Sunday, August 17, 2008

IKEA 1, Breuer 1/2

Back in 2005 I posted about IKEA's bad behavior in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Their destruction of Civil War-era buildings to make way for a parking lot seemed like a new low for the Swedish perpetrator of inexpensive furniture. At that time the destruction of the one-story section of Marcel Breuer's 1969 Armstrong Building (aka Pirelli Building) in New Haven, Connecticut to make way for another surface parking lot next to the massive blue and yellow building seemed excusable. At least history would be partially saved, right?

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[Marcel Breuer's 1969 Armstrong (aka Pirelli) Building, pre-IKEA | image source]

The store in Red Hook opened this summer, with all apparently forgotten in the media whirlwind around New York City's first Swedish superstore. A dedicated water taxi shuttles people to and from Manhattan, while bus service links to subways in the not-so-immediate area. This apparently was not enough to reduce the number of parking spaces needed. So my disappointment over the city's amnesia made me wonder what happened with the IKEA store in New Haven, if partially saving a Breuer paid off.

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[Street view from I-95 | image source]

The view from I-95 shows one obvious by-product of IKEA's presence: what's left of Breuer's building is further transformed beyond the demolition. The overly-large signage touting the store's latest, very American tagline (a tagline so ubiquitous one need not read the words to even know what it says) not only covers a portion of the Pirelli Building's facade, it does it in a way that the building basically becomes a billboard for IKEA.

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[Aerial view with old footprint of Pirelli Building| image source]

The photo at top illustrates what is also lost besides the two-story appendage: green space. The office building's lawn has been transformed into asphalt. The aerial above shows not only how small the demolished portion's footprint was relative to the new parking lot (if unfortunately sited in the plan) but it makes clear the best solution for preserving the Pirelli Building in its entirety: put the parking on the roof of IKEA. Of course this solution would have required larger, shorter and more expensive structure to support the weight of cars, people, and the flatpack furniture until its whisked away by the first two, something the retailer probably would not agree to.

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[View of remaining building from parking lot | image source]

A portion of the demolished area's facade appears to have been reused to create continuity, to seal the hole left by demolition. Like far too much preservation, these sorts of visual band-aids are never adequate, and in this case the balance of the building has shifted so it appears extremely top heavy and formally arbitrary, in terms of the gap between floors; the relationship between low- and mid-rise is gone. The fact a building with longevity was partially demolished to make way for surface parking for a building with a relatively short shelf-life is a great disappointment. It illustrates the power of IKEA in making jurisdictions do whatever it takes to bring the retailer innto their tax base.

8 comments:

  1. I always thought that these kind of things only happened in third world countries like mine (Honduras) where every authority, specially if it's a government one, can be bought easily, without any respect towards historical or important buildings or monuments. It's so sad...

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  2. This is very interesting (though in a sad way.) I live in Switzerland, and it appears that the IKEA stores here are subject to far more stringent building laws. So, it's not inherently IKEA policy, but the region they're in. Here, they've been touting their "Minergie" building in a place called Spreitenbach, complete with signs on all the toilets about how rainwater is used to flush them.

    More about the IKEA Spreitenbach building (only English write-up I could find) here.

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  3. During the years I lived in New Haven (a city unusually long on great buildings) this was always one of my favorites. What a pity. But what would one expect from a company dedicated to churning out crappy disposable furniture.

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  4. Well, I agree that this is a sad development, but I don't really blame IKEA. I'm just guessing here, but I'm betting that New Haven was desperate for the tax revenue, and without a very strong push for preservation this is what you get.

    I do blame IKEA for the horrible sign, though. Frankly, with the sign, the missing part of the building and the lost green space it seems like it'd be kinder just to tear it down completely. In its current state it just reminds me of an injured animal. Ugh.

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  5. I visited the New Haven IKEA store yesterday during a commute to Boston. By chance I happened upon this post today.

    I'm glad the building still remains. It was very nice to contemplate the architecture of the office building through the huge windows of the IKEA resturante. But the relationship of the two buildings is very awkward and confusing, even when you first view the pair from the highway.

    I definately think that IKEA could have taken some sort of care in creating a more cohesive existence of the two structures instead of completely swallowing the Pirelli Building.

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  6. Thanks for all the very good comments. It's easy to see that this was a shame, and certainly a missed opportunity to be creative with something so trivial as a parking lot.

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  7. It looks like they are doing work inside the Pirelli building again. When I was up at IKEA today, I saw a water truck and some other equipment, and I noticed that there are a series of open accesses on one side of the building.

    While I will agree that the building is now a shadow of its former self, I'm glad at least some of it was saved. I continue to hope that someone will find the money and determination to place the building back into some kind of service.

    Personally, I would love to rent office space in that building.

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  8. This doesn't surprise me. New Haven is dirt poor and desperate for industry. Yale is the biggest employer in town, but it's a not-for-profit and doesn't pay tax on its educational buildings and dorms. (And to be fair to Yale, the university does pay tax on its rental properties, even though Federal exempts them. Plus, employing half the city has to earn some thanks.) Ever since New Haven's gun factories went out of business, the city has been hurting BIG TIME. These days, most of the guns in New Haven are used from crime, not for the U.S. Army. So I am sure the city was willing to do pretty much anything IKEA wanted to get that store plopped down right at the junction of I-93 and I-95.

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