Some New York buildings, parks, statues and sundry structures become civic landmarks by sheer virtue of their architectural beauty. Others achieve landmark status through connections to local and national history. Still other become somewhat beloved by dint of their sticking around long enough without getting torn down.
I have a love-hate relationship with this last category, into which I feel such items as the I.M Pei Silver Towers at NYU and the threatened O'Toole building on Seventh Avenue fall. I don't want to confuse admiration with familiarity. I may get some warm feeling from seeing a certain building day after day, but one has to be careful of diluted the meaning of "landmark" by calling every creature comfort a classic.
I've looked at the big, bulbous orange-red number "9" outside 9 W. 57th Street at least once a month for years now, and I've never been quite at one with how I feel about it. Sometimes, rarely, it's struck me as fun and whimsical; usually around Christmastime. But mostly I feel cross and irritated whenever it catches my eye. It's goofy and somewhat embarrassing. The font of the "9" is terribly dated, speaking of the time the office building was erected, 1974, when "fat" lettering was in. (Think all those "Keep on Truckin'" t-shirts.) It strikes me a rather pathetic attempt at hip street art, the sort of thing a smaller and less cosmopolitan city than New York might come up with, and be inordinately proud of.
Now mind, I'm not trashing the building here, which was built by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. I know it's swooping glass wall has it's fans out there. I don't personally love it, but I acknowledge its appeal. We could all do a lot worse. I just mean the dumb old "9." I'm sure it, too, has its advocates, people who smile every time they pass it. But I wonder if they truly like the garish thing, or if they're just used to it.
The "9" was designed by Ivan Chermayeff of the firm Chermayeff & Geismar, who seem to have a thing for big, red objects (see here and here and here). According to their website, it is sits on City property (so Bloomberg could kick it to the curb if he wished), is made out of half-inch steel plate and weighs three tons. They also say "It has become something of a New York landmark."
Something of a New York landmark. There's the rub.