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The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream

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The 30-year syndrome which sees a oncereviled building become loved and listed is quite familiar - think Centre Point, for instance. But some buildings just stay reviled. Few more so, it seems, than the 1963 Pan Am Building by Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi (with Emery Roth & Sons) - its 59 storeys dropped unfeelingly on top of New York's Grand Central Station, both diminishing the station and totally obscuring the then-open vista down the length of Park Avenue. '[One of] the largest, most spectacular failures that New York has seen in recent years, ' concluded New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable on its completion. 'An arrogant, oversize intruder', said her successor Paul Goldberger in the mid-1970s. A decade later, in a 1987 poll of '100 prominent New Yorkers' by New York magazine, it was the prime choice for demolition; even in the climate after 9/11, there has been no swell of sympathy. In what can hardly have been a labour of love, Meredith Clausen tells us all we could ever want to know about the whole debacle.

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