Ugliest Buildings in New York

A couple weeks ago Gridskipper asked me to contribute on a post about the ugliest buildings in New York City. The first building that popped into my head was Norman Foster's Hearst Tower, a building praised by many architects and critics. In the past I've liked Foster's buildings a lot, though for me he really missed the mark here, from the earliest renderings to the final product.

Yesterday Gridskipper posted their compilation of ugly, with contributions by yours truly and other bloggers, students, writers, etc.


Here's my contribution in a different format.

How to obliterate history in five easy steps:
1. Hire Norman Foster.
2. Sit back and wait while Lord Foster channels R. Buckminster Fuller and designs a "diagrid" exterior wall.
3. Land the new 46-story tower on and in a 1928, six-story historical landmark, but be sure to keep the existing, two-dimensional exterior walls and clean 'em until they look like a molded plastic model.
4. Don't bother to give the building any sense of entry, and go ahead and make the grand lobby space inaccessible to the public while you're at it.
5. Market the sustainable aspects of the tower to gloss over its ugly and hulking presence on the skyline.


  1. John,
    Okay, you have a big point and maybe I was intrigued by the sustainable design aspects, but it's a captivating building. For some reason, I love the look of it. Maybe it's the dichotomy of old and new. I don't know. I'm torn on this one, but I'll leave it to the experts.

  2. Preston - Mine is just one "expert's" opinion on what's ugly, something that is definitely subjective and up for debate and discussion, perhaps part of Gridskipper's idea behind doing it. Honestly, I've tried to like this building, but it's design is so much process (in this case, structural system) over other concerns (contextuality, aesthetics) that I'm troubled by it. Feel free to disagree with me; I'm sure many do.

  3. It is obvious that you hate the wonderful Hearst Building (the best skyscraper design to grace Manhattan in decades) not for esthetic or architectural reasons but for purely personal issues over Norman Foster.

    Opinions are personal and subjective, but if you don't like the Hearst... something stinks around!

  4. -ite - How is that obvious? Because of step 1? Otherwise I don't see how that's the case, and as I said above the image I've actually liked many of his buildings.

  5. Whenever I see a building that is ugly yet, interesting, I always stop and say to myself "SideofWisdom it could always be worse it could have been a Renzo or a Libeskind." Oh...snap put that on your flying carpet Renzo--vomit.

  6. Panning Piano is SO passé. He delivers good-looking, solid buildings with a star name. What´s not to love? Only mediocre architects full of envy hate Piano.

    Or maybe sideofwisdom prefers a good old SOM corporate box?

  7. Hey kids, look up Ed Stone. Unless it has been torn down, his building near Lincoln Center is the zenith.

  8. John,

    In a city full of bad buildings past (look at Park Avenue) and present (look at Sculpture for Living and all the other glassy condos), there's something rotten and perverse in your choosing the Hearst Building as the ugliest.

    If you say the Hearst is the worst building in New York it means you see no problem in the One Penn Plaza-Madison Square monstrosity, or in the stupid Columbus Circle shopping mall, or in the Miami-style luxury towers popping up all over. And so on.

    Your choice, I insist, sounds dishonest.

  9. -ite - One qualification that's in the Gridskipper piece but unintentionally omitted from this post is that Hearst Tower is my choice for ugliest recent building. I chose not to look to the past. Somehow I doubt that changes your opinion of my opinion, so I guess I must continue.

    One way to approach thinking about the ugliest building (not the worst, by the way, which you incorrectly make synonymous) is the relationship between beauty and intention and authorship. In this case, a highly-sustainable skyscraper by Norman Foster would seem to approach being a thing of beauty, just based on those two traits alone. Did it succeed? Not in my opinion. In your opinion, it did. In Paul Goldberger's opinion, it did too. And so forth. To choose a building that has reduced expectations, that is simply ugly for other reasons was not of interest to me.

    It should also be seen in relationship to its context, which in this case it grows literally out of. This device, that keeps historically significant buildings as wrappers for taller, contemporary skyscrapers is misguided in my opinion. But even ignoring that for now, did Foster design his addition in a way different than if the site was a clean slate? If you take away one, is the other hurt? We can only speculate, but his design looks like it would be the same if it were a virgin site. Take away the stone base and Foster's design isn't considerably affected. Do the opposite and - well, you know what happened.

    Getting back to glassy buildings growing from landmarks, I can't help but think that the rejection of Foster's latest plan in NYC for another design with the same parti is not unrelated to the Hearst Tower. Apparently I'm not alone in thinking the building has problems.

  10. It's impossible to judge from this side of the puddle, relying only on photography, and ugly is such a subjective word (one can learn to love ugly), but to me it looks more arrogant and clumsy than ugly. Fossie may well be arrogant, but is rarely clumsy, so you have to ask what happened here. He's had other fumblings (like the Faisaliah Centre in Riyadh) of course, but in the main, his career has been controlled to within an inch of its life. I had to laugh at Goldberger saying he was the Mozart of modernism though - wtf? "Too many notes!" Time will tell - I wonder if in 100 years, they'll prefer to knock down the facade they've kept, or the tower within? And sustainable? Puh-leeeze.
    I thought the Zebra chosen by Joey Arak looked pretty rough - I don't think any photography or sunset could polish that turd.
    Anyway, good for you John for a brave choice & critique.

  11. Everyone can argue about the aesthetics of this building endlessly. What attracts my eye is the building's slenderness and a breaking up of mass - a trend that I believe is catching on in tower design.

    Norman Foster's preservation of the old facade is a statement, in a way, to how architecture was done in the past. Make a box, punch holes, and slap the latest decorative facade on it. Take Foster's facade away and the tower can't stand up. Is this a return to the structural wall on a new scale? I don't know how people make calculations on the other side of the puddle, but more sunlight + less steel = more sustainable.

  12. thank you thank you ...
    I thought I was maybe turning into a hopeless philistine...
    but you know... this just...ends. slender??? BIG-BULKY-THEN ENDS. A friend of mine who has to look at it every day says that she likes the way it looks when the sun is going down. So there's that.

  13. hands down the ugliest building in manhattan is the IAC hq by Gehry.

    this thing is HIDEOUS.

    manhattanites like to scoff at jerseyites for the junk they like to populate their houses with. indeed, this looks like the kind of lamp you might find in a suburban living room. but in manhattan they made it into a building!!! ARGHHH!!!! it is perhaps the ugliest building i have ever seen.

  14. Arrogant and clumsy is perhaps a better description for this building, I agree. And Foster was probably required to leave the facade.


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