Arquitectonica: The Times Square Project

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

February 17 - May 10, 1998

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the handsomest architectural shows in recent years was held at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum on Fifth Avenue at 91st Street.

The exhibit highlighted the "Times Square" project of Arquitectonica, the flamboyant Miami-based architectural firm whose work is probably the most consistently sleek and interesting New Modernism of the past two decades. The project is actually on the northeast corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue and not on Times Square, which is the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Broadway.

The project is the firm's first major commission in New York, although it was brought in as a design consultant to sculpt a rooftop for a east Midtown apartment project, Sterling Plaza, a few years ago.

The new project, which is due to be completed in 1999, promises to be the wildest new development in decades in a city that has long forsaken innovative and exciting design. The frontage on 42nd Street is a melange of jumbled forms and large signage with a large, bent checkerboard motif as the main accent. The 47-story tower is boldly split vertically by a recessed gentle vertical arc that will emanate light between two very different facades, the western one blue glass with vertical panels and the eastern one gold glass with horizontal panels. The western side is a bit taller with a rakiskly angled roofline rising to the east. Renderings, like the one above, indicate that the building will emit a bright light upwards form the middle arc of the tower. Such nighttime illumination is exciting and since the main beam is directed upwards, at an angle, it may not be too annoying to neighbors in this overly political correct city. Of course, it may inspire other projects to mimic its lighthouse effects and turn New York into a better magical kingdom.

The project is known as "E Walk" and is being developed by the Tishman Realty & Construction Company Coporation. It is a $300-million, hotel and entertainment complex that will contain more than 870,000 square feet that will include a 860-room, 45-story hotel and a 200,000 square foot base, designed by D'Agostino Izzo Quirk, with 13 movie theaters, The Museum Company and Broadway City, a virtual-realty entertainment venue.

E Walk is the most ambitious component of the long delayed and very controversial redevelopment of the 42nd Street block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, which is known as "The Deuce" and which originally contained many of the city's most famous theaters that, following the Depression and World War II, began movie theaters, mostly showing second- and third-run films on double bills. By the early 1960's, the street had deteriorated significantly and witnessed a proliferation of pornography stores and theaters and came to epitomize sleaze. The ambiance of the street was not attractive and at times dangerous and became a threat to the surrounding theater district. In 1981, the New York State Urban Development Corporation and New York City announced the state would use eminiment domain to condemn more than 50 properties on the street. Park Tower Realty and the Prudential Insurance Company won the right to develop four major office towers at the east end of the street and the bottom of Times Square. Their initial Post-Modern designs for their part of the project were not well received, although a second design was much jazzier and more modern. At the western end of the block, negotiations were entered with the Kennedy family, which owned the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, to develop a merchandise mart directly across Eighth Avenue from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Bus Terminal. The Kennedys, however, eventually withdrew, and the office market plummeted and the entire project seemed hopelessly mired in lawsuits, controversy and a bad economy.

The decision, however, of Disney to take over the old New Amsterdam Theater, widely considered the best on the block, and open an adjacent corner store, revitalized the redevelopment of the street. The original plan had as its goal not only cleaning up the street and restoring some of its theaters but also spurring new office construction on the West Side. The mammoth commitment of Park Tower Realty, headed by George Klein, and Prudential did have that effect and many new office towers sprung up, aided by new zoning, around Times Square. It was ironic that many critics of the redevelopment project continued to oppose it on the grounds that huge public subsidies were not necessary for it and they often cited the new buildings nearby as added argument, overlooking the fact that none of them would probably have proceeded had the developers not thought that a Rockefeller Center-like redevelopment at the most critical intersection was being undertaken by such powerhouses as Park Tower Realty and Prudential.

The "new" Times Square has taken virtually everyone by surprise, both in its scope and quality. It is a mixed bag of buildings, but most are eclectic and far more interesting than the previous generation of office towers in the city by and large. Perhaps more interesting is the spectacular retail activity that has occurred that has made Times Square perhaps more vibrant than ever in its illustrious and often notorious history.

Some "name" architects, such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates, designed some of the new buildings, often with considerable flourish and panache, but individually there are no masterpieces.

Arquitectonica, which is headed by Laurinda Spear and Bernardo Fort-Brescia, has become one of the leading architectural firms in this country in a relatively short amount of time and now is in much demand abroad, a reflection of the general ignorance and cowardice of most American developers and the lack of sophistication of many city planners.

Arquitectonica came to prominence with several spectacular apartment buildings in the Miami area such as The Atlantis, shown, at the left, The Palace and The Imperial. All share a sleek and very bold sculptural massing and strong colors. More recent apartment projects such as the Grand Corniche in Miami Beach have multiple cut-out sections and very interesting compositions such as the San Gabriel Condominium in Lima, Peru, a wonderful exclamation point of a building with staggered red balconies, and the Nexus World in Fukuoka, Japan, that has an undulating facade of white, yellow and blue banding and multiple "smokestock" rooftop elements.


The firm's two greatest projects, both shown in the exhibit, are the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Va., and the Banco de Credito del Peru Headquarters in Lima, Peru. The exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt includes many wonderful renderings and models. Other projects shown in the exhibit include the Shanghai Information Town and a marvelous soaring wing building at La Defense in Paris. Not shown are other important projects including Exchange Square in Manila, The Philippines, which bears a strong similarity to the design of E Walk, Jin Hui Plaza in Shanghai, and Pacific Plaza Towers in Fort Bonifacio, Manila, The Philippines, an apartment complex of undulating blue-glass facades.

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