When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

12 June 2008

A raw box in the Brutalist style: my doctor's office building

Via Kottke:

In the July 2008 Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens ponders (among other things) a bit of a dispute about urban planning in New York City's West Village:

Since 1984, when St. Vincent’s Hospital knocked down the Elizabeth Bayley Seton Building, dating from 1898, to put up a raw box in the Brutalist style, the intersection of Greenwich and Seventh and 11th to 13th Streets has been slightly scarred by an inconsiderately ugly, if unobtrusive, division of St. Vincent’s Hospital. Now, under the pretext of expanding health-care facilities, St. Vincent’s has gone into partnership with the ever ambitious Rudin Management Company, a family real-estate concern. Together, the two investors propose a huge demolition on either side of Seventh Avenue. The inaugural plans featured on one flank a vast new medical building of half a million square feet, standing 329 feet tall and 288 feet wide, and on the other flank a Rudin condo tower of luxury apartments, also consisting of half a million square feet, while standing 265 feet tall and 208 feet wide. (If you have the desire to keep abreast of this battle for human scale in the living and working streets and squares of Greenwich Village, I invite you to visit www.protectthevillage.org.) Like two huge toads, these ugly and tedious and uninspired structures would impede the view and block the light of one of New York’s historic neighborhoods: a district that in a previous generation survived even Robert Moses and his plan to slam a neo-Brutalist urban highway through Bohemia. (The story of that battle is told by Jane Jacobs in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities.)


I could easily have guessed what the advocates of the big, expensive, tall buildings would say. They would claim that those who opposed them were “elitists.” And so it proved.

The friends of St. Vincent’s and the promoters of the Rudin super-condo claim that their Village opponents are of the sort who prefer buildings to people. And this is true if the buildings are on a human scale like the O’Toole and if the people are the ones who have already annexed most of the modern cityscape and fashioned it to suit themselves. Can they really not rest until every street and every block reflects their own ambition back to them, and until one size fits all? All of the hospital’s designs—which, along with the application for demolition of the O’Toole Building, were returned to sender by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but have been resubmitted under the self-pitying rubric of “hardship”—look like a plan made by Donald Trump’s people on an especially uninspired day.

Last Call, Bohemia (Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, July 2008)

This proposed development is right around the corner from where I live; there's a picture of the building (and surroundings) in the VF article.

I understand the theoretical importance of things like historic landmarking, but I've *been* inside the building they're proposing to tear down. A medical specialist I saw once or twice has an office in there. The building (inside) is a poorly designed space. Look, it's a toilet of a space, okay? And it ain't so beautiful on the outside, either.

If Rudin and St. Vincent's tear down that building and build this new space, it's going to disrupt my life, personally, for the duration of the demolition and construction periods and beyond. As I said, we're right around the corner from this spot.

But being against change in New York City is like resenting the tide for coming in.

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