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Black Box: The Big Apple, I♥NY, 9/11...

It’s time New York called in the Mad Men for a rebrand

It’s the marketing element of the ‘Bilbao effect’, the city as brand, that so many find offensive, as if the architecture itself is reduced by the fireworks exploding all around it. But branding can be good too. It can even make the architecture look better. Glasgow, the subject of last week’s column, was famously Miles Better in the eighties. In the years between that initiative and its reign as UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999, few buildings of significance were built to justify the tag. Glasgow’s renaissance was largely based on perception.

The Miles Better campaign was borrowed from the successful I Love New York template of the seventies. It’s easy to forget how frightening New York seemed to America and the world at large 40 years ago. Crime was at its highest level in its history. And there was no money.

In 1975, when president Ford denied federal assistance to rescue the city from bankruptcy, the Daily News headline read: ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’. In 1977, an extensive blackout led to rioting and looting and 4,500 arrests. In the same year however, New York State commissioned Madison Avenue advertising agency Wells Rich Greene to market the state and city as a prime tourist destination. Designer Milton Glaser provided the front end, the I♥NY logo: pop-art algebra with a soppy, affirmative message.

9/11 changed all that. Glaser even created a modified version of his much-copied logo to commemorate the shocking event, reading ‘I♥NY more than ever’, a little black spot on the heart symbolising the World Trade Center site and its location on Manhattan Island.

Understandably, the city still bears the weight of that awful day. A cynical view would have 9/11 badged as the city’s most precious brand, and one more intimately wedded to Manhattan’s architecture than Glaser’s logo and its sentiment ever was. It’s why New York needs the Mad Men to rework its image once again.

The focus this time should be purely architectural. Here’s the pitch: it’s not the city of the future anymore. But that’s good. Manhattan is a period piece. A petrified forest. A classical skyscraper city dressed in ornamental stone and statues. New York as a new-world Rome. And like the Eternal City, its older buildings are the best. (The only tall building erected in recent years that comes close to the quality of its vintage towers is Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, a smart nouveau high rise with undulating facades and a melted-candle profile.)

New York is an urban experiment that will never be repeated. Writing in Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas described the gridiron, proposed in 1811, as ‘the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilisation’. Might UNESCO yet consider Manhattan a world heritage site? With New York’s gift for spin, anything is possible. And compared with Shanghai and Hong Kong, it already looks like one.

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Col

This is Virgin Atlantic’s $7 million clubhouse in New York’s JFK Airport, designed by Slade Architecture. With 100m2 of leisure facilities – bars, restaurants, a billiards table, a spa and plenty of space to lounge about – it doubles the size of the previous upper-class passenger offer.

Richard Branson himself opened the venue last week and I was there on behalf of the AJ, with Hayes and James Slade, the charming husband-and-wife team that head up the Manhattan firm.

If you’re a frequent flyer with Virgin, bag an upgrade so you can sample its very particular details: sunken snugs, a sofa fashioned from flame-red leather balls and the Arne Jacobsen ‘Swan’ chairs dotted throughout the plan.

Or maybe just take in the views of the greatest airport building ever designed: Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal is just across the way.

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