The creepiest, most mysterious building in the City is a concrete monolith

A marvel of Brutalism by some, a monstrosity by others. An awesome building, in a brutal sort of way, by me. Vertical. Massive. Minimal. Windowless. It looks the same from every angle. It looks like a CGI fortress.

Not surprisingly, it was featured in Mr. Robot Season 2 plot. Even less surprisingly, it became the subject of an investigation by The Intercept, where the idea that parts of the building may used as an NSA surveillance hub was explored. Sounds plausible but we will probably never know for sure. 

What we do know is that it was built for the AT&T Long Lines to house switching equipment. Although AT&T has now moved some of it to another building nearby, the monolith is still in use for telephone switching, but also as a highly secured data centre facility.

What I would like to know, is how does it feel to spend one’s working days in a windowless, fortified environment among cables and servers, with zero access to natural light? It takes a certain type of person, doesn’t it?

Adding to the layers of mystery, the AT&T building has also been the subject of a short film by Field of Vision, “Project X“. Interestingly, it was narrated by Rami Malek (of Mr. Robot) and Michelle Williams.

January 29th, 2017

The largest cathedral in the world is, of course, in New York. And it’s still growing

Adjacent to the creepiest, most unsettling children’s sculpture garden in the city sits the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; the whole 121.000 sq ft (11.240+ sq m) of it.

Originally envisioned in a Romanesque-Byzantine style it was later changed to a Gothic Revival design with massive granite arches that support the building – which has no steel or iron skeleton – and a dome so high it could fit the Statue of Liberty underneath, made of Guastavino tile and intended as a temporary covering. The dome was supposed to be removed when the transepts were built, but so far only half of the north transept is constructed. For this 120-year-old gigantic church is, as yet, unfinished. 

St. John the Divine is the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and, as such, the largest cathedral in the world. By some accounts, it is also the world’s third largest church – or is it the fifth?

But, size and grandeur aside, the cathedral is an active house of worship, a concert hall with excellent acoustics and an exhibition space, year-round.

On the day we visited, it was hosting ”The Christa Project: Manifesting Divine Bodies” with works by contemporary artists ”exploring the language, symbolism, art, and ritual associated with the historic concept of the Christ image and the divine as manifested in every person—across all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities.

Edwina Sandys’ ”Christa”, the project’s centerpiece, was first displayed during the Holy Week of 1984, inevitably attracting mixed reactions: positive in general, there were also those who condemned it as a ‘blasphemy” for changing the symbol of Christ and ”sexualizing” it (by depicting it as a female figure). It seems this time the statue was welcomed unanimously, since it remained on display for several months.

Seeing Christa displayed prominently in this glorious setting it occurred to me that, had this been in an Orthodox church – let alone a cathedral – in my home country (Greece), there would have been riots, threats of excommunication – the full stereotypical drama!

The Poets’ Corner was created in 1984 in honour of American writers and literature. Located in the cathedral’s Arts Bay, it is modeled after a similar alcove for writers at Westminster Abbey in London.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue, 112th Street

January 21st, 2017

 

The French touch

Recently, the Jewish Museum presented the first U.S. exhibition on the work of French designer and architect Pierre Chareau (1883–1950). On show were mainly furniture and lighting fixtures, as well as designs for Maison de Verre, the glass house completed in Paris in 1932, in collaboration with Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet (1889-1979) and craftsman metalworker Louis Dalbet.

Chareau’s designs were complemented by pieces from his personal art collection, since both he and his wife Dollie were active collectors.

But I only had eyes for these sleek, stylish pieces of furniture and fixtures created in the 1920s, yet so modern they could have come right out of a Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park.

Take your pick:

La Religieuse (the nun) floor lamp, ca. 1923. Mahogany and alabaster with metalwork by Louis Dalbet.
Sofa, 1923. Rosewood with fabric upholstery.
Telephone table, ca. 1924. Walnut and patinated iron. La Petite Religieuse (the little nun), table lamp ca. 1924. Walnut, alabaster and patinated iron, metalwork by Louis Dalbet.
La Religieuse (the nun) floor lamp, ca. 1923. Mahogany and alabaster with metalwork by Louis Dalbet.
Coat and hat rack designed for La Maison de Verre ca. 1931. – Metalwork by Louis Dalbet. Stool, ca. 1923. Mahogany and mahogany-veneered wood. – Bookcase with swivelling table, ca. 1930. Walnut and black patinated iron. – Ceiling lamp, ca. 1923. Patinated brass and alabaster.
From ”The grand salon de la Maison de Verre”. Corbeille (basket) sofa, 1923. Wood and velours, with tapestry upholstery by Jean Lurçat. – Telephone fan table, ca. 1924. Wood. – High backed chauffeuse (fireside armchair), ca. 1925.

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design exhibition ran between November 2016 – March 2017. You can read and browse through more photos on The Jewish Museum website.

January 8th, 2017

50 UN Plaza

An elegant addition to the City’s skyline by Foster + Partners; an architecture and design practice responsible for a number of innovative and groundbreaking structures around the world, such as the Gherkin and the Millennium Bridge in London or the marvelous Reichstag Dome in Berlin – not to mention Spaceport America in New Mexico or the Lunar Habitation on The Moon (albeit in a 3D printed version only; for now)!

January 6th, 2017

Empirical Reality || Zero Visibility

wiki: → ”On Saturday, July 28, 1945, William Franklin Smith, Jr., was piloting a B-25 Mitchell bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Bedford Army Air Field to Newark Airport. Smith asked for clearance to land, but was advised of zero visibility. Proceeding anyway, he became disoriented by the fog, and started turning right instead of left after passing the Chrysler Building.

At 9:40 a.m., the aircraft crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 78th and 80th floors, carving an 18-by-20-foot (5.5 m × 6.1 m) hole in the building where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located. One engine shot through the South side opposite the impact and flew as far as the next block, dropping 900 feet (270 m) and landing on the roof of a nearby building and starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse art studio. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. It is still the only fire at such a height to be brought under control.

Fourteen people were killed: Smith, the two others aboard the bomber (Staff Sergeant Christopher Domitrovich and Albert Perna, a Navy aviation machinist’s friend hitching a ride), and eleven others in the building. Smith was not found until two days later, when search crews discovered that his body had gone through an elevator shaft and fallen to the bottom. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was injured. Rescuers decided to transport her on an elevator that they did not know had weakened cables. The cables snapped and the elevator fell 75 stories, ending up in the basements. Oliver managed to survive the fall and rescuers later found her amongst the rubble. It still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall.”

I came upon this story only recently – incredible, don’t you think?

November 19th, 2016

Empire Mooring Station

wiki: ”the building’s Art Deco spire was designed to be a mooring mast and depot for dirigibles. An elevator between the 86th and 102nd floors would carry passengers after they checked in on the 86th floor. The idea proved impractical and dangerous, due to the powerful updrafts caused by the building itself, as well as the lack of mooring lines tying the other end of the craft to the ground.”

Absolutely true and downright crazy, something right out of Les Cités obscures by François Schuiten. Imagine for a moment living in a universe where, instead of the subway, dirigibles were a regular means of public transport; and, instead of holes in the ground, masts of skyscrapers played the role of mooring stations 100 floors above ground. Going to work with the head in the clouds  – how much more fun that would be!

November 19th, 2016