If you've ever wondered what the big deal is with fear-mongering over "big-box stores" and anonymous-looking architecture, The New York Sun directs your attention to Union Square. Once an aesthetically vibrant town point of commercial assembly, and it will probably always remain as such, the square is developing a severe style deficiency with all the warmth of a mall food court. James Gardner assesses the latest development around 14th Street:
The larger of the two, which is slightly less bad, is 8 Union Square South, which rises above what was once a four-story glass stair tower that Morris Lapidus designed for Crawford Clothes, a building whose survival was being debated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission even as the structure was undergoing demolition two years back.
8 Union Square South is an undistinguished box of a building that rises 13 stories, four of them in a setback, over the park. The structure seems uncertain whether to commit itself to the modernity of a dark curtain wall or to the historicist vernacular of a pale, limestone cladding. The result is a dreary non-description that is only slightly mitigated by a chamfered corner that orientates the base toward the park and adds some interest to one of the most important intersections in the city.
Gardner's summation is that the new architecture around Union Square is becoming cheap- and shoddy-looking and completely uninspired and singles out these offenders: Zeckendorf Towers, 1 Union Square West (where the Virgin Megastore and weird art is), two NYU buildings (University Hall and Palladium Hall) and 4 Union Square South, where the Filene's, DSW, and Whole Foods is. Gardner, though, forgets that 4 USS is perfect for dance performances, in all its uniform glory.
If one thinks that is equivalent with building for commercial use, we'll disagree by mentioning some much older buildings in Union Square. The former Bank of the Metropolis on Union Square West is still high-stylish with its Ionic columns. The Guardian Life Insurance Building on 17th St. makes mansard-roofed office buildings seem natural. Look at the southwest corner of 20th St. and Broadway––the original Lord & Taylor building is a landlocked commercial cruise ship in cast iron. All of these examples only make the box-storing of Union Square all the more appalling.
Photograph by with_l0ve on Flickr