"Intelligence and Sympathy Count"

The Architecture of Additions

Design and Regulation

by

Paul Spencer Byard

W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 191, 1999, $40

Reed & Stem's design for office tower over Grand Central Terminal and I. M. Pei's later plan to replace the terminal building with new tower

There have been many plans to erect an office tower over Grand Central Terminal in New York: Reed & Stem designed an office tower as part of the original plan, left, and I. M. Pei created the spectacular design at right for the same site in 1956.

By Carter B. Horsley

This brilliant and very important book examines the blending of old and new architecture in more than 60 significant projects.

The author, Paul Spencer Byard, is adjunct associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, is a partner in the firm of Platt Byard Dovell Architects in New York and is a past president of the Architectural League of New York and was involved in preparing amicus curiae for leading civic organizations in the famous Penn Central case involving Grand Central Terminal.

Byard offers very sophisticated and quite objective analysis in most cases of the difficulties involving in altering landmarks and/or making additions to them. Many of the case studies he presents have been the major landmark controversies of recent years in New York, but he has spread a vast canvas that extends back to St. Peterís Church in Rome and to many of the most fascinating architectural projects of recent years around the world.

The book is full of many excellent black-and-white photographs although the reproduction quality and relatively small size of the book is less than ideal.

Marcel Breuer's 1968 scheme for tower over Grand Central Terminal

Rendering of 1968 design by Marcel Breuer for office tower atop Grand Central Terminal just to the south of the former PanAm (now MetLife) Building

Byard understands that the weaving of the old and the new is bound up in not only economic and often political considerations, but also, aesthetic concerns. The latter, of course, present a host of problems because of their rather imprecise nature. Byard was deeply involved with the civic groups opposed to a plan by Penn Central to erect a skyscraper, shown above, designed by Marcel Breuer over the landmark Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The case eventually was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the civic groups and the city in upholding a rejection of the specific proposal, a case widely heralded as strengthening the right of cities to designate and control landmark properties.

(It is interesting to note that while his book accurately describes the Grand Central case, there were considerable public misunderstandings about its importance at the time and many people mistakenly thought it ruled out any tower when in fact it related only to the specific proposal.)

The terminal, which was designed by Warren & Wetmore/Reed & Stem in 1913, Byard notes, "was conceived as a site for development, the centerpiece of Terminal City....Early proposals showed possible facades for buildings over the terminal that drew their expression from the conventions of the terminal itself, notably, a deferential Beaux-Arts design that might be attributed to Warren & Wetmore. Later proposals generally demolished the terminal...to expand its functional and financial contribution."

The illustration at the top of this article shows one scheme put forward by Reed & Stem and a much later one by I. M. Pei.

Breuer's design soared over the terminal and filled the "void" of its considerable space, he continued, "with a fine example of ideas about office-tower design then in good currency, a thin, tall, rectangular block stood on end, its principal facade aligned with the terminal's facade below....The form was a version of the Seagram Building archetype, somewhat flattened and given a masonry skin. It rose on piers with the shadow of a reveal between itself and the terminal that now became its ornate and different Beaux-Arts base. The railroad had Breuer design Machiavellian alternatives: one that would the great arrival concourse and demolish the exterior, and one that would save the exterior and do in the arrival concourse....The New York City Landmarks Preservation commission found the proposal inappropriate, saying that the design seemed an aesthetic joke, one that reduced the terminal to the status of a curiosity. While Breuer might have preferred to modernize the terminal completely by taking it down, he almost certainly did not intend to mock it. His plain, stone-clad Bauhaus block was a characteristically serious expression of commercial modernism. It accurately reflected the railroad's banal office program but also gave it a monumentality to go with the terminal. The modernist assumption he reflected - that it would be absurd to apply Beaux-Ats expressive devices to large quantities of fungible twentieth-century office space - was an abiding truth. The reveal he provided between the two expressions was, by the lights of his architecture, an adequate device to honor differences and bring out the significance of almost any juxtaposition. The problem had to do with the fact that the tower was over the terminal."

"The rejection of the proposal - the struggle and ultimately successful revolt of the old against the assumed superiority of the new - was a turning point in the history of the protection of the public worth of architectural expression and the greatest affirmation of its importance. With the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, the bloom was off the new. Respect for old architecture was simultaneously stiffening. The villain of the conflict was speculative office development, expressed like the raiload's proposal in the architecture of commercial modernism. From its point of view, Breuer's design served up the issues with great force and clarity at just the wrong time," Byard wrote with great insight.

