The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Henry Hope Reed 1915-2013

    Paul Gunther remembers the contrarian classicist in The Architect's Newspaper. henry_hope_reed_03 Historian, author, and self-styled man of letters from an era when such amateurs had a loud voice in civic dialog and resulting public policy, Henry Hope Reed spent nearly a century working and living in Manhattan, which became his frame of architectural reference and the crucible of his ideas. He is the last surviving founder of the preservation movement with its alternative vision to the wholesale post war displacement essential to global modernist hegemony and its reliance on the car and attendant vertical hierarchies and linear sprawl. His path attracted the label of nostalgia, if not outright reaction with its perceived rejection of all innovative design solutions, technologies, and divisions of labor in meeting contemporary needs. Over time, Reed went a step further, calling for a classical design vocabulary to be applied in all new construction in line with his vision of a past “Golden City” needlessly abandoned by the rupture of modernism. It is this singular perspective that finally earned his reputation as obstructionist curmudgeon. Brendan Gill once said his fellow critic and gadfly would not be happy until every subway car featured Corinthian pilasters at well-proportioned intervals. His co-creation of Classical America in 1968 as a nonprofit organization devoted to advocacy, publications, and awards led eventually to its merger with the younger Institute of Classical Architecture, functioning nationwide today via 16 chapters dedicated to stemming the erosion of cultural memory by providing the achievements of the past as a resource for contemporary design. Reed’s opposition gave way to the more ecumenical pursuit of sustaining a body of knowledge for those seeking to understand and variously apply it. Marketplace realities were and remain a big reason why. What was lost in the acerbic fray of his final career chapter, when many stopped listening, was his pioneering role in recognizing and in turn safeguarding Central Park as a work of landscape architecture. The pioneering founder of the Central Park Conservancy, Betsy Barlow Rogers, knows best. “Reed’s 1967 book Central Park: A History and Guide written when holding the title ‘Curator of Central Park,’ which he invented with the blessing of Mayor Lindsay, was my primer when, as a new New Yorker, I was discovering my adopted city’s green heart,” she said. Reed’s lead paragraph summons exemplary wit: “Many other well-informed persons believe that one day in the last century the city fenced off 840 rocky acres of Manhattan Island and declared them park.” He salvaged Olmsted and Vaux from the creative scrap heap, as Moses was busiest working to dismantle their now seminal contribution to the conjunction of nature and design. A year earlier in 1966—a half decade before Earth Day—he implored Lindsay to ban car traffic from the park at all times. Reaction as radical progress; the Futurist, proto-modern vision of speeding vehicle versus man was called into doubt. While it took force on weekends, fifty years later his goal for a permanent ban still awaits the courage of self-described progressive officials, elected and appointed. henry_hope_reed_02 Reed also introduced America to the architectural walking tour in 1955, when New York’s Municipal Art Society agreed to his novel proposal inspired by the visites conference street lectures he had discovered in Paris. Like devotion to Central Park, it is strange to conceive of New York without them. He also rescued several collections of Beaux-Arts practitioners at a time when their career contributions were deemed at best embarrassing in the face of curtain wall function. Columbia’s Avery Library and the New-York Historical Society were prime beneficiaries in the latter instance, featuring the full nationwide output of Cass Gilbert, including his centennial-celebrating Woolworth Building. The widow Gilbert had no other place to turn in mid-century. In 2005, the School of Architecture at Notre Dame, with the support of Chicago investor Richard Driehaus, created the annual $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Award for “an individual working outside the practice of architecture who has supported the cultivation of the traditional city, its design, and art through writing, planning, or promotion.” It is bestowed every year along with the Driehaus Prize for Traditional Architecture, which for more than a decade has held forth as an alternative Pritzker Prize, despite its relative obscurity. On Capitol Hill, July 5, 1955, the House Appropriations Committee of the 84th Congress considered the 1956 appropriation to the Department of Defense as Reed sat side by side with Frank Lloyd Wright. Unexpectedly allied in testimony critical of the initial Skidmore Owings & Merrill proposal for an Air Force Academy in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado Springs, their complementary view was the absence of and necessity for some sort of anchoring gathering place of shared value. The renowned chapel thus began to take shape. Henry testified, “In the creation of an Air Force Academy the Government I believe is not taking advantage of a great opportunity to assert the tradition of building magnificently with the aid of all the arts. By doing so all Americans gain the opportunity to reaffirm the bonds of citizenship in visual form—an opportunity that this Government has not offered them up until now.” The same debate continues today, made worse by tight budget battles, but finally the hopeful if often brittle theme of Reed’s lifelong research and clamor was the possibility of a stable and ennobling common wheal expressed through architecture in pursuit of a livable city. His personal classical solution was narrowly rule-bound but his driving civic hope was unlimited.

