Architecture, Cities > High-Rises, Towers,
Men are almost
socialising on the upper floor deck in 1961.
Managed/Roger Mayne Archive/Mary Evans Picture Library
Love Among the
– beauty and
brilliance on the high-rises of Sheffield
Mon 23 Jul 2018 10.45 BST
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UK / USA
The 10 best tall buildings - in pictures
the world's tallest building
the tallest tower in the world
USA > NYC >
needle-like tower / pencil tower UK
bullet-shaped office tower
USA > The Sears Tower in Chicago
penthouse / sky-high apartments
USA > art deco tower
USA > New York's twin
USA > tower > One World Trade Center
World Trade Center / The Twin
the fallen twin towers
NYC, USA > Freedom Tower
USA > Chicago's Aqua Tower
British giant Aedas
high-rise / highrise
NYC > Manhattan's skyline
Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham, north London >
Tudor water tower
Santiago Calatrava S.A.
A residential tower on South Street.
An Architect Embraces New York
ROBIN POGREBIN NYT
April 23, 2005
Bess Greenberg/The New York Times
Ariel East, on Broadway near 100th Street in Manhattan.
Following a trend, it
is named for a moon of Uranus.
To Name Towers in the Sky, Many Look There for Inspiration
Corpus of news articles
Arts > Architecture, Cities
High-Rises, Towers, Skyscrapers
Towers in the Sky,
Many Look There for Inspiration
July 8, 2008
The New York Times
By MICHAEL BARBARO
They are advertised as one-of-a-kind homes in the air.
But the floor-to-ceiling glass towers popping up in record numbers across New
York City are starting to sound an awful lot alike.
Two new high-rises, one on the Upper East Side, the other in Brooklyn, a have
the same name: Azure, a deep shade of blue. Seem familiar? It should. On the
Lower East Side, another new building is called Blue.
Sky House, under construction on East 29th Street, is not to be confused with
the Cielo (Italian for “sky”), on East 83rd Street. And then there are Star
Tower, in Long Island City, and Solaria, in the Bronx.
It is an unintended consequence of the city’s historic building boom: a traffic
jam of similar sounding names. To showcase the sweeping views from buildings
with huge, wrap-around windows, real estate developers are flocking to a set of
words that evoke the sky, clouds and stars.
Builders say there are only so many ways to describe a glass box, the undisputed
architectural aesthetic of the moment. Similar names, they argue, are
But several acknowledged that the fixation with all things celestial could
backfire. “The danger is that they start to sound the same,” said Nancy Packes,
president of Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing, which helped name Azure on
the Upper East Side.
At least four new buildings, for example, are named for objects in the night
sky: Orion, Lucida (the brightest star in a constellation), Ariel (a moon of
Uranus) and South Star.
“Many of these names are really bumping into each other,” said David J. Wine,
vice chairman of Related Companies, a major developer in the city, which has
favored traditional-sounding names, like the Brompton, for a luxury condominium
under construction on the Upper East Side.
“It is a bit surprising,” he added.
Trends in New York building names are not new. Builders seized on the American
West around 1900, producing the Wyoming, on West 55th Street, a block away from
the Oregon, on West 54th, and across the park from the Idaho, on East 48th. And,
of course, there is the Dakota, on West 72nd Street.
Soon after, a wave of Francophilia yielded the Bordeaux, the Cherbourg and the
Paris. Native American motifs were enshrined in the Iroquois, the Seminole and
Trees (Laurel), Greek mythology (Helena) and Spanish cities (Madrid) have all
woven their way into the city’s skyline.
And mailing addresses are often used as building names, especially when the
street is considered prestigious, like Park Avenue or Perry Street, in the West
Occasionally, names flop. When developers converted the Stanhope Hotel, across
from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, into luxury apartments two
years ago, they called the project the Stanhope. Few takers emerged, and the
name was discarded in favor of the street address, 995 Fifth Avenue.
What is striking about the latest wave is just how closely — or haphazardly —
some of the names overlap.
The goal, after all, in a crowded real estate market like New York, is to stand
out, not to blend in, said Mr. Wine, of Related. Most of the units in the new
towers go for $1 million or more.
“You need to be distinctive,” he said, “and a good name can do that.”
A building’s name is so important that developers spend months deliberating over
it. People involved in the process describe it as the most intense, emotional
and combative phase of a building’s development.
The name must at once convey an image — trendy or traditional, luxurious or
affordable — it must be catchy and, of course, it must be memorable.
Developers generally start with a list of more than 100 names and, working with
marketing experts, advertising executives and graphic artists, slowly whittle
them down to one. The winner becomes the centerpiece of a marketing campaign,
typically costing millions and including newspaper advertisements, Web sites,
glossy advertorials and sales centers.
The group charged with naming a condominium on Norfolk Street on the Lower East
Side began with 300 possibilities. The 16-story building, which is cantilevered,
is wrapped in five shades of blue glass. Everyone agreed that blue would be in
the final name, said Barrie Mandel, senior vice president at Corcoran Group
Marketing, which is promoting the building.
But the debate did not end there. “We thought about La Blue, about Azure, but
those names were way too cutesy for such a gritty neighborhood,” she said. In
the end, they settled on the unembellished Blue.
A similar debate raged among the developer, the marketing firm and the ad agency
for a building at 91st Street and First Avenue. It is 34 stories tall, with
wall-to-wall windows on all sides, and prices for the homes there are expected
to range from $605,000 to $4.8 million.
The developer said the majority of the building’s apartments would have views of
the skyline on three sides or the river to the east, a rarity in that
neighborhood. “The thing both those carry in common — river views and sky views
— is blue,” said Ms. Packes, of Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing.
Ms. Packes said the team working on the building thought the name Blue, on its
own, was “too blunt,” adding: “It wouldn’t be very suitable for family residence
on the Upper East Side.”
So they picked a synonym: Azure. “It just is a classier way of saying blue,”
said Luis Vazquez, director of sales for the building.
The resemblance between Blue and the two Azures was pure coincidence, said Ms.
Packes, who said she was certain buyers would see them as distinct. “The test is
confusion,” she said. “When you are in different neighborhoods, it minimizes the
possibility of confusion.”
Matt Parrella, the broker at the Corcoran Group working on the other Azure, in
the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, said the developer did not realize
the building shared a name with another apartment building “until after the
Glass-encased residential buildings like Azure and Blue have existed in New York
for decades, but over the last five years they have started to dominate new
Developers say that buyers prize height and views above nearly all else and that
a building’s name is the best way to communicate those amenities.
“That is what people pay for: views, light, sky, air,” said Louise Sunshine,
development director at Alexico Group, a developer. “That is why there is such a
huge emphasis on that in these names.”
Alexico is finishing a building on East 67th Street that was intended to be a
glass tower. But the developer changed its mind and created a limestone exterior
instead. The project’s original name? Celeste, in honor of its views of the
stars, Ms. Sunshine said. It is now called the Laurel.
It is not clear who started the heavenly naming trend, but a developer called
Extell is happy to take credit. The firm is building several new projects in
Manhattan named after stars, like Lucida, at 85th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Raizy Haas, a senior vice president at Extell, said the star theme captured the
appearance of the firm’s buildings, especially at night, when its glass walls,
suffused with light, glow like stars. She said the company was “flattered” to
see rival developers follow Extell’s designs and names, “But sometimes we think,
‘Why couldn’t they be more creative and not copy us?’