"The Commission was sensitive about its jurisdiction from a constitutional point of view and reluctant to engage a bankrupt and litigious owner who had nothing to lose politically. The Commission nevertheless dug in its heels and was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1978 after years of litigation," he added.

The matter, however, did not really end there although many preservationists are happy to let people think that. The city, recognizing the powerful new political appeal of historic preservation and an anti-development sentiment, made it almost impossible for Penn Central to use its available "air rights" from over the terminal and most of them still remain unused in 1999. The city went to extraordinary lengths to carve out a special district where the air rights could be transferred but permitted only incremental increases to allowed receiving sites, effectively making their transfer largely impractical since those sites were almost all already fully developed under the zoning regulations then in effect. It was a classic, perhaps even egregious, example of a government using its perhaps dubious legal powers to delay and beat down its opponent whose legal fees were not paid by the public. Had Penn Central not been bankrupt, the question of a "taking" might be the subject of a different ruling.

In his introduction, Byard discusses "the public worth of architectural expression":

"The public worth of architecture resides partly in what buildings do, in the functional support they provide for our lives, and partly in what buildings say, the understandings they display publicly and for long periods of time about ourselves, our capacities, and our purposes as human beings. The second aspect of the worth of architecture - the worth of its meaning - derives from the inescapable entanglement of architecture with expression. Anything built inevitably says something about what it is doing, about those involved in it, and about their view of the world. That it should say something worth listening to is an integral part of the discipline architecture sets for itself as an art. Buildings succeed as architecture only to the extent they simultaneously do well what they are asked to do and say something interesting and satisfying about the human condition. The resulting expressions of meaning have public value not just for the pleasure of it: the displays buildings make of ourselves to ourselves are among our most important public opportunities to learn."

That sounds nice, but is a tenuous premise, albeit one with appeal for those seeking popular acceptance. Unfortunately, it can rule out much experimentation and the avant-garde.

Byard is right to exalt the power of architecture and its great importance in our lives. What is ticklish and still not really convincingly resolved from a legal viewpoint is how much control the public sector should have over the design of private property about from conventional zoning and health concerns such as massing and "light and air" and the like.

The United States and New York City were slow in creating historic preservation laws to protect "designated" landmarks with the result that many famous and great structures have been lost such as the former Penn Station on Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets. The cityís law has been in place now for more than three decades and its protections have been given to about 1,000 individual buildings and many thousands more within designated "historic districts."

Not all landmarks are the same, however, and many buildings within the "historic districts" are really not worth preservation. Greenwich Village, for example, has more than 4,000 buildings in its historic district and while many of them are nice, complementary, contextual buildings, many are also relative eyesores. The effect, therefore, of such large districts is to grant design review control to the Landmarks Preservation Commission over all exterior alterations and new construction within the districts and not just design review of changes to individually designated landmarks.

The commission has generally dealt well with its enormous tasks, but not without considerable controversy from time to time that has opened it to occasional charges that it is usurping the role of zoning and subject to community pressures that are often anti-development of almost any nature, the so-called Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) Syndrome, a phenomenon that began in the 1970ís and has posed numerous political problems not just for the landmarks agency but many other city agencies as Locally Undesirable Land Uses (LULUs) have become difficult to locate.

The commission is not made up entirely of architects and even if it were that would not be guarantee that all controversies would be quelled. The Impressionists resorted to a Salon des Refusťs when their works were rejected by the established Academy, one might recall.

Aesthetic and political concerns are immense, but so are legal ones and it still remains unclear whether an effective challenge to historic preservation regulations can be advanced on the grounds that it they are, in effect, "takings" and require adequate public compensation. The Supreme Court has yet to fully address the issue and case law is mounting.

Byard is astute enough to realize that the problems are greatly compounded by changing perceptions of taste:

"Understanding how identities change starts with an acknowledgment that because buildings serve in the real world, they inevitably acquire or become involved in new and different proposals of meaning all the time. Protecting their expression requires a capacity to appreciate the interaction of the successive proposals buildings inevitably make about themselves and about each other in light of the publicís enduring need to have access to particular protected meanings. The judgments must be principled, not just expressions of likes and dislikes, so that they can be arguable, predictable, and otherwise entitled to the force of law."

Byardís splendid examples of what he calls "combined" architecture - old buildings that are altered, or added onto - well demonstrate, as he argues, "that there are no inherent or categorical limitations on the kinds of expression that can successfully be put together."

"Success is always a matter of the way it is done," he states.

Byard nicely expresses the value of context:

"The appreciation of a new work of art...involves understanding its particular meaning as well as the tradition and forms that give value to its novelty and which its novelty changes and enriches. In each creative act the old and the new are inextricably entwined and inescapably beholden to each other."

