Good morning. It’s Thursday. Today we’ll take last looks at some doomed architecture.
If you’ve never visited the surreal, Egyptian-columned marble landscape that is the 60 Wall Street lobby atrium, now may be your last chance: Last week, the city decided to allow the building’s developers to renovate — which is likely to mean demolishing the dramatic design of the privately owned public space that was built in 1989.
“Like many members of the public, I have a certain amount of fondness for the existing design of 60 Wall Street,” the City Planning Commission chair, Dan Garodnick, said at a hearing on Aug. 21. “That said, it’s not a landmarked interior, and the owners have a right to update, refresh and reposition this vacant commercial office building.”
Demolishing “your dad’s Wall Street”
The New York Landmarks Conservancy, a nonprofit, calls the building a “post-modern gem,” and any changes made to the exterior have to be reviewed by the city. But even though two interiors designed by the same award-winning architect, Kevin Roche, have achieved landmark status — the Ambassador Grill and the Ford Foundation atrium — the interior of 60 Wall Street is not protected.
In a letter, the Landmarks Preservation Commission acknowledged that the atrium merits further study within the context of postmodern commercial architecture but said it would not prioritize that.
Paramount Group, the developer, hopes that renovation of the atrium lobby will attract a new tenant, since the 47-story skyscraper, which once served as the headquarters of J.P. Morgan & Company and later became the main New York office for Deutsche Bank, now sits empty.
The marketing materials, which include a rendering of the sleek new proposed design, state: “This isn’t your dad’s Wall Street. This isn’t your dad’s 60 Wall Street, either.” Clearly, the idea is to move on from the past, and the new architecture is Apple-store minimalist, with neutral tones and clean, understated lines.
Arpit Gupta, an associate professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said that the developers are in a tough place: The space is not old enough to be considered a classic, like a prewar building; but it’s not a dazzling new, energy-efficient construction either. Instead, he said, it is “caught in the worst of both worlds.”
Weird, but in a good way
But with its mesmerizing tile, fluted columns and wild angles, the dazzlingly ’80s atrium has a lot of fans.
Samuel Medina, the editor of New York Review of Architecture, called the space “oddly compelling,” “falling just on the right side of tacky,” and said that it “offers a glimpse of what true public luxury could look like.”
Medina is less enthusiastic about the new design. “It’s ‘lunch bowl contemporary.’ It’s bland, it’s leafy, and it reeks of money,” he wrote in an email. “It’s alienating in a way that the 60 Wall Street lobby isn’t.”
There’s just something about the late-20th century vibe, said Anne Hart and Madeline Rupard, the artists who run the Instagram account luxurydeptstore. “We don’t have the same mind to make this kind of thing anymore, you know?” Rupard said. “That maximalist impulse.”
Though they both agree that the space is “weird,” Hart added: “But New York is full of a lot of weird things, because people do care about weird things.”
Their page, which has 48,000 followers, is full of dreamy, hazy, what they call “shimmering” images of ’80s and ’90s malls, which have a similar aesthetic, one they describe as “Mediterranean paradise.” They talked about that era’s references to ancient civilizations — columns, Greco-Roman busts — and the current nostalgia for that, as in vaporwave, a contemporary design style.
The two, who visited the atrium recently, said that they could see the space becoming popular by hosting immersive ’80s-themed events that Instagrammers and TikTokers would flock to. “Or market it as a filming location,” Rupard suggested.
Christopher Marte, a New York City Council member whose district includes 60 Wall Street, said he hopes to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision; he had been working with the community board and preservationists to save the privately owned public space. “We know how unique it is,” he said.
He mentioned its role in the days after the World Trade Center attacks; when the Deutsche Bank Building at 130 Liberty Street was severely damaged, the bank moved about 5,500 employees into 60 Wall Street.
When Marte was young, his sister worked in the building and he would hang out in the atrium with a newspaper for company. “I would sit there for 30 or 45 minutes before I took the 1 train to go to school,” he said, “So I do have a deep personal connection with it.”
Dreams dashed, but not discarded
Liz Waytkus of Docomomo US, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving modern buildings, was spearheading the campaign — alongside prominent architects, like Robert A.M. Stern — to have the interior space achieve landmark status.
She said she was disappointed in the “radical gutting of the interior,” and pointed out that while the current design has two escalators as well as a set of steps for accessing the subway station, the new plan has just one escalator and a wide staircase. “Are you really improving on what is there?” she asked.
She also commented that the new columns “look like cigarettes.”
If demolition begins, Waytkus wants to visit the site, if only to get her hands on the luminous Carrara marble that will be ripped from the space. She has a plan to show up and knock on the door until someone answers. “I want a piece of it,” she said. “I’ll make a coffee table.”
Enjoy a sunny day with temps in the high 70s. At night, it will be partly cloudy, with temps reaching the low 60s.
In effect until Monday (Labor Day).
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Suitcase and trombone
Returning from a trip when I was a poor college student living on the Upper West Side, I decided to take mass transit home from the airport.
Boarding a bus for the last leg of the trip home, which in those days was a two-hour ordeal, I struggled my way on, dragging my suitcase and trombone.
A man sitting near the door lost his patience and began to yell at me for holding up the bus. Embarrassment washed over me as I continued to struggle.
Suddenly, I heard a woman a few seats away yell out in a commanding voice.
“You leave her alone!” she bellowed.
I soon found a seat.
— Julia Kell