To Name Towers in the
Sky, Many Look There for Inspiration,
French Architect Wins Pritzker Prize
March 31, 2008
The New York Times
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Jean Nouvel, the bold French architect known for such wildly
diverse projects as the muscular Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the
exotically louvered Arab World Institute in Paris, has received architecture’s
top honor, the Pritzker Prize.
Mr. Nouvel, 62, is the second French citizen to take the prize, awarded annually
to a living architect by a jury chosen by the Hyatt Foundation. (Christian de
Portzamparc of France won in 1994.) His selection is to be announced Monday.
“For over 30 years Jean Nouvel has pushed architecture’s discourse and praxis to
new limits,” the Pritzker jury said in its citation. “His inquisitive and agile
mind propels him to take risks in each of his projects, which, regardless of
varying degrees of success, have greatly expanded the vocabulary of contemporary
In extending that vocabulary Mr. Nouvel has defied easy categorization. His
buildings have no immediately identifiable signature, like the curves of Frank
Gehry or the light-filled atriums of Renzo Piano. But each is strikingly
distinctive, be it the Agbar Tower in Barcelona (2005), a candy-colored,
bullet-shaped office tower, or his KKL cultural and congress center in Lucerne,
Switzerland (2000), with a slim copper roof cantilevered delicately over Lake
“Every time I try to find what I call the missing piece of the puzzle, the right
building in the right place,” Mr. Nouvel said this month over tea at the Mercer
Hotel in SoHo.
Yet he does not design buildings simply to echo their surroundings. “Generally,
when you say context, people think you want to copy the buildings around, but
often context is contrast,” he said.
“The wind, the color of the sky, the trees around — the building is not done
only to be the most beautiful,” he said. “It’s done to give advantage to the
surroundings. It’s a dialogue.”
The prize, which includes a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion, is to be
presented to Mr. Nouvel on June 2 in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in
Among Mr. Nouvel’s New York buildings are 40 Mercer, a 15-story red-and-blue,
glass, wood and steel luxury residential building completed last year in SoHo,
and a soaring 75-story hotel-and-museum tower with crystalline peaks that is to
be built next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown. Writing in The New York
Times in November, Nicolai Ouroussoff said the Midtown tower “promises to be the
most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation.”
Born in Fumel in southwestern France in 1945, Mr. Nouvel originally wanted to be
an artist. But his parents, both teachers, wanted a more stable life for him, he
said, so they compromised on architecture.
“I realized it was possible to create visual compositions” that, he said, “you
can put directly in the street, in the city, in public spaces.”
At 20 Mr. Nouvel won first prize in a national competition to attend the École
des Beaux-Arts in Paris. By the time he was 25 he had opened his own
architecture firm with François Seigneur; a series of other partnerships
Mr. Nouvel cemented his reputation in 1987 with completion of the Arab World
Institute, one of the “grand projects” commissioned during the presidency of
François Mitterrand. A showcase for art from Arab countries, it blends high
technology with traditional Arab motifs. Its south-facing glass facade, for
example, has automated lenses that control light to the interior while also
evoking traditional Arab latticework. For his boxy, industrial Guthrie Theater,
which has a cantilevered bridge overlooking the Mississippi River, Mr. Nouvel
experimented widely with color. The theater is clad in midnight-blue metal; a
small terrace is bright yellow; orange LED images rise along the complex’s two
In its citation, the Pritzker jury said the Guthrie, completed in 2006, “both
merges and contrasts with its surroundings.” It added, “It is responsive to the
city and the nearby Mississippi River, and yet, it is also an expression of
theatricality and the magical world of performance.”
The bulk of Mr. Nouvel’s commissions work has been in Europe however. Among the
most prominent is his Quai Branly Museum in Paris (2006), an eccentric jumble of
elements including a glass block atop two columns, some brightly colorful boxes,
rust-colored louvers and a vertical carpet of plants. “Defiant, mysterious and
wildly eccentric, it is not an easy building to love,” Mr. Ouroussoff wrote in
A year later he described Mr. Nouvel’s Paris Philharmonie concert hall, a series
of large overlapping metal plates on the edge of La Villette Park in
northeastern Paris, as “an unsettling if exhilarating trip into the unknown.”
Mr. Nouvel has his plate full at the moment. He is designing a satellite of the
Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, giving it a shallow
domed roof that creates the aura of a just-landed U.F.O. He recently announced
plans for a high-rise condominium in Los Angeles called SunCal tower, a narrow
glass structure with rings of greenery on each floor. His concert hall for the
Danish Broadcasting Corporation is a tall rectangular box with transparent
Before dreaming up a design, Mr. Nouvel said, he does copious research on the
project and its surroundings. “The story, the climate, the desires of the
client, the rules, the culture of the place,” he said. “The references of the
buildings around, what the people in the city love.”
“I need analysis,” he said, noting that every person “is a product of a
civilization, of a culture.” He added: “Me, I was born in France after the
Second World War. Probably the most important cultural movement was
Structuralism. I cannot do a building if I can’t analyze.”
Although he becomes attached to his buildings, Mr. Nouvel said, he understands
that like human beings, they grow and change over time and may even one day
disappear. “Architecture is always a temporary modification of the space, of the
city, of the landscape,” he said. “We think that it’s permanent. But we never
French Architect Wins
Pritzker Prize, NYT, 31.3.2008,
In Plans for Railyards,
a Mix of Towers and Parks
November 24, 2007
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
The West Side railyards are the kind of urban development project that makes
builders dance in the streets. A footprint bigger than Rockefeller Center’s and
the potential for more commercial and residential space than ground zero: what
more could an urban visionary want?
So the five proposals recently unveiled by the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority to develop the 26-acre Manhattan railyards are not just a
disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on
the state of large-scale planning in New York City.
With the possible exception of a design for the Extell Development Company, the
proposals embody the kind of tired, generic planning formulas that appear
wherever big development money is at stake. When thoughtful architecture
surfaces at all, it is mostly a superficial gloss of culture, rather than a
sincere effort to come to terms with the complex social and economic changes the
city has been undergoing for the last decade or so.
Located on six square blocks between 30th and 33rd Streets and 10th Avenue and
the West Side Highway, the yards are one of the few remaining testaments to New
York’s industrial past. Dozens of tracks leading in and out of Pennsylvania
Station carve through the site. A string of parking lots and old industrial
buildings flanks the tracks to the south; the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
is a block to the north. To build, developers first will have to create a
platform over the tracks, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion; construction of
the platform and towers has to take place without interrupting train service.
City officials and the transportation authority, which owns the railyards, have
entertained various proposals for the site in recent years, including an
ill-conceived stadium for the Jets. The current guidelines would allow up to 13
million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space; a building to
house a cultural group yet to be named; and a public park.
All five of the development teams chose to arrange the bulk of the towers at the
northern and southern edges of the site, to minimize disruption of the tracks
below, and concentrated the majority of the commercial towers to the east, and
the residential towers to the west, where they would have views of the Hudson
But none of the teams have fully explored the potentially rich relationship
between the railyards and the development above them, an approach that could
have added substance to the plans. Nor did any find a successful way to come to
terms with the project’s gargantuan scale.