In principle, this is fine, but in reality not every new building is a creative act as a work of art, nor necessarily innovative. Indeed, one of the great problems with late 20th Century culture is its emphasis on the new and its overlooking of just plain beauty, or perfection, bad buzz words in terms of political correctness but very basic principles. One may say that Madonna and Child paintings after Raphael and Da Vinci are meaningless, but that would deny many wonderful artists who have found interesting variations and different styles with the same subject matter and compositions.

Byard is not wrong in his comments here, but the question of context is not limited just to form and style, but can also include lighting, weather conditions, and time of day as well as condition. A pedestrian office building with a glass-curtain wall that has been just cleaned may look better than an adjacent limestone palazzo that is home to hundreds of pigeons.

Byard examines three "masterworks" that have been quite drastically altered over the generations: St. Peterís in Rome, the Queenís House and the Greenwich Royal Naval Hospital and the Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. His discussions are fascinating, especially when he relates Benito Mussoliniís "addition" to St. Peterís. "His contribution comes when in the 1930ís he skewers the composition on the straight axis of the Via della Conciliazlione. While Berniniís terzo braccio - the final pavilion that would have competed the ellipse - was never built, his container remained finite, extended not unmanageably by the closed rectangular space of the Piazza Rusicucci. By blowing out the bottom of the enclosure to make the Via della Conciliazione, Mussolini does what he can to demote Berniniís collector to an incident in a forced march of obelisks, and the church and its dome to common landmarks in the banal drama of the Fascist City."

The Castelvecchio, which dates to about 1356, was dramatically altered/modernized by Carlo Scarpa in 1964 and Byard has a fine section about this poetic masterpiece: "In the renewed museum, nothing obvious is added onto the body of the castle..., as Scarpa instead mines it, in both the geologic and the military senses, for space and meaning....He addresses the building from the first as a castle, as a body of resistance, a container of value associated with life and death, to be subdued in a demonstration of the power of the art that is its new master. At the front door his concrete entry extrusion introduces the issues of mass, strength, and enclosure dealt with by his art and pulls visitors inside with its hook....Inside, he carves out within the great folded length of the fortress a rhythmical sequence of vaulted strongholds of space and light....guarded by gates...presenting and protecting the museumís truly precious objects."

He notes that in these three examples, later architects worked with existing buildings designed by remarkable predecessors, drawing the structures out and giving them changed meaning as contributing parts of new combined works of art, demonstrating in the process a highly successful approach to design with old buildings. Willing or no, each of these masters was committed to the existing building as a source of value to be explored, understood, and developed. By virtue of this commitment, the old works came not just to participate in but also to control the outcome....In each case, the resulting combined work became a collaboration."

Byard is no NIMBY: "The controversial addition to the City of Paris of the great, strange form of the Eiffel tower...can mark the start of the proliferation of expressive possibilities that accelerated in the twentieth century with the establishment of modernist attitudes to ornament and their celebration of function as the central business of architectural expression. The Eiffel Tower made vivid the expressive potential of new forms generated by evolving building technology - notably, the leaps of scale and shape technology made possible to serve new orders of human demand."

Proposed New York Historical Society tower

Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer proposed this excellent tower in 1984 to rise over the New York Historial Society building on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets

Another controversy involving a New York City Beaux-Arts structure was the 1984 plan, designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, to expand the New York Historical Society, designed by York & Sawyer in 1908 and expanded in 1938 by Walker & Gillette. The original plan and the 1938 addition were, in Byard's accurate words, resulted in "not a great building but good enough to become a designated landmark." The 1984 plan, shown above, "faced a double hurdle - to make a proper contribution to the historic district as well as to the individual landmark," he continued. "The design piled up chunks of building on the base...like a realized Byzantine painting of a hill town. Viewed straight on from the park, the elevation was straight and symmetrical over the symmetrical facade of the society....Viewed askance it was asymmetrical , as if the tower were twisting into the lower adjacent buildings even as it stood out like a post to mark its important corner in the district....The expression was adapted from decorative ideas present in the old building but developed with the strength, abstraction, and flatness of scene-painting characteristic of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer's work. The proposal was found appropriate to the district; the animated and complex tower seemed acceptable in the context of the neighborhood and of its comparably decorated towers...but not to the old building. The central tapered tower firmly fixed the old building like the ground under a rocket. The energetic form and strongly ornamented surfaces of the tower made the new building substantially the most magnetic part of the composition. At the same time, while not mocking, the friendly, scenographic takeoff of the old building's decoration undercut its seriousness, a deflation hard for the old building to survive. Where other asymmetrical, plainer, more deferential proposals might have kept the protected building the object of the new combination, this one took command, sat on it and put it down."

