By Carter B. Horsley
This brilliant and very important book examines
the blending of old and new architecture in more than 60 significant
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
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.
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.