The proposal by the Related Companies would transform the site into a virtual
theme park for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the developer’s main tenant.
The design, by a team of architects that includes Kohn Pedersen Fox,
Arquitectonica and Robert A. M. Stern, would be anchored at its eastern end by a
74-story tower. Three slightly smaller towers would flank it, creating an
imposing barrier between the public park and the rest of the city to the east.
The plan also includes a vast retail mall and plaza between 10th and 11th
Avenues, which could be used by News Corporation for advertising, video
projections and outdoor film and concert events — a concept that would
essentially transform what is being hailed as a public space into a platform for
corporate self-promotion. A proposal by FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli for the
Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust is slightly less disturbing.
Following a similar plan, it would be anchored by a new tower for Condé Nast
Publications to the north, and a row of residential towers extending to the
west. Sinuous, elevated pedestrian walkways would wind their way through the
site just above the proposed public park. The walkways are meant to evoke a
contemporary version of the High Line, the raised tracks being converted into a
public garden just to the south. But their real precedents are the deadening
elevated streets found in late Modernist housing complexes.
By comparison, the proposal by Tishman Speyer Properties, designed by Helmut
Jahn, at least seems more honest. The site is anchored by four huge towers that
taper slightly as they rise, exaggerating their sense of weight and recalling
more primitive, authoritarian forms: you might call it architecture of
intimidation. As you move west, a grand staircase leads down to a circular plaza
that would link the park to a pedestrian boulevard the city plans to construct
from the site north toward 42nd Street.
Mr. Jahn built his reputation in the 1980s and ’90s, when many modern architects
were struggling to pump energy into work that had become cold and alienating.
Over all, the design looks like a conventional 1980s mega-development: an oddly
retro vision of uniform glass towers set around a vast plaza decorated with a
few scattered cafes. (In a rare nice touch, Mr. Jahn allows some of his towers
to cantilever out over the deck of the High Line, playing up the violent clash
between new and old.)
Another proposal, by Brookfield Properties, is an example of how real
architectural talent can be used to give a plan an air of sophistication without
adding much substance. Brookfield has included a few preliminary sketches of
buildings by architectural luminaries like Diller Scofidio & Renfro and the
Japanese firm Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, but the sketches are nothing more
than window dressing. The proposal includes a retail mall and commercial towers
along 10th Avenue, which gives the public park an isolated feel. A hotel and
retail complex cuts the park in two, so that you lose the full impact of its
For those who place urban-planning issues above dollars and cents, the Extell
Development Company’s proposal is the only one worth serious consideration.
Designed by Steven Holl Architects of New York, the plan tries to minimize the
impact of the development’s immense scale. Most of the commercial space would be
concentrated in three interconnecting towers on the northeast corner of the
site. The towers’ forms pull apart and join together as they rise — an effort to
break down their mass in the skyline. Smaller towers flank the site’s southern
edge, their delicate, shardlike forms designed to allow sunlight to spill into
the park area. A low, 10-story commercial building to the north is lifted off
the ground on columns to allow the park to slip underneath and connect to 33rd
The plan’s most original feature is a bridgelike cable structure that would span
the existing tracks and support a 19-acre public park. According to the
developer, the cable system would reduce the cost of building over the tracks
significantly, allowing the density to be reduced to 11.3 million square feet
from 13 million and still make a profit. The result would be both a more
generous public space and a less brutal assault on the skyline. It is a
sensitive effort to blend the development into the city’s existing fabric.
But what is really at issue here is putting the importance of profit margins
above architecture and planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could
have pushed for more ambitious proposals. For decades now cities like Barcelona
have insisted on a high level of design in large-scale urban-planning projects,
and they have done so without economic ruin.
By contrast, the authority is more likely to focus on potential tenants like
News Corporation and Condé Nast and the profits they can generate than on the
quality of the design. A development company like Extell is likely to be
rejected outright as too small to handle a project of this scale, however
original its proposal. (In New York dark horse candidates often find that
ambitious architectural proposals are one of the few ways to compete with bigger
This is not how to build healthy cities. It is a model for their ruin, one that
has led to a parade of soulless developments typically dressed up with a bit of
parkland, a few commercial galleries and a token cultural institution — the
superficial gloss of civilization. As an ideal of urbanism, it is hollow to its
In Plans for Railyards,
a Mix of Towers and Parks, NYT, 24.11.2007,
Pride and Nostalgia
Mix in The Times’s New Home
November 20, 2007
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Writing about your employer’s new building is a tricky task. If I love it,
the reader will suspect that I’m currying favor with the man who signs my
checks. If I hate it, I’m just flaunting my independence.
So let me get this out of the way: As an employee, I’m enchanted with our new
building on Eighth Avenue. The grand old 18-story neo-Gothic structure on 43rd
Street, home to The New York Times for nearly a century, had its sentimental
charms. But it was a depressing place to work. Its labyrinthine warren of desks
and piles of yellowing newspapers were redolent of tradition but also seemed an
The new 52-story building between 40th and 41st Streets, designed by the Italian
architect Renzo Piano, is a paradise by comparison. A towering composition of
glass and steel clad in a veil of ceramic rods, it delivers on Modernism’s
age-old promise to drag us — in this case, The Times — out of the Dark Ages.
I enjoy gazing up at the building’s sharp edges and clean lines when I emerge
from the subway exit at 40th Street and Seventh Avenue in the morning. I love
being greeted by the cluster of silvery birch trees in the lobby atrium, their
crooked trunks sprouting from a soft blanket of moss. I even like my
fourth-floor cubicle, an oasis of calm overlooking the third-floor newsroom.
Yet the spanking new building is infused with its own nostalgia.
The last decade has been a time of major upheaval in newspaper journalism, with
editors and reporters fretting about how they should adapt to the global digital
age. In New York that anxiety has been compounded by the terrorist attacks of
2001, which prompted many corporations to barricade themselves inside gilded
Mr. Piano’s building is rooted in a more comforting time: the era of corporate
Modernism that reached its apogee in New York in the 1950s and 60s. If he has
gently updated that ethos for the Internet age, the building is still more a
paean to the past than to the future.
What makes a great New York skyscraper? The greatest of them tug at our
heartstrings. We seek them out in the skyline, both to get our bearings and to
anchor ourselves psychologically in the life of the city.
Mr. Piano’s tower is unlikely to inspire that kind of affection. The building’s
most original feature is a scrim of horizontal ceramic rods that diffuses
sunlight and lends the exterior a clean, uniform appearance. Mr. Piano used a
similar screening system for his 1997 Debis Tower for Daimler-Benz in Berlin, to
mixed results. For The Times, he spent months adjusting the rods’ color and
scale, and in the early renderings they had a lovely, ethereal quality.
Viewed from a side street today, they have the precision and texture of a finely
tuned machine. But despite the architect’s best efforts, the screens look flat
and lifeless in the skyline. The uniformity of the bars gives them a slightly
menacing air, and the problem is compounded by the battleship gray of the
tower’s steel frame. Their dull finish deprives the facades of an enlivening
play of light and shadow.