Ah, the old building....It really is an unremarkable and undistinguished building of no great beauty despite its "landmark" designation, but Byard's description is almost a classic example of preservationist obfuscation. Just because a building is "old" it is not necessarily an architectural masterpiece, or even a good contextual building. Furthermore, its "comparably decorated towers" presumably refer to the great Art Deco skyscraper masterpieces nearby on Central Park West, the San Remo two blocks to the south, and the Beresford, four blocks to the north. This tower obviously, and properly, designed with them very much in mind and it would have been a spectacular and wonderful addition to Central Park West's fabled skyline. To suggest that it would have "sat on it and put it down," which is to say embarassed it is right, but it, more importantly, it would have made it better by taking the focus off its blandness and enriching it. The denial of a certificate of appropriateness perhaps had more to do with politicians deciding to not block the vistas of a handful of residents in the sidestreet building behind the proposed tower. The society was then and still is in financial difficulties and the proposed tower would have helped ease them substantially, yet another reason why this case is so difficult to understand.

Santiago Calatava's great scheme to finish St. John The Divine Cathedral

Santiago Calatrava proposed this sensational solution in 1991 to complete the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 112th Street and Morningside Avenue

Financial hardships are at the core of many landmark controversies. The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine near Columbia Unversity has not had enough money to complete its great building for more than a century. Heinz and LaFarge won an architectural competition in 1891 for the cathedral, but the building was not completed and in 1927 Ralph Adams Cram changed its design from Romanesque to Gothic. Cram died, World War II came and work stopped with the towers and transcepts unbuilt, the crossing rough arched and closed with a wonderful temporary Gustavino vault," Byard recounts, and in "this form the cathedral became a protected landmark."

In the late 1970's, Byard continued, "construction resumed from the cathedral's own stoneyard, following Cram's plan stone by stone....Then, in the late 1980's when it seemed reasonable to rethink the overall plan in case building in earnest once again became possible, the completion of the catheral became the subject of another design competition. This competition was particully compelling, the church being interested in opening up its program. The competition brief sought to compete the cathedral with designs for a biosphere at its crossing to express reverence for biological life, stirring up architectural responses that might not have been brought foth in a more conventional celebration of Episcopalism, particularly with Cram's unimpeachable Gothic design already on the table."

"The winning design of Santiago Calatrava took full advantange of the invitation, proposing an audacious, logical, bony structure in prestressed stone that would complete the crossing and fill the attic with trees. Above it all would rise a slender spire taller and more dramatic than those conceived by LaFarge and Cram.....The proposal clearly evolved from the Gothic, with its stone at least theoretically all in compression, its slender legs resting in pairs along aisles, its voids pointed, and its overall thrust uncompromisingly skyward. At the same time, its very obvious bleached boniness seemed to reach beyond the Gothic toward an intricacy of deisng achieved only in skeletons by the relentless workings of evolution....It brought together the church and the biosphere in the thing it celebrated and in the built process of celebration, givin Darwin a powerful presence in the house of God. Calatrava's addition would have brought to a climax the relatively rapid evolution of Saint John's, from the ancient darkness of LaFarge's Romanesque through the ambitious, if conventional, strength and lightness of Cram's Gothic to a structure possible only with the technology of the late twentieth century and carrying meanings beyond those of traditional religion. It brought along the old parts as honorable contributors in the hierarchy of a remarkable expression of its times, keeping them intact as appreciable parts but fulfilling their destiny as parts at last of a whole."

Byard noted that "when the good times of the 1980s ceased to roll, the stoneyard closed, and Calatrava's scheme went on the shelf." He does not comment here on the good times of the 1990s and whether Calatrava's fabulous plan will be, as it should, revived.

Michael Graves's three major schemes for expanding the Whitney Museum of American Art

Byard's book illustrates all three major proposals in the late 1980's by architect Michael Graves to expand the Whitney Museum of American Art, whose original cantilevered building was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1966

