Posted March 23, 2008 in Life • Tags: ,

The New York Times’ age-old fascination with everything “post-modern” is revisited in an article showcasing recent works, all residential luxury towers in Manhattan, from some of today’s leading star-chitects. No mention is made of the city’s tanking economy and the fact that there might not be enough international tycoons left in a couple years to fill all these new condos. The article is full of the usual arrogance and condescension we’ve come to expect from the Times:

THE HL23 tower … is the kind of commission Neil Denari has being waiting for his entire working life. Mr. Denari … has labored on the profession’s periphery for decades. But because of a recent demand for name-brand residential architecture in New York, he is finally getting a chance to test his ideas in the real world.

“The profession’s periphery” refers, I presume, to the 99.9% of architects who do the grunt work that doesn’t merit special attention from the Times. “The real world” probably refers to the rarefied atmosphere inhabited by the sort of architects who get invited to New York Times cocktail parties.

There’s the usual glorification of everything “strange” and “unexpected”, and the attendant condemnation of anything “banal”, which in the language used in Times architectural articles refers to any building that attempts to fit harmoniously within the existing urban fabric of the city:

In other cases, however, the seemingly noble aim of working within a neighborhood’s character leads to lackluster design. The scale and placement of the windows on the facade of Deborah Berke’s new limestone-and-steel apartment complex just across from 40 Bond, for example, does echo the neighboring buildings. But the results are tepid.

“Tepid” is Times-speak for “unchalleging” and “not designed to shock or confuse”; the opposite of every building designed by Times favorites such as Frank Gehry and I.M. Pei.

The Times gets it right, however, in the depiction of today’s newest Manhattan prototype, the international jet-setter:

But the banal interiors of New York’s luxury apartment buildings may also have to do with our reactionary times. Among architects it is now common wisdom that today’s clients are less willing to upend conventional living arrangements than earlier generations were. … This resistance may not be surprising for a class of people who increasingly want the same residential experience whether they are in Moscow, Paris or New York. Arriving in New York by private jet — or wishing they had — they tend to view their homes as personalized hotel rooms, and developers are more than happy to indulge them. Many of the new buildings provide the same kind of services you would find in a luxury hotel, from breakfast in bed to spa treatments to dog walkers.

Anyone who’s been priced out of Manhattan lately has been witness to this phenomenon. The jet-setters are filling the new (and the old) luxury buildings that draw the attention of the Times, while residences that were once within reach of the rest of us are now packed with their children: young, hip, and super-wealthy. The sort who eye a tiny $2000-a-month studio and proclaim “It’s so cheap!” in European-, Indian-, or Japanese-accented English. This is the more interesting story of what’s happening in Manhattan. It’s a story that’s beneath the notice of the Times, except for a once- or twice-yearly report bemoaning the fact that Manhattan isn’t “funky” any more.

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