The tower’s crown is also disappointing. To hide the rooftop’s mechanical
equipment and create the impression that the tower is dissolving into the sky,
Mr. Piano extended the screens a full six stories past the top of the building’s
frame. Yet the effect is ragged and unfinished. Rather than gathering momentum
as it rises, the tower seems to fizzle.
But if the building is less than spectacular in the skyline, it comes to life
when it hits the ground. All of Mr. Piano’s best qualities are in evidence here
— the fine sense of proportion, the love of structural detail, the healthy sense
of civic responsibility.
The architect’s goal is to blur the boundary between inside and out, between the
life of the newspaper and the life of the street. The lobby is encased entirely
in glass, and its transparency plays delightfully against the muscular steel
beams and spandrels that support the soaring tower.
People entering the building from Eighth Avenue can glance past rows of elevator
banks all the way to the fairy tale atrium garden and beyond, to the plush red
interior of TheTimesCenter auditorium. From the auditorium, you gaze back
through the trees to the majestic lobby space. In effect, the lobby itself is a
continuous public performance.
The sense of transparency is reinforced by the people streaming through the
lobby. The flow recalls the dynamic energy of Grand Central Terminal’s Great
Hall or the Rockefeller Center plaza, proud emblems of early-20th-century
Architecturally, however, The New York Times Building owes its greatest debt to
postwar landmarks like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Lever House or Mies van der
Rohe’s Seagram Building — designs that came to embody the progressive values and
industrial power of a triumphant America. Their streamlined glass-and-steel
forms proclaimed a faith in machine-age efficiency and an open, honest,
Newspaper journalism, too, is part of that history. Transparency, independence,
the free flow of information, moral clarity, objective truth — these notions
took hold and flourished in the last century at papers like The Times. To many
this idealism reached its pinnacle in the period stretching from the civil
rights movement to the Vietnam War to Watergate, when journalists grew
accustomed to speaking truth to power, and the public could still accept
reporters as impartial observers.
This longing for an idealistic time permeates the main newsroom. Pierced by a
double-height skylight well on the third and fourth floors, the newsroom has a
cool, insular feel even as the facades of the surrounding buildings press in
from the north and south. The well functions as a center of gravity, focusing
attention on the paper’s nerve center. From many of the desks you also enjoy a
view of the delicate branches of the atrium’s birch trees.
Internal staircases link the various newsroom floors to encourage interaction.
The work cubicles are flanked by rows of glass-enclosed offices, many of which
are unassigned so that they can be used for private phone conversations or
spontaneous meetings. Informal groupings of tables and chairs are also scattered
about, creating a variety of social spaces.
From the higher floors, which house the corporate offices of The Times and 22
floors belonging to the developer Forest City Ratner, the views become more
expansive. Cars rush up along Eighth Avenue. Billboards and electronic signs
loom from all directions. By the time you reach the 14th-floor cafeteria, the
entire city begins to come into focus, with dazzling views to the north, south,
east and west. A long, narrow balcony is suspended within the cafeteria’s
double-height space, reinforcing the impression that you’re floating in the
Many of my colleagues complained about the building at first. There’s too much
empty space in the newsroom, some groused; they missed the intimacy of the old
one. The glass offices look sterile, and no one will use them, some said.
I suspect they’ll all adjust. One of the joys of working in an ambitious new
building is that you can watch its personality develop. From week to week, you
see more and more lone figures chatting on cellphones in the small glass offices
with their feet atop a table. And even my grumpiest colleagues now concede that
a little sunlight and fresh air are not a bad thing.
Even so, you never feel that the building embraces the future wholeheartedly.
Rather than move beyond the past, Mr. Piano has fine-tuned it. The most
contemporary features — the computerized louvers and blinds that regulate the
flow of light into the interiors — are technological innovations rather than
architectural ones; the regimented rows of identical wood-paneled cubicles
chosen by the interior design firm Gensler could be a stage set for a 2007
remake of “All the President’s Men,” minus the 1970s hairstyles.
Maybe this accounts for the tower’s slight whiff of melancholy.
Few of today’s most influential architects buy into straightforward notions of
purity or openness. Having witnessed an older generation’s mostly futile quest
to effect social change through architecture, they opt for the next best thing:
to expose, through their work, the psychic tensions and complexities that their
elders sublimated. By bringing warring forces to the surface, they reason, a
building will present a franker reading of contemporary life.
Journalism, too, has moved on. Reality television, anonymous bloggers, the
threat of ideologically driven global media enterprises — such forces have
undermined newspapers’ traditional mission. Even as journalists at The Times
adjust to their new home, they worry about the future. As advertising inches
decline, the paper is literally shrinking; its page width was reduced in August.
And some doubt that newspapers will even exist in print form a generation from
Depending on your point of view, the Times Building can thus be read as a
poignant expression of nostalgia or a reassertion of the paper’s highest values
as it faces an uncertain future. Or, more likely, a bit of both.
Pride and Nostalgia Mix
in The Times’s New Home, NYT, 20.11.2007,
Skyscrapers spring up
in response to rising
Wednesday December 27, 2006
They sound more like theme park rides than
symbols of progress, but towers such as the cheese-grater, the walkie-talkie and
the helter-skelter are leading a renaissance in British high-rise architecture.
Cities vying for the buildings with the best
superlatives - the tallest residential tower, the highest viewing platform -
include London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Brighton and
By 2010 London's skyline will be dominated by the London Bridge Tower, which at
310 metres (1,017ft) will take over from Canary Wharf's 235-metre structure at
No 1 Canada Square as the tallest building in Europe. But it is unlikely to be
on its own for long. Work is also planned on the Bishopsgate Tower (or
helter-skelter) and at least four other skyscrapers in the City and Canary Wharf
The rapid surge in planning applications for skyscrapers has left some
Leeds, which will be home to the 171-metre Lumiere, has more than 20 plans in
the pipeline and is drawing up a tall buildings policy.
Edinburgh, with many of its key tourist attractions in World Heritage sites, is
also wrestling with threats to its famous skyline. The council, currently
dealing with a planning application for a 175-metre, 18-storey development on
its waterfront, is drawing up a plan to stop further encroachments.
Work on Brighton's answer to the London Eye is due to begin next year, despite
local protests. At 183 metres, the i-360 is almost twice the size of the town's
24-storey Sussex Heights.
In what is a far cry from the bad old days of the concrete blocks of the 1960s
and 70s, the new high-rises can command extravagant rents, often costlier the
higher up you go.
Prices for a luxury apartment in Manchester's 169-metre Beetham Tower range from
£100,000 to £2.5m, and all were sold within 12 months of being offered. In
London, a small apartment in Canary Wharf was recently bought for £5m, and the
rest of the tower was snapped up in a matter of weeks.
"People could live in a mansion block in Belgravia for that money but they want
to live in these buildings," said James Newman of skyscrapernews.com. "Why
commute from Surrey when you can live 10 minutes' walk from work?"
The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said he expected to see an average of one
very tall building being constructed every year in Canary Wharf and the City to
encourage major companies to base their offices there.
