simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: XYZ
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Friday, 11 January 2008


When I first moved to NYC and was absolutely busting with enthusiasm for the city, this strip along 6th Avenue was a must stop on my whirlwind auto tour for visitors. I was a one man marketing campaign - (and at a time where New York was not seen very favorably) and showing off this strip of skyscrapers extending as far as the eye could see really did inspire - for me it just screamed big, best and all the other superlatives I associated with the city. I would park somewhere along 6th Avenue in the 40s on the EAST side of the avenue and command my passengers to get out and witness the evidence first hand that NYC was the best.
Here we have a long, unified grouping of 40-50 story skyscrapers - some of the tallest in the city, many with eponymous names like McGraw Hill, Exxon, Celanese, Time-Life, the Stevens Tower, Americas Tower, 1155 Avenue of the Americas (the black granite building in the foreground designed by Emery Roth) et. al. Many of these were built in the 1960s and 70s and the names no longer apply - the original tenants have relocated. Some were annexes to Rockefeller Center, leveraging the cache of that complex. McGraw Hill, Exxon and Celanese - not clearly visible in this photo which starts at 43rd Street) were known as the XYZ buildings. In 1981, Paul Goldberger wrote: "For a long time, I thought that nothing could be worse than the "XYZ" buildings on the Avenue of the Americas, the massive Exxon, McGraw-Hill and Celanese skyscrapers that comprise the western expansion of Rockefeller Center, so named by their planners because of their nearly identical design. The three boxy towers are banal in the extreme, with huge and generally useless plazas dulling the street life in front and straight tops flattening out the skyline up above."
Nostalgia aside, I must agree with most architecture critics that these buildings are and their plazas are rather cold, lifeless and joyless. The AIA Guide to NYC says : "they are sorry neighbors to their parent buildings." They perhaps best serve as a lesson illustrating how serious a responsibility architecture really is. Buildings become a semi-permanent legacy - designs should not be based on whim or the fashion trend of the moment ...


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