In his discussion of Michael Graves's controversial proposals, shown above, to expand the Marcel Breuer building of the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue in New York, Byard observed that Graves's "start was promising." "Taking off from the original's essential Bauhaus objectness, he made a point of it, combining the original with more objects, ending its isolation and making it participate, however, reluctantly, with new mates. As in much of Graves's work, there was a question of scale; it was hard to know how big anything was supposed to be. In drawings his buildings often seem comically small, like piles of colorful toys. The Whitney too was made to seem like a toy, a gray grumpy, reluctant old boy at the bottom of a jolly game of colorful new lumps, a game that it might have set in motion but no longer controlled. Subject to regulation in the historic district, Graves's proposal was denounced as big and aggressive and progressively reduced in size, complexity and character...The proposal got drabber and drabber and the components less objectlike, which allowed Breuer, to a degree, to resume command as the principal object in a combined work of ever-decreasing interest....Reaction to the abandonment of the project depended in part on the degree of affection for the original; if Breuer's Whitney always seemed rather pompous, one might not have minded seeing it in a combination in which it had to work a bit, which prodded it to cheer up. But taking the Whitney with all the high seriousness with which it was originally offfered, and accepting its significance as one of the principal and most public built representatives of the ideas of its school, the new composition at its freshest did much to demean, not celebrate it. Even as the addition was dumbed down, Breuer never quite got out from under the impact of what would have been an unworthy new group of neighboring forms."

The Breuer building is one of New York's few great modern buildings and Byard's analysis of Graves's schemes is very fine. Norman Foster did propose a spectacular addition to the Whitney in the late 1970's that would have not risen over it but beside it, a black-metal tower with removable geometric panels, one of the great designs of the century, but it is not mentioned in Byard's book.

Byard hits the mark on most of his commentaries and sometimes with surprisingly apt descriptions as when he notes, for example, that McKim, Mead & White's 1910 addition to Isaiah Roger's 1842 New York Merchants' Exchange at 55 Wall Street may have preserved part of Rogers's exterior, but what Rogers "intended to say as a work of art it could only say as if with considerable effort and through gritted teeth," a reference to the present building's two rows of tall columns.

In his long essay on the controversy over the proposed removal of the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park designed in 1923 by William Gabriel Tachau, Byard sided with those calling for its demolition, maintaining that "not only did it cut across the progress of the Mall but it established an event at the top of the stair competing with the terrrace and the Angel," adding that "At the top of the hierarchy of the park, it stuck like a bone in the throat."

Nonsense!

Byard suggested that the bandshell, which is not at the top of the stairs and does not interrupt the visual flow of the mall, was too formal for the relaxed and athletic activities of some users of the park at the end of the twentieth century. Fortunately, the bandshell, one of the very few impressive structures in the park and one that well serves open-air concerts, has been saved.

Nonetheless, Byard demonstrates throughout his book that "intelligence and sympathy count" in the delicate balancing of the merits of old buildings with new additions.

Among the many other projects analyzed by Byard are Renzo Pianoís Citť Internationale in Lyon, Eric Gunnar Asplundís 1937 expansion of the Goteborg (Sweden) Law Courts designed by Nicodemus Tessin in 1672, the Yale University Art Gallery that was first designed by John Trumbull in 1832, and subsequently modified by P. B. Wight in 1864, Egerton Swartwout in 1928 and Louis B. Kahn in 1953, the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1917 and expanded by Venturi and Rauch in 1976, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Frankfurt, Germany, designed by Villa Metzler in 1803 and expanded by Richard Meier in 1985, the Museum for Pre- and Early History in Frankfurt, Germany, that was a Carmelite Church erected about 1290 and brilliantly expanded by Joseph Paul Kleihues in 1989, Coop Himmelblauís famous Deconstructivist rooftop addition to a 19th Century building at Falkestrasse 6 in Vienna in 1989, I. M. Pei's addition of a glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre in 1993, Jean Nouvel's new vaulted roof for the Lyon (France) Opera House in 1993, Sir Norman Foster's addition to the Reichstag in Berlin in 1999, Mitchell/Giurgola Associates' proposal addition in 1989 to Louis Kahn's 1972 Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, the 1986 plan of Arata Isozaki and James Stewart Polshek & Partners plan to expand McKim, Mead & White's 1897 Brookln Museum of Art, Giancarlo de Carlo's superb 1976 addition to Il Magistero, a 18th Century convent in Urbino, Italy, Gwathmey Siegel Associates' 1992 expansion of Frank Lloyd Wright's 1960 Guggenheim Museum in New York, and James Stewart Polshek & Partners' 1987 plan to erect a residential tower in the famous courtyard of the Metropolitan Club in New York, Bernard Tschumi's 1997 plan for the Studio National des Ats Contemporains in Tourcoing, France, Renzo Piano Building Workshop plan in 1994 to make a conference center out of Giacomo Matte Trucco's fantastic 1920 Lingotto Fiat Factory with its rooftop test track for automobiles, Daniel Libeskind's wonderful plan for the boilerhouse of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 1998.

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