Skyscrapers spring up in response to rising demand, G, 27.12.2006,
Norman Foster's New Hearst Tower
Its 1928 Base
June 9, 2006
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
NEW YORK architecture has suffered a lot in
recent years. The brief optimism born of a public rebellion against early
proposals for ground zero has long since given in to cynicism. Since then it has
often seemed that fear and melancholy have swamped our creative confidence.
Norman Foster's new Hearst Tower arrives just in time, slamming through the
malaise like a hammer. Crisscrossed by a grid of bold steel cross-braces, its
chiseled glass form rises with blunt force from the core of the old 1928 Hearst
Building on Eighth Avenue, at 57th Street. Past and present don't fit seamlessly
together here; they collide with ferocious energy.
This 46-story tower may be the most muscular symbol of corporate self-confidence
to rise in New York since the 1960's, when Modernism was in full bloom, and most
Americans embraced technological daring as a sure route to social progress.
While fires raged downtown on the afternoon of 9/11, Lord Foster was presenting
his tower to the Hearst Corporation's design committee. Four and a half years
later its opening dovetails with another major success, Renzo Piano's expansion
of the Morgan Library, another sign that the city's energy is reviving.
In some ways the building fulfills a fantasy born in the late 1920's, when
William Randolph Hearst hired Joseph Urban to design a new headquarters building
for his newspaper empire. Although Urban would go on to design the New School
(1930), one of the city's earliest examples of the International style, his
beige cast-concrete Hearst Building is an eclectic fantasy rooted in his early
sensibility as a set designer, mixing fin de siècle Vienna with dashes of Art
Deco. (Hearst had envisioned a soaring tower atop the six-story base, but the
Depression intervened, and the extra floors were never built.)
Part of what makes Lord Foster's building so mesmerizing is a constant shift in
its visual relationship to the skyline. Seen from the south against the backdrop
of the taller and blander glass- and brick-clad towers lining Eighth Avenue, its
stubby crystalline form seems to have been arbitrarily sliced off at the top, so
that it meets the sky abruptly. As you draw nearer, the facade's oversize
triangular windows become disorienting, making the building's scale harder to
Once you step into the lobby, the aggressive exterior gives way to a vision that
would fit comfortably in postwar corporate America. Water cascades down an
enormous sloping fountain by the artist Jamie Carpenter at the back of the
lobby. A pair of escalators shoot up from the fountain's edge to a second-floor
cafeteria and exhibition space where a big, dark painting by Richard Long hangs
on the polished black stone wall of the elevator core. The luxurious atmosphere
seems more I.B.M. about 1955 than global media corporation of 2006.
The lobby is a reminder of how far the British architect Lord Foster has
traveled in his long career. In the 1970's he was one of the most visible
practitioners of a high-tech architecture that fetishized machine culture. His
triumphant 1986 Hong Kong and Shanghai bank building, conceived as a
kit-of-parts plugged into a towering steel frame, was capitalism's answer to the
populist Pompidou Center in Paris. Since then his architecture practice has
swollen to more than 700 employees from 65.
Although his work has become sleeker and more predictable in recent years, his
forms are always driven by an internal structural logic. And they treat their
surroundings with a refreshing bluntness. While the exterior of the original
building is intact, for example, all six floors inside have been gutted. What
was once raw concrete is now finished in smooth beige, a stripped stage set for
what Lord Foster calls his "urban plaza."
The project is slightly reminiscent of his 2001 renovation of the British
Museum, in which he enclosed the main courtyard under a glass canopy, treating
what were once exterior facades as interior décor. The results, which blurred
the distinction between new and old, had all the charm of a high-end mall.
Here Lord Foster's approach to history is frank and direct. It's as if the
facades of the original building are really just there to keep out the rain.
A series of enormous steel columns shoots up through the space to support the
tower above. The entire lobby is enclosed under a glass roof, so that as you
look up, you can feel the full sweep of the tower rising above you.
The upper levels are designed with the same clarity. By pushing the elevator
core to the back of the tower, Lord Foster was able to open up the floor plan so
that most offices have sweeping views to the north and south. The building's
exterior diamond-shaped pattern results in lovely canted glass walls in the
corners of each floor that serve as communal areas for office employees. On the
top level a corporate dining room offers a view to the east framed by
two-story-tall triangular braces.
That skyline view made me reflect on the creative arc of so many of New York's
big architectural offices. Fifty years ago, firms like Skidmore, Owings &
Merrill translated the language of European Modernism into a style that became
the progressive face of corporate America. Led by architects like Gordon
Bunshaft, they made some magnificent contributions to the city's skyline, from
the interlocking glass forms of Lever House (1951) to the gently cantilevered
concrete slabs of the 1959 Pepsi-Cola building.
Yet by the late 1970's many of those firms were slumping toward mediocrity,
compromised by an effort to be all things to all people as well as to
incorporate a postmodern pastiche of period styles into their work.
The results are disconcertingly visible from the corporate dining room of the
Hearst Tower. To the north, at Columbus Circle, are the lifeless jagged towers
of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's recent Time Warner building; a few blocks south
is the firm's hulking beige brick Worldwide Plaza, capped by a dainty copper
pyramid, completed in 1989.
Superficially, the two towers have little in common. Yet both rely on style —
one postmodern, the other contemporary — as a way of cloaking mundane boxes that
add little magic to the skyline and, worse, have a strained relationship to the
streets below. (The curving internal street of the Time Warner tower, a timid
attempt to engage the street life around Columbus Circle, echoes the pointless
circular arcade that surrounds the lobbies at the base of Worldwide Plaza.)
Despite its lingering status, Skidmore lost its way long ago.
Like Skidmore, Lord Foster's firm is a corporate enterprise, boasting branches
in 18 cities. The majority of his clients are commercial. Yet even as his office
grew, Lord Foster consistently managed to stamp all his work with a strong
architectural identity while maintaining a high design standard.
And this is no small feat. In an uncertain age the Hearst Tower is deeply
comforting: a building with confidence in its own values.
Norman Foster's New Hearst Tower Rises From Its 1928 Base, NYT, 9.6.2006,
Enjoys His First New York
With the Hearst Tower
June 6, 2006
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Norman Foster had reason to be pessimistic
about getting anything built in New York.
His "kissing towers" design for ground zero had been rejected in favor of Daniel
Libeskind's master plan, though it had been voted the public's favorite in 2003.
The same year he was on the verge of presenting his ideas for an overhaul of
Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, when the orchestra decided
to leave Lincoln Center for Carnegie Hall. (The move ultimately fell through,
but it set back the Avery Fisher design process.)
Two years before that, the Hearst Corporation's board had scheduled a meeting
for Sept. 12, 2001, to approve his design for a new tower at Eighth Avenue and
57th Street in Manhattan. Naturally, the meeting was put off. Given Hearst's
conservative reputation and the financial uncertainty resulting from the 9/11
attacks, Lord Foster was ready for anything.
"You become really quite philosophical," he said over coffee at the Carlyle
Hotel during a recent visit to New York from Britain. "It's in the nature of
projects. It's in the nature of being an architect. Some projects roll out."
The 46-story Hearst Tower, built atop the company's 1928 headquarters,
ultimately did roll out, and employees have begun moving in. Finally Lord Foster
has wrapped up his first project in New York.
