13 July 2009

CUNY Gets Stern With Stanford White

The new blog Architakes, which is already proving itself quite the preservation watchdog, has uncovered another one of CUNY's crimes against New York's architectural heritage.

The site reports that ground has been broken on a new Bronx Community College building that will throw the historic and majestic, Pantheon-like Gould Memorial Library by Stanford White severely off-balance. The library is part of a historic quadrangle inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia. The structures built to White’s design are Gould Memorial Library, two flanking academic halls and the crescent-shaped Hall of Fame colonnade centered behind them. It all makes a pretty, cohesive picture, and has for the last 100 years.

Problem is that, while the library is landmarked, the Great Lawn isn't. According to Achitakes, "Buildings introduced since White’s time have roughly followed his master plan on the south and east sides of the quadrangle, producing the Great Lawn he planned. The north side of the Lawn has remained vacant, used as a parking lot, until now."

Now, here comes the new North Instructional Building and Library, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, which, of course, is an oversized piece of goods that will stand as a modernist insult to White's work.

I'll let Architakes take it from here:

Stern’s design will cover not just the area allocated for buildings in White’s master plan, but much of the Great Lawn as well. Encroached upon by the new building, what is left of the Lawn will be off-center with the library, destroying the fundamental premise of White’s master plan and devaluing one of the nation’s most architecturally significant campus cores...

The Lawn and the structures were conceived as a piece, open space and buildings reinforcing each other’s importance. As the exterior focus of the campus, the Great Lawn is intentionally aligned with its interior focus, the library’s great rotunda, their classically symmetrical spaces linked and sequentially experienced by way of a processional path centered on Lawn and buildings...

This double-talk can’t hide what’s on clear view in any drawing of the new campus plan; the catastrophic impact of Stern’s building on White’s plan, and its competition for primacy with his library. The new building isn’t just in the wrong place; its scale is far greater than what White had envisioned and suggested by way of the academic halls he designed on either side of Gould Memorial Library. (Had CUNY only heard of Stern’s academic credentials and not his ego?)

What kind of building does the College get for $56 million and an imponderable loss of cultural heritage? A phoned-in giant knockoff of Henri LaBrouste’s Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve, with minimal effort made to accommodate new program and site... CUNY would certainly have better spent the public’s money finding a way to put Gould’s spectacular interior to more vital student use.

See the rendering for Stern's building below. Nicely deceptive cropping, guys!

1 comment:

galfromdownunder said...

I'm not an architect, but like most ordinary pavement crawlers I appreciate looking up and seeing icons of a time when the human race, well, had more time. If we don't have watchdogs like Lost City and ArchiTakes we'll be left with soul slashing stripmallandia - (don't get me started on my conspiracy theories about strip mall designers in cahoots with the makers of anti-depressants and television shopping ...). Keep ripping back that scaffolding ...