Challenging an Empire
Through most of the twentieth century, New York City was the throne of architecture, and the Empire State Building was its queen. From its completion in 1931 until 1972, the ESB was the tallest building in the world, and is still the tallest building in New York. The Art Deco monstrosity has reigned over the city with powerful elegance for 80 years, and stood by it through the best and worst of times. Even the imposing World Trade Center, while the towers stood, did not take away from its dominance.
But now, a challenger has appeared, and many are frightened. Plans have recently been given the green light by the New York City Council to construct 15 Penn Plaza, also known as the Vornado Tower. If built, it would be a 370m, 67 story skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. Those facts alone would not normally warrant alarm. It’s Vornado’s location that has people up in arms about its size. It’s located just a few blocks south-west of the Empire State Building. And she doesn’t like kids on her lawn. The Vornado would be only 34 feet shorter than the ESB, making it a serious contender for skyline dominance. The owners of thee ESB have been fighting for months in court to prevent, move, or at least shorten the Vornado, but as is the case in this economy, in the eyes of the government any construction is good construction.
Personally I think the Vornado is quite good looking, with its modern but somehow reserved appearance. But it’s not an issue of looks. In fact, it’s not really about the Vornado at all. It’s about the idea of the building and what the construction of any new tower means for New York.
Now, I’m a firm believer that modern can and often is beautiful. But I am equally in favor of classic design. In new cities like Dubai, modern skyscrapers work because they have no competition. The Burj Khalifa is right at home. But Paris, for example, is another story. Ask any French person about the Montparnasse Tower, a skyscraper built in the 60’s located within a mile of the Eiffel Tower, and they will roll their French eyes in French disgust. The Montparnasse Tower in most people’s opinion ruined Paris’s skyline. This is partly because anything of that height ruins the appeal of a shorter city, but also the conflicting ideas of style it brings.
Yes, New York has many modern skyscrapers, but none at this point hold anything over the Empire State Building. The fear is, though that a new tower like the Vornado would take away from New York’s je ne sais quoi feeling of a classic metropolis.
Let’s face it. America is in decline. I could go on for hours about this, but the fact of the matter is, we are now beginning to fall back in the race we started. In ten, twenty years, the US won’t even be on the map of the tallest buildings. (This isn’t to say that taller buildings are better, just…more popular.) So perhaps it’s time to accept our fate and relish in what we still have: a damn beautiful, if outdated, New York City.
Or, we could give one final push into the 21st century and make New York into the gleaming skyscraper city the rest of the world seems so ready to embrace.
So in the end, the battle against Vornado is really a battle against a changing world in which New York may not stand any chance. It won’t be a fight between two buildings, but a fight between two ideas from two different centuries. The construction of one medium-sized (by Dubai standards) tower will not revolutionize a city. So maybe we should just let it be built. Maybe we could use some new scenery before we’re sold to China.
PS: If you’re confused about the lack of biology in my recent posts, it’s because I am currently in the throws of the biology lab to end all biology labs and thinking about it makes my head hurt. But I finished the class, so expect a return to our normal programming. Thanks for reading!