"We came from the outside," said Lord Foster, of Foster & Partners. "We had a
certain sense of conviction about what we should be doing, but the reality was
that we hadn't worked here."
Adding to Lord Foster's hurdles, the original six-story Hearst Building has city
landmark status, and building his steel-and-glass tower, with its distinctive
"diagrid" design, involved negotiations with the city's Landmarks Preservation
At 71, Lord Foster is hardly new to such challenges. He rebuilt the Reichstag as
a new German Parliament in Berlin and designed a contemporary great court for
the venerated British Museum. He linked St. Paul's Cathedral to the Tate Modern
with the Millennium Bridge, a slender steel footbridge across the Thames. And he
has repeatedly had to defend his glass enclosure of the courtyard in the
Smithsonian Institution's Old Patent Office Building in Washington.
Preservationists argued that Lord Foster's courtyard would spoil the 1868
building, which is a National Historic Landmark.
But Lord Foster also had reason to approach the Hearst tower with confidence.
Knighted in 1990 and honored in 1999 with the Pritzker Architecture Prize — his
profession's most prestigious award — Lord Foster is considered by many to be
the most prominent architect in Britain.
He is an increasingly strong presence in the United States as well, with a role
in a $5 billion, 66-acre development in the heart of Las Vegas and a commission
for Tower 2 at 200 Greenwich Street, one of the office buildings planned by the
developer Larry A. Silverstein for the World Trade Center site in Lower
Manhattan. Lord Foster is also designing a proposed Globe Theater on the site of
Castle Williams on Governors Island, although that project will vie with many
This architect was warned that he could be in for a rough ride in his project
for the Hearst Corporation, a media company that publishes magazines like
Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Esquire. "I was told what was possible and
not possible in New York," he said.
Lord Foster thought of the historic cast-concrete exterior of the Hearst
Building as the facade of a town square. "You would have a big plaza, and that
would be part of the sense of the arrival, part of the identity of the
building," he said. In preserving just the old building's shell, Lord Foster
expected to be accused of facade-ism.
"I think it came from everybody who, with the best will in the world, was
seeking to say: 'This is New York. There are certain things that you can do with
a historic building and certain things you can't do. You cannot take the floors
out and gut a building."
His response, he said, was: "Look, you're giving me the responsibility to try to
achieve a tower on this building. If you're charging me with that
responsibility, I think that I should be given the mandate to back my judgment."
There was not enough height between the original floors to create the kind of
offices that Lord Foster said were needed for a company to function effectively
today. "An office space in 1928 is very different from an office space in 2006;
the demands are totally different," he said.
Using the original building would give Hearst "very poky offices," he said,
"with very low ceilings, and everybody saw that as inevitable."
"I felt very uncomfortable with that direction," Lord Foster said, so he moved
the office space up into the tower. "It seemed there ought to be the opportunity
to have a truly celebratory space that would be about the family of Hearst. I
don't mean the Hearst family, I don't mean the management, but actually the
community of the Hearst organization."
So Lord Foster decided to gut the original interior to create a soaring lobby
with a waterfall, a restaurant for the company's 2,000 employees and communal
areas for meetings and receptions. He calls the grand level the building's piano
nobile, evoking the Italian Renaissance notion of a palazzo's "noble floor."
"Every civic building has a principal level," he said. "Traditionally, as you
approach a classical building, you ascend the steps and go up to the principal
The offices were designed for flexibility, so each of Hearst's magazines could
customize its space. "It's the difference between the off-the-rack suit and
something that is really bespoke tailoring," he said.
Frank A. Bennack Jr., Hearst's former chief executive, said Lord Foster took the
time to study the corporation's needs. "Norman has a feel for what it is your
business does," he said. "The dialogue is often not about architecture, but how
does your business function, and how do people live in the space."
The building is also expected to earn certification as the second
environmentally sensitive, or green, office tower in New York. (The first is 7
World Trade Center.) More than 85 percent of the tower's structural steel
contains recycled material, for example, and the building's main level has
radiant floors that are cool in the summer and generate heat in the winter. As a
result of these sustainable virtues, the Hearst Tower is expected to receive a
gold rating from the United States Green Building Council, a coalition of
construction-industry leaders that grades buildings in areas like energy
consumption and indoor-air quality.
As it turned out, the building easily moved through the approval process. In his
recent book, "Reflections" (Prestel Publishing), Lord Foster shares images of
structures that have moved him over the years: the Kasbah in Marrakesh, Morocco;
the Parthenon in Athens; and Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
In setting out to design the Hearst Tower, Lord Foster said, he thought about
"satisfying the senses, the spirit of the place, the joy of an interplay of
light or shadow or texture or color."
"How the light comes into the equivalent of the town square — that is a value
judgment," he said. "The light meter is going to tell you the level of light.
It's not going to tell you whether the light is going to lift your spirits,
whether it's going to sing."
Norman Foster Enjoys His First New York Moment With the Hearst Tower,
At 150 Edgars Lane,
Changing the Idea of
January 2, 2006
The New York Times
By LOUIS UCHITELLE
HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - The handsome
Tudor-style home at 150 Edgars Lane, built for less than $10,000 in 1925 on a
hillside in this Hudson River town, never seemed to change much through all of
its previous owners. Each family updated the house, but in modest ways until Tom
and Julie Hirschfeld came along.
The Hirschfelds purchased the two-story house with its gabled roof and
stucco-and-wood-beam exterior for $890,000 in the fall of 2002. Good schools,
safe streets, a picturesque community, like-minded neighbors, a relatively short
commute to New York - all these drew the family, just as they drew the previous
But as home prices have soared in recent years, houses like this one have become
not just nice places to live but remarkably valuable investments as well.
Responding to this newly embedded wealth, the Hirschfelds, like hundreds of
thousands of other families living in suburbs of cities like New York, Chicago
and San Francisco, have transformed their homes into something grander and more
Tracing the history of the house at 150 Edgars Lane through the decades shows
how the Hirschfelds have broken with the past - and how the idea of what a house
means to a family has changed. Eight different families have lived in this house
for at least a year. Most were middle-income earners in their day: a high school
principal, a typographer, a civil engineer, a psychiatrist, an environmentalist,
In contrast to the previous owners, the Hirschfelds have poured many thousands
of dollars into renovation, making their home more comfortable and
well-appointed than the earlier owners considered necessary. And more so than
the others, they can certainly afford it.
As the chief operating officer of a hedge fund, Mr. Hirschfeld has plenty of
income to sink into renovation without going into debt. The couple has not held
back. Lifting the house to their standards has become so important to them that
between the purchase price and the outlays for improvements, Mr. Hirschfeld
says, the investment exceeds his home's current market value, estimated at $1.2
Juliet B. Schor, a Boston College sociologist and the author of "The Overspent
American," classifies the burst of spending on home improvement in recent years
as "competitive consumption going on in the top 20 percent of the income
But many home owners, the Hirschfelds among them, insist that quite apart from
status and comfort, what was once mainly a dwelling in a compatible suburb now
assumes even greater personal importance in an age when families increasingly
focus on themselves.
"Community is still very important," said William M. Rohe, director of the
Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill. "But homeowners today pay greater attention to the house itself as
an expression of themselves and as a haven for family life."