  • Old Post Office to Become 250-Room Trump Hotel

    Jonathan O'Connell reports for The Washington Post  Old Post Office by Carol M. Highsmith_larger The General Services Administration has selected a proposal from Trump Hotel Collection, the lodging brand that bears the name of the New York real estate magnate, to turn the historic Old Post Office pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue into a luxury hotel with at least 250 rooms, conference facilities, a spa and restaurants. Robert Peck, GSA’s Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, issued a statement saying Trump was selected to save taxpayers money and take better advantage of the historic property. “Deciding to move forward with redeveloping this iconic property will save millions in taxpayer dollars each year. The tremendous response from the private sector allowed us to select a proposal that will provide a consistent revenue stream for the Federal Government and better utilize a historic property on our nation’s Main Street,” Peck said in a statement. “The Trump Organization plan will preserve the historic nature of the building and improve the vitality of Pennsylvania Avenue,” Peck added. “This redevelopment represents good business sense on behalf of the American taxpayer, the Federal Government and the District of Columbia.” Ivanka M. Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter and executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, told the Post in July that the company held the building’s historic nature in high regard. “Preserving the architectural integrity of this great asset should be fundamental to all plans presented to the GSA,” she said then. Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol, the Old Post Office has been deemed under-utilized by the government. The General Services Administration began soliciting redevelop the property in March. Trump bested number of other high-profile suitors for the property, including one from Hilton Worldwide to turn the property into a Waldorf Astoria. The Trump Organization, along with California private equity firm Colony Capital, plans to invest $200 million into acquiring the property and redeveloping it. In a Tuesday interview shortly after GSA’s announcement, Ivanka Trump said the existing hotel that best compares with what she plans for Washington is the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The new hotel will be called Trump International Hotel, Old Post Office, Washington, D.C. “The Trump Organization is committed to making this the finest luxury hotel in the world and we think the building’s location and historic nature will allow us to do that,” she said. The Trump Hotel Collection already operates luxury hotels in Chicago; New York; Las Vegas; Waikiki, Hawaii; and Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club became the tallest building in Latin America in July. Its newest hotel opened in Toronto earlier this year. How prominent will the famous and controversial Trump name be on Pennsylvania Avenue? Ivanka Trump said the company would take great care to preserve the building’s exterior while incorporating its brand into the redevelopment. “I think the historic facade of the building will be the greatest signage of all,” Trump said. Built in the 1890s, the Old Post Office is a national historic landmark and one of the tallest buildings in the city. The property underwent a makeover in the 1980s that failed to revive its fortunes. Now home to a smattering of federal offices and tourist-oriented retail and restaurants, the building loses more than $6 million annually and the annex is empty and in disrepair, with broken tiles, exposed beams and unfinished storefronts prevalent despite its enjoying one of Washington’s most prestigious locations, on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. The government and Trump still must come to terms on a final financial agreement, one that also governs usage of the building and preservation of its historic aspects. The GSA needs to relocate government agencies that are still operating inside the building, including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. If negotiations proceed as expected, the GSA said that redevelopment could begin in 2014 and the hotel could be ready for occupancy in 2016. Among other respondents to the GSA’s solicitation for development partners were organizers of a National Museum of the Jewish People, which submitted a detailed proposal for a museum of Jewish heritage on the lower levels and a Park Hyatt Hotel above. Local firms the JBG Cos. of Chevy Chase and Monument of the District also made submissions. Members of Congress, particularly House Republicans, have sharply criticized the GSA in recent years for not doing more to use vacant or under-utilized real estate, taking particular aim at the Old Post Office. The House subcommittee that oversees the GSA plans to hold a hearing Thursday at the Old Post Office and earlier Tuesday, the House passed a bill that would create a new process for selling under-used federal buildings.