener is managing partner on the project, while Mustafa Abadan is design partner, according to the website Arch Daily.

At first glance, the new section of John Jay looks a little like the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue, a slightly top-heavy cube that beetles in staggered “set-forwards” over the street.

But as big as the Whitney is, you could fit at least four of them, I imagine, into the school’s new addition. And whereas the Whitney is a Brutalist monolith fashioned out of granite, the new building engenders a far lighter effect, being formed of wraithlike glass and steel.

Various efforts have been made to enliven the surface of the curtain-walled façade: One trick used throughout is to place flange-like strips of metal across the surface, a device that SOM has used as well at 300 Madison and 7 World Trade. It is not uncommon in recent architecture, and for the life of me, I cannot understand what the designers believe they are accomplishing by using it. Presumably it is supposed to suggest some Postmodern insubstantiality, an emphasis on surface rather than depth. But if it looks somewhat good on the façade of 7 World Trade, it looks a little cheap on Amsterdam Avenue and 58th Street.

Though the building is now officially open — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took part in a memorial service there last month, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — the finishing touches are still being applied, so it is not yet easy to judge how well it fits into the fabric of the Upper West Side.

According to the initial renderings, the 11th Avenue façade was supposed to have emblazoned across its lower level the college’s name in bold block letters, several stories tall. Fortunately, this plan did not materialize, though the present entrance looks a little like underwhelming and unimaginative default architecture.

The other main entrance, between the avenues on 59th Street, is adorned with a somewhat retro, angulated canopy that is similarly unimpressive and that suggests — I assume intentionally — an early sixties Modernist idiom. In the rendering, this area is arrayed with flags of many nations that would certainly add to the overall effect. But it is unclear if that plan will ever materialize.

The interstitial area, the Campus Commons, will serve as the institution’s quad. It is marked by a massive glass ceiling that will maximize natural light. Along it are roomy stepped lounges that are intended to facilitate circulation, while serving as gathering spaces.

It remains to be seen, of course, how well the new space functions. For that, the building complex will need a few semesters under its belt.

For now it can be said that what the new building lacks in beauty, it certainly possesses in the form of pugnacious character. John Jay College has succeeded in making a strong statement that, in urbanistic terms, this institution is emphatically alive.

COMPANIES AND PEOPLE

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