Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Christopher Columbus is Stranded

Well, the scaffolding is down, and the face of the newly renovated Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) at Columbus Circle is ... Eh? (f)eh? he(h)? I'm not sure. Looking at this quick history of the building's design and construction, it seems that given architect Brad Cloepfil's limited parameters (he needed to work around the building's original infrastructure as he spruced it up but also pay homage to its original historic design in his update), he's done a decent enough job. The renovation appears to free up more gallery space inside, and the new building certainly "fits in" with the others on the block. But as this grouchy Tom Wolfe Op-Ed rant from several years ago insists (Wolfe was reacting to Cloepfil's then-proposed plans), the Columbus Circle aesthetic itself is still a touch ludicrous:
... the buildings beside, behind and across from the museum, make Columbus Circle, minus the museum, look like the Downtown Renaissance of some decaying midsize Rust Belt city from which the factories have decamped to Mexico and the retailers have fled to the malls. In a Downtown Renaissance the terminally weary buildings left stranded downtown get ''revitalized'' by a couple of new, ludicrously colossal glass-box towers done in the 1950's Modern mode . . . such as Columbus Circle's Trump International Hotel and Tower, originally the Gulf & Western tower, and the Time Warner complex. So many roadways cut into and right through the Circle itself, the marble statue of Christopher Columbus out in the middle looks like a stranded pedestrian who has shimmied up a 77-foot pole to keep from getting killed and is waiting for the marble people lounging about the base of the Maine Memorial at the southwest entrance to Central Park -- Courage, Peace, Fortitude and Justice, by name -- to come rescue him. So if that is what Architect Cloepfil and the Museum of Arts and Design want their brainchild to ''merge'' with and have a ''dialogue'' with (a favorite coherently challenged theoryspeak term -- nobody ever reports what the ''environment'' said), they might want to brace themselves for an earful and a half.

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