The rape of old New York is a very twenty-first century ravishment
There is tremendous building activity in Manhattan. Not so much in Manhattan as inside Manhattan. So much interiors work that the architects who proudly showed me their conversion of part of the McGraw Hill building last week didn't even know the name of its architect ('Some commercial guy in the 60s'). Clearly the legacy of the great commercial towers of the city is under review and skyscrapers are turning from corporate masterworks into stacks of lettable floorspace. Today every one contains hundreds of thousands of square feet where new businesses stake out claims.
Nor are the city's most famous facades excluded. Because the floorspace behind them is not protected, all over the city old Fortune 500 grandeur is being ripped up, partitioned, staircased and elevatored in a take-no- prisoners approach to the reuse of obsolete buildings that makes power station into art gallery in London look like the nursery slopes. In New York the august names that once adorned the entrances to these grand buildings no longer signify anything. Times Square belongs to abc and Disney now - the old New York Times building long since enclosed in a sarcophagus of advertising hoardings. Random House is almost completely vacated by its famous imprint (which belongs to Bertelsmann anyway), and is mostly given over to start-up Internet companies, new advertising agencies, public relations firms, communications companies, website designers and broadcasting outfits. All driven by manic entrepreneurs who demand a throne room and cabled-up work stations for 200 employees every 12 weeks and don't care how many architects they burn out in the process.
This is how it is behind the famous facade of the New York Daily News ('Where Superman used to work'). On the 11th floor a pr and advertising company walks the travertine marble where som once trod, while downstairs four competing Internet companies in a single ownership share a manic reception area. But this is an extreme case of what they call 'sheet rock wizardry'. Over at McGraw Hill there is less of a bargain basement atmosphere. There something is happening that gives an authentic twenty- first-century flavour to the rape of old New York.
You know when you are listening to the radio in your car and the signal fades, and while you search for another wavelength you run into the car in front? Well, this is the level of annoyance that hard-to-please Americans can do without, and soon they will be able to. The Federal Communications Commission has licensed two companies to market a satellite broadcasting system that will obviate all such problems as station fade, and one of them is in New York. The company in question has taken over two floors and the roof of the McGraw Hill building for its headquarters. From next year it will be staffed by 160 persons offering 100 new channels of uninterruptible satellite music and talk.
The offices of this company are not down-market 'sheet rock wizardry'. In addition to a faceted double-glazed audio/video re-cording studio, and an awesome planar-glazed satellite master control room with the Earth and the orbiting satellite displayed on a huge glass screen (three huge bays of floor slab were taken out to create a double-height space) there are 18 double glass-walled production control rooms (acoustically angled for silence as well as transparency), as well as 60 offices, rooms full of satellite feeds, and an array of monogrammed dishes mounted on a new penthouse on the roof.
Thousands of millions of dollars are going into rebuilding for new technology like this in America. As the sign on the way to the airport says, 'You're in the financial capital of the world - trade carefully' .