Monday, November 19, 2007

what was and is no longer

When I was in Europe, one of the main things that I fell in love with was the architecture. Each country has it's own style that represents the people and the culture. There's so much history in the buildings, and life has continued on for hundreds of years around them. It was humbling for me to stand beside a person's home that was older that our country...

In Amsterdam, the old city (where tourists frequent) is almost all original. There are some changes here and there, but the homes along the canals are all intact and maintained beautifully. Cars aren't permitted on most of the streets in the city center, and this allows people on bicycles and on foot the right of way, and it's a solution to keeping the narrow streets clear. I like that.. instead of changing the landscape for cars and commuter traffic, close the streets. Here you see beautiful Dutch girls on bikes with bunches of fresh flowers in their baskets. Amsterdam is a romantic and lovely place.

In Barcelona there are some newer buildings, but many of them follow the design trends of the older ones. There's amazing mosaic tile work in the city, covered markets, and a bit more traffic. There are plenty of pedestrian only streets and a lot of people ride scooters. The city is magical, and it reflects an exciting time in architecture with the Antoni Gaudi buildings, bright colors, the Sagrada Familla... you feel the culture of the Spanish in their city.

In Paris, on the other hand, Napoleon had a vision, and that was to change the landscape of the city so that it could grow. He wanted huge boulevards, higher, bigger buildings, and landmarks throughout the city. Because of this transformation, the city can handle traffic today. However, many of the buildings are still old and original, the fountains are maintained beautifully, the Place de la Concorde is still there, but with cars passing through it, past the Arch de Triumph, the Eiffel Tower, the obelisk... Paris speaks of an old world, slow to change, but one of glamour and class. It's a regal city rich with history and beauty. Many people think Paris is the most romantic city...

So what's my point? My point is that these cities are so
beautiful, breathtaking even, they end up on posters, in calendars, they steal people's hearts. At one time, our city, one with great history; the Big Apple used to be magnificent and beautiful like these European cities. Today, many of the beautiful buildings and squares that made this city have been destroyed to make way for cars, big glass skyscrapers, huge ugly stores, and a train station that's embarrassingly hideous. Here is Union Square... think of that huge DSW building that sits there now...

America's obsession with being the glitziest, the richest, and the most fabulous has seriously marred the face of this city and what it could have been. A real opportunity for a city in America to exhibit significant styles in architecture... people from all over the world could come here and be in awe of our Singer building, of our breathtaking Pennsylvania Station with arched steel and glass ceilings... I feel sad to think that this city could be as old and beautiful and rich with history as any other.. had we not have destroyed it all in the name of consumerism and modernization. It's completely possible to take some buildings down for new ones... it's possible to have an old city center with high rises in special areas.

Another piece of history that we no longer see is the above ground subway line, the EL that ran up 6th ave right through Herald Square. At one time, there were many of these lines throughout NYC, Brooklyn, and Queens. We still see them in some areas of Queens, Brooklyn, and up in Harlem, but they used to run through the city, as well as trolleys. Imagine if we still had trams in the city? They could be environmentally friendly and provide New Yorker's with yet another option for getting around. But instead, we place all of our emphasis on cars having the main priority here, and that, I think is a huge problem.

Herald Square, 1895

Here's Penn Station again, the main concourse.

What do I observe from writing this, that NYC represents America. That's our culture, making money and spending money.. big corporations, corporate apartments, and greed.
Don't get me wrong, when I look at our skyline at night it's beautiful, but I think it could have been something else.


Di Mackey said...

Nice work, Ms Mlle :)

Mlle said...

Thanks Di :)

tabbycat said...

Those pictures of Penn Station before 1964 are heartbreaking. I really lament the destruction of the old building, especially when confronted with the feature-less slab that took it's place. At least that tragic incident is widely considered to be the catalyst for the city developing it's "landmark status" program so further architectural massacres would be avoided.

Yeah, the experience of the first time NYC visitor coming into Penn Station or even worse the Port Authority bus terminal sure is lacking compared to the lucky ones entering from Grand Central Station.... I know the first time I visited the bus terminal I said to myself: "What the fuck is this?"

Side note - I recently flew over Manhattan at night and it was one of the coolest things I ever saw, mismatched buildings and all.

Alison said...

Yay you! You have a blog, well, another blog :) Great post baby... speaking of post, watch your mailbox ;)

Colleen said...

Hey, this is an absolutely great post. I really enjoyed reading it and the perspective in which you made your point was really unique. Thanks for writing it!
But now I'm also thinking - is redevelopment in these European cities also an issue - maybe not as much as it is here, but possibly something people oppose and organize around? I'm also thinking - it'd also be interesting to understand how England and other war-torn countries rebulit their cities - with more modern architecture or with a sense of architectural preservation? And then I think, why? Why preserve an old vision? I loved the DSW (ugh) point you made - but what about these new skyscrapers - if they're also preserving an architectural moment in time and will some day be "historic" buildings are they not as valuable as the older buildings? Look at the older Victorian-era buildings still in the city; compare them to the Chrysler Building or the Flatiron. I value these types of buidlings equally even though they're created in different eras. I mean, you can walk around the city and see architecture's evolution. So maybe the more modern skyscrapers aren't so bad?

Mlle said...

Hey Anthony- it's true, the NYC skyline from afar is stunning, but the up close details are where I get lost.

Mlle said...

Hey Colleen- I see your point, why preserve or re-build? When I went to the Grand Place in Brussels for the first time, I had no idea that it had pretty much been demolished during the war.. apparently it was rebuilt right down to the last brick, and I'll tell you, for these countries, this is their history and their culture. Also, in many European cities, there's a large square, where in the past you would go to the city hall, for the market, and big music festivals.. so in each village, you can typically go to see these squares. I can imagine their preservation of these old areas of the cities is very important to them.
Typically you'll find an "old city" and the newer buildings built around that and out... so in Paris, for instance, the commercial (office buildings) area is on the outskirts of the city and the inner city remains preserved and for residents and tourists.

So, every city is different of course...

And yes, today some of the new scrapers that have been built are amazing, making the idea of a city scape that much more futuristic and dramatic. I agree that architecture today is dynamic and should be considered significant. I think in the case of NYC, there was a lot of unnecessary loss of architectural history.

I think you mentioned to me last week... the shame with this city is that commercial giants have covered the city with their giant store fronts and huge signs, so that it takes precedence over everything else.

Oh well... thanks for posting!

Dean said...

Strangely enough this old post is the second link when you search for "Mlle Grote" on google, and how apt that I read this post one day before we head to Rotterdam!

Rotterdam was flattened by the blitz in 1940, and this was how it was left:

Interestingly, the redevelopment introduced new ideas, and thoughts were more indepth with regards to the city planning.

I'm going to be very interested to hear what you make of it.