For the Hirschfelds, a spacious new kitchen wing that juts into the backyard of
their property embodies their sense of how they want their home to enhance their
lives. Finished a year ago, the kitchen has become a gathering place not just
for cooking and meals, but for homework, games, art projects, reading and
conversation with the Hirschfelds' children, Ben, 12, and Leila, 8.
"We didn't build this kitchen for any trophy motivation or to achieve any level
of luxury," Mr. Hirschfeld said, pointing out that the appliances, including the
refrigerator and stove, are ordinary off-the-floor models, not state-of-the-art
extravaganzas. "We did it to make our family life more free-flowing and warm."
The yard was not suitable for the new kitchen wing, however. So a stone
retaining wall went up to carve more flat space from the sloping land -
unexpectedly adding thousands of dollars to renovation costs.
The Hirschfelds also spent more than planned to reverse the deterioration of
their 80-year-old house - one of the tens of thousands built during the nation's
first great suburban housing boom, before the Depression.
"We really bought this to be our family home," Mrs. Hirschfeld said, "and we
made an error in judgment in not knowing what it would cost to deal with the
deterioration." But the basement, she added, which "was wet for 40 years, is no
Before the Hirschfelds, each of the previous owners made incremental
improvements, spreading renovation over their years in residence rather than
bunching it at the beginning. Mostly those earlier owners lived with the house's
shortcomings, including the cramped kitchen, now converted into a mud room.
Wealthy Buyers Move In
The Hirschfelds, in their early 40's, were less constrained by income, an
increasingly common characteristic of the households engaged in home
improvement. Those with at least $120,000 in annual income accounted for 32
percent of all the spending on home renovation in 2003, the latest year for
which data is available. That is up from 21 percent in 1995, adjusted for
inflation, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. The
spending itself reached $233 billion in 2003, a rise of 52 percent from 1995.
For decades, a home in the suburbs was a family haven for the middle class, "a
kind of anchor in the heavy seas of urban life," as Kenneth T. Jackson, a
Columbia University historian, put it in his 1985 book "Crabgrass Frontier."
That was true of the owners of 150 Edgars Lane. But with the surge in home
prices, the big side yard took on a new dimension as a potentially valuable
building plot. It was no longer cherished as the colorful, terraced flower
garden nurtured by several former owners and written up admiringly in the local
The objections of neighbors stopped the owner of the house in 2001, a woman who
had received it in a divorce settlement, from obtaining a zoning variance so
that she could split off the old flower garden and sell the property as two lots
for more than the $819,000 that she finally received.
With that sale, the house moved out of the reach of middle-income buyers. The
buyer, Matthew Stover, came from Wall Street, and he soon sold the house to Mr.
Hirschfeld, also from Wall Street.
Still, the Stovers and the Hirschfelds, like nearly all of the owners before
them, came to Hastings from apartments in New York City, choosing the town in
part because it offered a demographic mix greater than many other suburbs, as
well as neighbors who were often artists, writers and academics.
The intellectual aura was particularly present on Edgars Lane. Margaret Sanger,
an early leader of the birth control movement, lived across the street from 150,
and Lewis Hine, the famous photographer of industrial realism, owned the house
two doors up. They are long gone, but the Hirschfelds, who received graduate
degrees from Oxford after going to college in the United States, are proud of
"We really wanted to live in Hastings," Mr. Hirschfeld said.
The homes that made this town a suburb went up in the woody hills above
Broadway. Below that dividing street, blue-collar workers, many of them Polish
and Italian immigrants, occupied the apartments and row houses near the
waterfront, close to the chemical plant and the copper mill that employed them,
until the last factory closed in 1975.
The children of those workers went to school with the children in the hills and
"there is still a feeling that the diversity continues to exist - more a feeling
than a reality," David W. McCullough, a local historian, said.
As a community, Hastings tries to resist the trappings of affluence that are
spreading through so many suburbs. The downtown is still a collection of mostly
older stores and restaurants - reflecting "a certain pride that we have in the
shabbiness," as Mr. McCullough put it.
Very few of the upscale stores and restaurants evident elsewhere have arrived
here yet. But almost certainly they will as rising home prices, which limit
eligible newcomers to families like the Hirschfelds, gradually squeeze out
The Hirschfelds, adding even greater value to their home, have installed air
conditioning, expanded the master bathroom and more than doubled the size of
Leila's bedroom, by constructing a second story on top of the kitchen wing. They
rebuilt the basement, spending far more than they intended to get rid of mold
and wetness, and took down the wall between the living room and the dining room,
creating what Mr. Hirschfeld described as "a flowing space so we can have a
conversation from the kitchen with someone who is two rooms away in the living
room." New windows are next.
"You can't live in this day and age with drafty windows," Mrs. Hirschfeld said.
"Either you pump your furnace for all it's worth all winter, or you have
Drafty windows did not bother Ralph Breiling, who designed and built this house
in 1925 on land he had purchased three years earlier, spending less than $10,000
in all, or about $111,000 adjusted for inflation. Mr. Breiling was an architect,
but in the severe recession after World War I, he shifted to teaching school,
later rising to assistant principal and then principal of Brooklyn Technical
A group of teachers had purchased land in Hastings, and Mr. Breiling joined
them, buying one of the lots.
"He loved the Hudson Valley and when the leaves were off the trees, we had a
view of the river and the Palisades," Robert, one of his sons, remembered. For
years, "he commuted an hour and a half each way to his job."
When the Breiling family moved to Edgars Lane, the exterior was finished - it
looked then much as it looks today - but the interior walls were mostly
unfinished plaster. From then on, until he sold the house in 1950, Mr. Breiling
renovated, with his own hands.
A Love for the Hudson Valley
He built the one-car garage that is still there, and the room above it, which
became a children's playroom. He enclosed a patio, incorporating it into the
living room. When his third child, Clover, was born, he expanded a small sewing
room into the fourth bedroom, building out over the front door.
"He spread the work out; he could not afford to do it all at once," said Robert
Breiling, 83, now a retired engineer. "The Depression hit him hard. The New York
City schools cut pay in half. They said they would make it up after the war,
which they didn't. My mother started a nursery school in the dining room. She
had a bunch of little tables and chairs; made a schoolroom out of it. I thought
she liked doing it. But looking back it was for need."
The Breilings' lasting legacy was the garden in the big side yard, which Mr.
Breiling's wife, Leila, tended. In a 1933 article on "beautiful gardens of
Hastings," the weekly Hastings News had this to say about the Breilings' place:
"From the stone retaining wall along the street with its dense privet hedge up
to the children's terrace that now backs against the farm wall on the garden's
highest level, one passes, terrace by terrace, through grassy greensward,
flowering shrubs, long borders aglow with a hundred blossoms."
From that garden came the holly that Duncan Wilson fashioned into wreaths and
sold at Christmas. His parents, Byron and Jane Wilson, purchased 150 Edgars Lane
in 1951 for $25,000, the equivalent of a little less than $190,000 in today's
dollars, moving from a smaller home in nearby Dobbs Ferry when their third child
was still young.
