Curves and Straight Edges: Meditations on Architectural Shapes in New York

 

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A curve of glass – arched

eyebrow? Sheltering

arm? It holds us

in place,

smooths the edges,

invites rest, perhaps.

 

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A soaring stone curve leads the eye to

a place we were looking for,

anchors us to what

we might forget.

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Thick blocks of stone. The fortress

is protection

I don’t want. Inky darkness. I turn away, then

decide to venture deeper. A circle

of light floats down

illuminating an empty chair.

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Doors close.

Everything’s in place. There is

solitude.

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Will the old brick and stone buildings with neatly

closed doors

soon stand alone among

glittering glass giants

with perfect edges?

 

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Then again, the glass towers have

their own edgy beauty, an orderly flow of pattern in a

city teetering on chaos, chaos even on

the best of days, days when we

thought we could forget the

planes, the van, the

losses.

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Curves and edges duke it out. As I walk the sidewalks downtown

architectural transitions are split-second, from

order to confusion.

Turn a corner, it’s quiet,

turn again,

and gulp down

the sensory flood.

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Edges and curves,

curves

and edges.

 

***

The photographs:

  1. The clean lines of Brookfield Place, a few blocks from One World Trade Center.
  2. Brookfield Place is a six building office complex built in the 80’s (it used to be called the World Financial Center). After extensive damage on 9/11, buildings underwent renovation and restoration. The arched roofed glass building houses the Winter Garden, an airy atrium with tall palm trees, a welcome respite on winter days. The complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of a marina on the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus (below), the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
  3. A limestone arch and dome inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With two million square feet of gallery space packed with two million works of art from all over the world, it is New York’s high church of culture. The building dates from 1879 and is the largest museum in the US. This view of ceiling details in the Great Hall is from a balcony on the second floor. HERE, you can peruse a well-thought out presentation of 100 works from the museum.
  4. Fort Totten, in Queens. Construction of the coastal defense fort began in 1862 and halted after the Civil War because this type of masonry became obsolete. It was used by the Army for various purposes, including developing underwater minefields, electric powered torpedo experiments and Army administrative offices through the 1970’s, then it was transferred to the Army Reserve. Rumor had it that a mob boss who ratted was hidden here for a time. Much of the sixty acres is now a park.
  5. Inside the Fort Totten battery. There is a small museum on the property and a long, dark underground tunnel leading to the battery, which on a sunny October weekday was almost deserted. There are beautiful views of the East River converging with Long Island Sound under the Throgs Neck Bridge.
  6. The battery.
  7. Deep inside the ammunition magazine, which is now empty, someone carefully placed a metal folding chair under a circle of light formed by a skylight. Was this a clever reference to the ghost of La Cosa Nostra’s “Cargo Joe” Valachi, rumored to be hidden here by authorities in 1970? After all, his testimony about the Mafia brought the inner workings of the criminal organization into the light.
  8. The exterior of the magazine is overgrown with Porcelain berry vines. New York City has a surprising number of romantically overgrown, seemingly (but not really) abandoned spots like this.
  9. This stalwart pre-war brick apartment building on West 27th Street in Chelsea is literally a stone’s throw from the High Line. Art galleries and the popular High Line park have transformed this area from a rough and tumble, Wild West-like wholesale meat market to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of wealthy New Yorkers. The land this building sits on is worth a lot; it may not last.
  10. A nice late 1860’s example of New York’s cast iron architecture seen through a window at ABC Home, a large home goods store on Broadway. The Arnold Constable Building was also a retail enterprise. I like the way the window arches curve more sharply as your eyes move skywards. Manufacturing went on upstairs and retail and wholesale below. It was one of New York’s most important stores, catering to the carriage trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. Later, the store moved uptown, closing in 1975.  The building is now protected as part of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, which includes the famous Flatiron Building.
  11. A lower Manhattan scene contrasts old and new. On the left, a sliver of the Beaux-Arts style Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now housing the National Museum of the American Indian. The “new” building is 1 Whitehall Street, in the heart of the financial district, built for offices in 1962.
  12. Another look at architectural contrasts in the city, with One World Trade Center on the left. The older Art Deco building towards the middle is 21 West Street, an office tower built around 1930 and converted to residence rentals in 1997. Currently, a tiny 5th floor studio can be had for $2975/month.  The glass tower with rounded corners is 50 West Street, a brand new 64 story residential building for Manhattan’s elite. As I write this, a 1000 sf one bed, one bath apartment on the 21st floor was rented at $5,700/mo.  For three bedrooms you’re looking at over $15,000/mo.  Or you can purchase a 3 BR penthouse (Fantastic Views!) for $24,540,000. Ah, life in the city…
  13. Looking west on Ann Street, One World Trade is in the center. St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, built in 1766, is on the left. This beautiful little church was the location of a ninth-month long, round-the-clock ministry to workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Upcoming events include a Conversation on Achieving Racial Equity and a presentation of the Rachmaninoff Vespers, an a capella choral composition.
  14. One World Trade soars above office buildings at Brookfield Place, a six building office complex built in the 80’s (formerly called the World Financial Center). Some buildings suffered extensive damage on 9/11. These days, the complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of the North Cove marina and the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus, the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
  15. One World Trade reflected in the glass skin of Four World Trade Center, a 1.76 billion dollar project completed in 2013. Osamu Sassa of the architectural firm that designed the building said, “We like the idea of the building dematerializing.” It is essentially a parallelogram topped by a trapezoid with an especially thick glass facade making for a smooth, flat appearance, in deference to the Memorial.
  16. A favorite view from Zucotti Park, a tiny park in lower Manhattan. This is where Occupy Wall Street was encamped back in 2011. The park was replanted after 9/11, so its Honeylocust trees are relatively young; their delicate branches are a nice foil to the glass and concrete masses surrounding the park. Here’s a photo I took during Occupy days, after work one evening.
  17. Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in Chelsea is now ten years old. Made of reinforced concrete and glass, the building has only two vertical columns – all the others are off vertical, by as much as 25 degrees. The glass “curtain” walls, which were cold-warped (bent on site!), have two laminated panes, an airspace, and a tempered pane. Small white ceramic particles are embedded in the glass, increasing energy efficiency and reducing glare. Perhaps my favorite building in New York.
  18. The IAC Building again. Here is a photo I took in 2012 of it in the evening through a fence covered with morning glory vines gone to seed.
  19. The World Trade Center’s Oculus, a transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. Cost overruns were “insane” and of course, the building’s facade is controversial. I doubt there was ever much controversy about the quietly dignified office building behind it, 90 Church Street. I used to work there. We had a fascinating bird’s eye view of the excavation and construction at Ground Zero. When Obama came to lay a wreath in 2011, we watched as snipers methodically unwrapped their gear on the overhang below our windows. We had to stay in the building while he was on site – it was lunch at the desk, or eat late.
  20. The Oculus inside.
  21. The ammunition magazine at Fort Totten in Queens.
  22. Broadway and John Street, downtown Manhattan. The red building is the Corbin Building, an 1889 Romanesque Revival style office building. It was restored by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the huge Fulton Transit Center next door; you can enter the subway through the John Street entrance.  While hand-digging the foundation for the transit center renovation, an old well and artifacts such as a clay pipe and ledger books from the 1880’s were found under the building, now a city landmark.
  23. Looking west on Dey Street, Friday afternoon crowds move quickly down narrow sidewalks. On the right is 195 Broadway, the old AT&T/Western Union building, built in the early 1900’s with oversized columns designed by the architect who designed Rockefeller’s country home, Kykuit. Harper Collins has offices there now. Just to the left of the American flag is the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


