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All, something from the London Sunday Times's architecture critic Hugh Pearman. V. interesting article about the wonderful schemes going on in NYC and Europe's leading architects making their mark. Unlike here in London, at least you have a couple of epic towers (Bank of America, New York Times building etc) going skywards. We're still waiting........

New York’s brave old world
European architects are behind Manhattan’s most dynamic building projects, says Hugh Pearman

I’m in a European cultural building. That’s obvious. The little details give it away: the delicate white-painted steelwork, the way the slender handrails are bolted directly onto the glass walls of the lifts, the confident juxtaposition of new with old. Where are we? Zurich? London? Neither. Look up and out of this great library and museum, and you see the Empire State Building.
We are, as the Morgan Library’s Italian architect, Renzo Piano, evocatively puts it, “swimming in Manhattan”. The library — one of the world’s finest collections of rare books, manuscripts and drawings — exists in a jumble of historic buildings on Madison Avenue, which Piano has juggled with enormous skill. He has used a generous budget of $106m to create a sunlit public concourse at ground level, as well as new galleries and a concert hall excavated deep into the bedrock below. It is very good: evidence that Piano is back on form. Bustling Manhattan is out there, but inside all is calm, in that Old World, mature high-tech manner.

Piano is only one of a jostling crowd of architects from Europe and points east now invading New York. Further north, on Eighth Avenue, the finishing touches are being put to the first modern skyscraper to be built by an Englishman in New York. The crinkle-crankle latticework of Norman Foster’s 42-storey Hearst Tower rises like a glittering concertina from the middle of the 1928 art deco HQ of the Hearst media empire. This is not just a Brit-designed skyscraper; it is, by local standards, a flagship low-energy “green” building on the European model, light on steel, heavy on recycled materials. Soon they will turn on the spectacular water cascade in the lobby, which will climate-control the building.

Manhattan’s media don’t just write about European architecture, they build it. Piano’s other big project there is the headquarters tower for The New York Times, now rising fast over the western fringe of the theatre district. While Foster’s Hearst Tower was commissioned shortly before 9/11, Piano’s New York Times tower was the first to be approved afterwards. It represented a vote of renewed confidence in the Manhattan skyline. Again, it has a relatively delicate level of detailing, unlike the brash heritage of skyscrapers in this town. Close up, the Empire State, the Chrysler Building and the Rockefeller Center are crude. Who cares? That toughness is part of their charm, and their main visual impact is from a distance. But the Eurotects are more used to designing buildings at fine resolution.

Piano and Foster aren’t the only overseas architects in town. Down near the World Trade Center, on Fulton Street, Nicholas Grimshaw is combining a maze of existing stations into one ambitious glass-domed transit interchange. In the centre of the site itself, Spain’s Santiago Calatrava is doing a differently glassy station, and a dizzying apartment tower at South Street, on the East River. That will be made of 12 four-storey cubes stacked up on masts. The ever-busy Foster has been signed up to do one of the cluster of new World Trade Center towers. So has our other leading architectural lord, Richard Rogers, who is also rebuilding the vast Jacob Javits Convention Center on the west side and masterplanning a chunk of waterfront.

Tramp the sidewalks long enough and you may bump into the black-clad, shaven-headed, burly figure of the French superstar architect Jean Nouvel, who is getting on nicely with his apartment block in the SoHo district. The ultra-modish Swiss pair Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who gave us Tate Modern, are doing a hotel-and-apartment complex for the king of high-style accommodation, Ian Schrager. Arguably, Schrager got this European frenzy rolling with his early, enthusiastic espousal of France’s Philippe Starck years back, but he has grown out of Starck’s Tiggerishly mischievous style. Schrager is also working with the British minimalist John Pawson.

Our own Zaha Hadid is getting the honour of an exhibition devoted to her at the Guggenheim, starting next month. Since she is already building elsewhere in America, New York projects will surely follow. This follows a show on contemporary Spanish architecture staged by MoMA.

You have to ask: why is New York, with its heritage of superb architecture, looking across the Atlantic for its next generation of landmarks? It’s only a leavening — most building in New York will continue to be done by Americans — but such leavenings make all the difference. Two things have changed since, say, the 1990s. The first is that the city’s planning regime has got keen on European ideas of urbanism and is putting the emphasis on quality. The second is that the all-powerful development lobby in the city, so long mired in stagnation, has become a little starstruck and regards design quality as a powerful sales tool. Sheer floor space, even location, is no longer enough: added design value is now the mantra. The seemingly sophisticated Europeans, with their expressive architecture, provide the necessary sales impetus. And space for new buildings can always be made, even in confined Manhattan. On the west side, a long- derelict elevated goods railway, the High Line, is going to be turned into a linear park. That is good in itself, but the development that will be unlocked by the High Line as property values around it soar is something else. A mini-boom is pending.

Although things were already starting to change, there is no doubt that the events of 9/11 had a fundamental effect on the way the city sees itself. The soul-searching that followed, the competitions and squabbles over the Ground Zero site, in a way gave the city permission to change. The one name I’ve not mentioned so far is the catalytic one of Daniel Libeskind, who won the competition for the Ground Zero masterplan, moved to New York from Berlin and was gradually sidelined. Even the self-promoting Libeskind can’t claim credit for all of this. But there’s enough evidence to suggest that, once he’d jammed his foot in the door, everyone else shouldered their way through.
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