"My mother decided that the family needed more space," Duncan Wilson, now 69,
The Wilsons put energy into maintaining the elaborate garden, but they did
little to the house itself. They were square dancers, so they fixed up the
basement, refinishing the walls and tiling the floor, Mr. Duncan said. Like the
Breilings, they sold the house after their youngest child finished high school,
The next four owners either moved on quickly, to new jobs in other cities, or
stayed to raise children. The turnover helps to explain why the typical American
family owns a home for five or six years, a tenure unchanged going back decades.
Jerome and Carolyn Zinn stayed for eight years, having purchased the house in
1964 from a psychiatrist who lived in it only 18 months. The Zinns paid $40,000
- roughly $250,000 adjusted for inflation - coming from a city apartment with
eight-week-old twin boys.
"I knew that you raised children in a house," Mrs. Zinn said. "I didn't know
anything about Hastings or anyone in the community. We started out looking in
Yonkers and we wandered into Hastings and we liked the hilliness and the trees."
Mr. Zinn had started as a linotype operator, and his wife taught school, saving
enough from her salary for the $11,000 down payment. The remaining $29,000 was
the amount still owed on the psychiatrist's mortgage, which the Zinns took over
- a common practice in those days. Before coming to Hastings, Mr. Zinn had gone
from printer to owner of a small typography shop. It flourished, and in 1982 the
Zinns built a bigger home in Irvington, a neighboring town.
"I kept thinking I wanted to do this to the house and that to the house," Mrs.
Zinn said, "and then I said, if there are so many things I want to do we should
buy a house, or build one."
In 1974, the Zinns sold 150 Edgars Lane for $67,500 - adjusted for inflation,
not that much more than they had paid - to Gerald Franz, a specialist in
environmental issues then employed by the New York City Planning Commission, and
his wife, Susan, a public school math teacher. They had been married five years,
hoping to have children - they later adopted two daughters - and the purchase
price was a stretch for them.
"My expectation was to be married forever and to live there forever," Mrs. Franz
What Was Once a Garden
The Zinns agreed to let the Franzes postpone payment for the side yard, and they
waited nearly a decade before they purchased that portion of their property for
$17,000. By then, with neither family caring for the garden, it had gone to seed
and Mr. Zinn, in any event, was thinking of its value as a building plot. "I had
always hoped in the back of my mind to get the variance to build," he said.
Divorce interrupted those plans. Mrs. Franz, who recently remarried and is now
Susan Franz Ledley, got the house in the 1996 settlement. By then, it was valued
at $500,000. As a school teacher, she could barely afford the upkeep and in
2001, while her youngest daughter was a high school senior, she sold it for
$819,000 - about $900,000 in today's dollars - to Mr. Stover, a stock analyst
for Citigroup, and his wife, Jeanine.
The Stovers were in their 30's and planning a family, like the Franzes nearly 30
years earlier. Unlike the Franzes, however, and all the other earlier owners,
they began to plan renovations, hiring an architect.
"Just as we were starting to get some steam, we were called to Boston," Mr.
Stover said. He took a better job in that city.
Now that housing prices are subsiding, the future monetary payoff from owning
150 Edgars Lane is clouded. But for the Hirschfelds the pleasures of indulging
themselves count for more. Julie Hirschfeld points to the new bathroom sinks,
for example, which resemble 19th-century wash bowls, and the "ridiculously
expensive" border tiles in the master bathroom.
"Once we started," she said, "because we had to do so much, it seemed we should
make the choices about how we wanted it to look."
150 Edgars Lane, Changing the Idea of Home,
3BR, $1 Million.
December 25, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 24 (AP) - In
the still brisk Washington real estate market, the white Colonial seems like an
easy sale, with three bedrooms, easy access to a major commuting route and an
acre of land, a rarity in the tightly packed suburbs.
And the 18th-century house, which went on the market earlier this month, has
another thing newer houses could never claim: the original Uncle Tom's cabin.
Attached to the house is a one-room building, its walls made of graying oak
beams held together with mortar and stone. The roofing is cedar shingles, some
tinged with green moss. In the back, a stone chimney pushes upward, holding the
large hearth where slaves once tended to meals for a plantation owner.
Among the farm's slaves was Josiah Henson, the man Harriet Beecher Stowe used as
a model for the Uncle Tom character in her 1852 novel on slavery, "Uncle Tom's
Less than a month after being put on the market for about $1 million, the cabin
and the house are being bought by Montgomery County.
The parents of Greg Mallet-Prevost, one of the owners, had owned the house since
the early 1960's. Mr. Mallet-Prevost put it up for sale after his mother,
Hildegarde, died in September at age 100.
The Mallet-Prevosts were history buffs, their son says. They tolerated the
occasional visitor but rebuffed efforts by preservation groups to open the house
to the public.
"To have the house in the county and not open to the public is a terrible loss,"
said Peggy Erickson, executive director of Heritage Montgomery, an agency that
promotes historic tourism and worked with the county to raise money to buy the
house. "We don't want it to turn into a dentist's office."
The owners signed a contract this week with the county, rejecting rival bids
from a group of doctors who wanted to establish a center to study world health
and from a private bidder. The sale price was not immediately released. The sale
is expected to be final at the end of January.
Mr. Mallet-Prevost said his father, Marcel, a lawyer for the National Labor
Relations Board who died in 2000, would have wanted the property to go to a
buyer who would preserve the cabin and the house. He said his father did not
object to the house becoming a public historic site.
The house was once the anchor of a 3,700-acre farm that sprawled over much of
modern-day Rockville. It was owned by Isaac Riley, who bought Josiah Henson and
his mother from a Charles County plantation in the 1790's.
Henson was born in 1789 and sold to Riley roughly five years later, after his
master died. In his autobiography, published in 1849, Henson recalls how his
anguished mother pleaded with Riley to buy both her and her child, only to be
beaten by Riley as she clutched his legs.
He recounted long days of grueling work but also some pride that Riley
eventually made him manager of the farm. Of his quarters, Henson wrote of "the
cabin used for a kitchen, with its earth floor, its filth, and its numerous
When Riley fell into debt, he had Henson lead a group of slaves to his brother's
Kentucky farm to protect them from creditors. The group passed through Ohio,
then a free state, but Henson decided against running away to keep his word to
Riley. When Riley later reneged on a promise to free him, Henson and his family
escaped to Canada in 1830 through the Underground Railroad.
It was Henson's book that Stowe used as a basis for her story, which became a
catalyst for abolitionists in the pre-Civil War slavery debate. The Uncle Tom
character, however, was eventually seen as a traitor to his race, and the name
became an insult for black people who acted subservient to white people.
That characterization overlooks Henson's later life in Canada, when he spoke out
for abolition and founded a settlement in Dresden, Ontario, that welcomed
escaped slaves, said Steven Cook, manager of the Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site
there. Henson, who is buried there, is a significant historical figure in
Canada, and his preserved home in Dresden is also billed as "Uncle Tom's cabin."
But it was Maryland where he was a slave, local preservationists say, meaning
the cabin in Rockville has a legitimate claim to the name.
The cabin will probably need some work, Mr. Mallet-Prevost said. That could
include restoring it to its original form if it is to be used for historical
purposes. A wood floor and wood paneling were installed in the 1930's. At some
point, a door was cut linking the cabin to the main house, and outside doors
were changed to windows.
3BR, $1 Million. Plus: Uncle Tom's Cabin,
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