84 comments

  1. What a marvellous series. I love the lines and spaces far more than many architectural shots of the whole building. Seems to give you a better sense of the old and new. Some of your images could easily be of Melbourne where I live. Love the shot of the light illuminating the empty chair.

    • Vicki, glad you like the closer views, the abstractions. I had fun, and with more time….. oh well, I’ll be back! Don’t I wish Melbourne was as close as New York – I’d be there in a heartbeat, I would. I long to explore Australia.

      • The best part about Australia is that it is so vast, there is so much to see from desert to temperate rainforest to wild coastlines (in every state).

    • It gave us a good laugh. It’s a nice mystery, wondering who put it there and why – mostly it seems they use that area to store equipment, brooms, stuff like that. It goes to show that if you get out and explore off the beaten path, you can find great stuff. We visited the fort because it had green space and was near a place we had to be a little later – it just seemed like a spot on the map to check out. We had a terrific chat with an older Vietnamese man who was fishing there, too. Sadly, I hesitated about asking to take his picture.

  2. You done good Lynn. Great to again see what results when you let your wonderful eye and camera loose on the urban environment.

    • 🙂 You keep me on my toes with those comments – done good, yeah. I really like photographing buildings, such a nice change from flora. And you know I have a very deep love for the city. Sorry I didn’t have more time for a get together – hopefully next trip it will happen.

  3. Wow, a marathon post, my friend! Excellent photography – I especially like the contrasts between modern and old architecture – and find the shot of the single, top lit chair in the dark tunnel haunting, it suggests to me very forcibly a place of execution. And your words are superb, very meaningful; the allusion to terrorism weighs heavily.

    • The contrasts between old and new would be a different story in the UK, woudln’t it? Our old is not so old! And after moving west, there’s even less “old.” Thank you for reading attentively – it’s a bit dark, but that’s real. I wasn’t in the city on 9/11 – I was living & working a bit north of it – but it was deeply affecting. I came in a week or so later and the lingering burned smell was intense, shocking, disturbing. Then later when I worked next to Ground Zero, watching the construction on an almost daily basis and coping with the heavy security presence there became really tedious and stressful. I grew tired of being accompanied by heavily armed men on public transportation – I took a ferry home on many days, and at times we had an armed escort, guns drawn, racing in a small boat alongside. It just got to be too much. I know you will get that.

