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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Buildings That Lie About Their Age

In case you missed it last week, Christopher Gray's Streetscapes column in the New York Times used my Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture as a jumping-off point for a discussion of neo-traditional architecture in NYC. "Buildings That Lie About Their Age" questions the absence of neo-trad architecture among the 200+ buildings in my book.

[Screenshot from "Buildings That Lie About Their Age"]

Here is a snippet from the beginning and end of Gray's article, where my book is mentioned:
John Hill’s book “A Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture” is filled with examples of the crazy new forms of the last decade, like Frank Gehry’s white wind-filled “sail” on the West Side Highway in Chelsea. They are startling, creative, amusing, sometimes even hilarious.

And yet, the United States is in the middle of a great revival of traditional architecture — Georgian, neo-Classical, Arts and Crafts and so forth — that is almost absent from Mr. Hill’s stimulating and enjoyable work. So, what isn’t contemporary about traditional design?


Mr. Hill includes a few neo-traditionalist buildings in his 10-year review, including Robert A. M. Stern’s 1920s-revival apartment house at 15 Central Park West, and George Ranalli’s prairie-style Saratoga Community Center in Brooklyn. But out of 200-plus projects, that’s it.

Does he have a bias against the neo-traditional movement?

He doesn’t think so. “I thought about including the Carhart town house,” he said, “but just didn’t get around to it.” As for the Ralph Lauren store, “it was being completed just as I was finishing the book” in late 2010. But he does include other projects scheduled for 2012 and even 2013.

This suggests that there is probably space for a guidebook of neo-traditional architecture. At the moment, it might not be more than a couple of chapters, but it is sure to grow.
The addition to the Carhart mansion can be seen on John Simpson's website. As Gray mentions, for a long time I had that project in my book, as a means of discussing how "contemporary" has many meanings, one of which includes neo-traditional architecture. The project was eventually replaced by another one, also in the Upper East Side, more fitting with what's in the rest of the guidebook. There was also the question of, "If one project is in the book to point out that neo-traditional is also contemporary, then why not include more?" That's probably the stronger reason of why I did not include a project so overtly traditional.

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