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BOOK

REVIEW

New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism from the Bicentennial to the Millennium By Robert Stern et al.Monacelli Press, 2006.1520pp. £65.00

This volume ends with the event that first comes to mind when thinking of New York's architecture at the turn of the 21st century: Robert Stern and his fellow authors say the story of 9/11 and what followed is for others to tell. Their book - the fifth in a series that has focused on 1880, 1900, 1930 and 1960 - looks at the quarter-century or so before the Twin Towers collapsed.

Whatever else happened in this period - New York's new image as crime figures dropped;

its bullish mayors; such huge developments as Battery Park City; degraded SoHo made a Mecca for artists then shoppers;

the burnt-out South Bronx cosmeticised but rich and poor more polarised - it wasn't a time of great architecture. But that hardly matters; this book is still engrossing.

Starting at the southern tip of Manhattan, the book heads steadily north and then to the city's outer boroughs, looking in depth at all that was built or proposed. Its methodology, says the preface, is 'to be faithful to the spirit of the times chronicled, avoiding as much as possible the imposition of a contemporary perspective.

Despite the temptation to play critic, we have kept the authorial tone down.'

This means much reliance on, and quoting of, the main commentators on NY's architectural scene, especially the critics of the New York Times - Ada Louise Huxtable, Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp. These three are introduced at length early in the book, in a section where one certainly wouldn't say 'the authorial tone' is kept down.

With Williams & Tsien's American Folk Art Museum and Taniguchi's new Museum of Modern Art, some really worthwhile buildings are included. The pros and cons of the latter are faithfully recorded, including Robert Campbell's sharp critique. But some Po-Mo horrors were erected earlier, and more proposed but never built: there's a phantom city buried in this book which the authors disinter, though in doing so they give few reasons for regret.

One theme is New York's discovery of conservation, following the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 after the tragic demolition of Penn Station. Norman Foster found out recently just how powerful that preservationist lobby can be when his Upper East Side tower was turned down; more than 80 amenity groups joined in opposition. But while lipservice to conservation can create such retail-led travesties as Manhattan's South Street Seaport, kin to Covent Garden and the like, this greater historic awareness does act as a brake when the city threatens to become too 'delirious' - powerless though dissenters seem to be at present in the face of Gehry's gross Atlantic Yards scheme in Brooklyn.

Unlike the earlier volumes, reliant on black-and-white images, this volume is enlivened by colour, though it's in no sense a picture book - rather a detailed document of how this extraordinary city has evolved.

Whatever posterity makes of Stern's buildings, it will surely applaud him for these books.

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