  4. I love the zooming in to explore interesting shapes, patterns and textures. These elements are used to create very effective compositions. A very fine collection Lynn.

    • I think I’ve spent so much time with a longer lens on my camera that I’ve started seeing the world that way. If I put a really wide angle lens on it, I feel lost. Thank you!

    • I always like the idea of documenting, but documenting the odd bits I see, not necessarily what everyone else might see. There is SO much to see, architecture-wise, if you just pay attention. Yes, safe and well, and a little swamped in images, but that’s so much better than being swamped by work, isn’t it?

    • Thank you so much, Dina – I just caught up with your blog and see that you were in this area – in a general sense – I don’t know if you came through Seattle, but if you’re still around, let me know, OK?

  5. What a beautiful exploration of New York City’s architecture, Lynn. It’s nice to see your city explorations in addition to your nature and rural explorations. Your range of talent is amazing. 🙂

    • You’re too kind, Cathy. I do love the city, so I guess it shows. It just got to be too stressful to live there, and I wanted to be closer to wilderness. So I have to go back periodically and get my NY fix!

    • 🙂 Thank you Camilla! I’ve been outside a lot, taking photos of the changing colors, and saw a tiny crab spider on a leaf, and thought of you, and your excellent images of insects – OK, and spiders! And birds. 😉

    • Interesting! Yes, you should get over there again. I haven’t posted it, but I saw a spectacular group of Monarchs on some asters at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, then saw two more in other places. Made me happy! Also, it was thrilling to hear Mockingbirds singing again – I miss that!

  6. You show me a NYC I don’t begin to recognize. No surprise since I think the last time I was there was back in the mid 60s. But I do remember the feeling (as you described it) “gulp down the sensory flood.” It doesn’t seem so bad when viewed through the long lens. Reduced to shapes, light and shadow.

  7. Great photos, fantastic views on the different kinds of architecture !!!! I think your photos are so inpiring to me (for me ?), because I love structures – in nature as well in architecture. And I love this mixture of old and new buildungs. Actually I would prefer the old ones, but together they are even more interesting ! Really exciting fotos. The first ones are my favourite, the very last one also. The second is gorgeous ! ….just great. Inspiring pictures of an inspiring city.

    • Thank you so much, if anything I create can inspire someone, I’m really happy. I love structure too, but also love the lack of it – I’m pulled both ways. And I agree, having the new buildings juxtaposed with the older ones is really nice. I don’t think I would like a city with all new buildings. All old ones though, I could be happy with that! 🙂

      • I agree with you 🙂 I rather take to the old ones too. I also like it, when they create new buildings out of old ones, e.g. old factories or office buildings. Or a combination of brick with glass. But only glass and steel – thats too cold for me !! The world lives from contrast 🙂

  8. I like the contrasts: low and high cultures of architecture; full color and monochrome; curves and straight lines; nature and human structure. Your sense of composition is right on throughout. Love the lights on in number 22. Think I’d like to eliminate the side buildings on number 15 so that the spectacular middle building only shares attention with the gorgeous sky.

    • That’s a nice idea, trying #15 with only the middle building – did you rread what the architect said? He likes the building to dematerialize. I loved that. I know it’s too much to read through, but I learned so many interesting things when I researched this. Just made me want to go back again and delve deeper.

  9. I like the last photo especially. It captures the feeling of chaos now associated with that area, I think. I love photographing buildings as well, though I rarely get the chance with where I live now. Manhattan was a feast for the eye and soul on that level. Someday I will go back.

    • So glad you appreciate the notes, as I’m aware that it was too much for most people to read through. But I enjoyed the research, and I found out so many interesting things that I was already wanting to go back. I had a great time photographing buildings for a change. 😉

    • Ah! Well good, and thanks for commenting. I appreciate it. I had a great time looking skyward and photographing everything that caught my eye in the city – wish I’d had more time, but I’ll be going back.

    • 🙂 It’s a wonderful place to be with a camera, and it was great to photograph buildings instead of plants for a change – I really love both the built environment (well, many built environments) and the natural one.

    • Thank you so much for visiting, and commenting. Composition is something I’ve struggled with, but I guess we all struggle at one time or another with every aspect of photography – that keeps it interesting, right? 😉

  10. These are all amazon photos, a flow of shapes and patterns in various forms and shades. My favourite is the second from the top. I like the tight framing, the levels of interactions between the shapes and the post-processing.

    • 🙂 I think spell check played a trick there – but I’ll take amazon photos any day, that sounds very cool. That second photo was taken with Olympus’ in-camera dramatic tone filter – I’ve found it’s nice for city subjects in overcast conditions. Then of course I always play around some more later. I was happy with that one and I was really having fun in that moment. The buildings were composing themselves.


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