Editor’s Note: In The Architect’s Newspaper’s December issue, editor-in-chief William Menking published the editorial, “What Happened to the Municipal Art Society?” In it, he questioned MAS’s commitment to architecture and New York City, saying: “What was once one of the fiercest and most devoted New York City organizations that would litigate when it thought the best interests of the city were threatened, has now become a de-fanged developer and real estate–led organization that serves as a cheerleader for major development projects…” Many of you responded and we are sharing a few letters below.
Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email email@example.com.
The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda.
The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin’!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City’s Penn Station and its surroundings.
For over 120 years, the Municipal Art Society has been an important organization in New York City’s efforts to promote a more livable environment and preserve the best of its past. It’s successful preservation campaigns and advocacy for better architecture—such as its advocacy to rebuild a better Penn Station—are well known. Now the organization has announced its annual MASterworks Awards, and of the nine buildings selected this year as honorees, many are in Brooklyn, confirming that borough’s continuing upgrading evolution.
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has announced that New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has been awarded the 2014 Brendan Gill Prize. The award will be officially presented by MAS President Vin Cipolla and Board Chair Genie Birch on March 25th. The annual cash prize is named in honor of the late New Yorker theater and architecture critic.
“Michael’s insightful candor and continuous scrutiny of New York’s architectural environment is journalism at its finest, and in solid alignment with the high standards of Brendan himself,” MAS President Vin Cipolla said in a statement. The jury was particularly impressed with Kimmelman’s calls to drastically improve Penn Station.
At the National Design Awards Ceremony at the White House on September 20, Michelle Obama confessed that Barack really wanted to be an architect—but he wasn’t talented enough. This was recounted by Henk Ovink, senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, at the 4th Municipal Art Society (MAS) Summit, held October 17-18 in New York City. During the event, the themes of Innovation and Leadership heralded the upcoming New York mayoral election and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
The Summit is a testing ground for MAS’s current and future work, and there couldn’t be a clearer indication that this institution has moved beyond the shadow of its most historic achievement—the saving of Grand Central Terminal—decades ago. MAS’s commitment to New York as a livable, globally-competitive city that is socially, economically, and environmentally resilient—note that last watchword—is a hallmark of President Vin Cipolla’s leadership. In more than 40 sessions over 2 days, here are some of the highlights of the Summit.
The Municipal Art Society recently commissioned and released four versions of a re-imagined Penn Station. It commissioned Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to prepare drawings of what a new terminal would like for the busiest train station in the country.
It has now come to light that actually a fifth concept was prepared but not presented at MAS’s “press conference.” The design by the firm Michael Sorkin Studio builds on MAS’s legendary 1970s protest against the destruction of Grand Central Station. In that protest Jacqueline Onassis famously joined forces with other powerful Manhattanites to stop a proposed Marcel Breuer high rise slated to be built above and across the southern front of Grand Central.
Madison Square Garden has been on the move since its inception in 1879 as a 10,000-square-foot boxing, bike racing, and ice hockey venue in an old railroad depot at Madison Avenue and 26th Street. The facility later moved into an ornate Moorish-style building designed by famed Stanford White, architect of the Penn Station, which the arena notoriously replaced at its fourth and current home on 33rd Street in Midtown (after a brief stop on 50th Street). Now, if community boards, civic and planning groups, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer get their way, the venue will be sent packing once again.
In response to the New York City Department of City Planning’s proposal to rezone Midtown East, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to give landmark status to 17 buildings in the 78-block area concentrated around Grand Central Terminal. It is a last ditch effort to preserve several prominent structures—with styles ranging Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival to Neo-Gothic and Mid-Century Modern—before Midtown gets the green light to raze old structures and erect new (and taller) buildings that provide modern features for tenants who “want open space plans” wrote the DCP in its proposal. The New York Times described the re-zoning as part of the Bloomberg administration’s vision to re-vamp midtown and turn it into a more competitive business district.
Some notable buildings that have made MAS’ list include the New York Health & Racquet Club in Gothic Revival Style, the Graybar Building with Art Deco accents, the Neo-Gothic Swedish Seamen’s Church, and the Yale Club noted for its neo-classical façade.
After today’s announcement of Norman Fosters next project in New York, a luxury condo tower at the United Nations, we just can’t get enough of the British starchitect. Luckily, a stash of video renderings and presentations from the firms behind the planned 425 Park tower can provide just the fix. It wasn’t too long ago that the starchitect-filled competition for the new Park Avenue tower selected Foster + Partners as its winner. Now after the design presentations at the recent MAS Summit and the release of photo renderings from all players—including runners up Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, and Zaha Hadid—we can indulge in the virtual demonstrations of their designs.