What Jane Jacobs Prevented

A new exhibit at the Cooper Union revisits architect Paul Rudolph's vision for a megadevelopment built around Robert Moses' expressway project that would have destroyed much of SoHo and Tribeca.

From the Cooper Union's exhibition notes:

"Rudolph envisioned an approach to city planning that would conceive of movement throughout a city as the most common shared experience; multi-use transportation networks would be integrated into one design that would replace plazas as the prevailing urban design element. Plans for the LME therefore included not only an underground highway but also elevators and escalators connecting to the subway system, living spaces, a moving walkway, parking lots, and shared public spaces."

Paul Goldberger at The New Yorker comments:

"It was ridiculous in some ways, a futuristic city of the absurd. It ignored the streets, the lifeblood of New York's urbanism, in favor what seems today like a brave new world of anti-urbanism."

Full Story: Paul Rudolph’s Manhattan Megastructure



Typical Modernist Esthetics

"Rudolph’s new city over the expressway is absolutely wonderful to look at, a lively composition of peaks and valleys that would have been an entire skyline in itself."

Goldberger takes the typical modernist approach. He thinks of the design as an abstract composition to be viewed from the distance.

He does not think about how it would look and feel to the people living or working in it.

Charles Siegel

Wishful thinking

Paul Goldberger has for years tried to navigate between the world of architectural academia and the high (money'd) culture of Manhattan. On the one hand he has to acknowledge what is apparent to almost everyone...

"It’s not worth even arguing its merits" of this project, while in the same breath he offers this bit of lovliness...

"I’m much more intrigued by Rudolph’s boldness, and his fascination with seeing the city as a system, a huge, interconnected web of physical structures and transportation modes, all of which he wanted to weave together into a beautiful object."

Now one would find this dichotomy difficult to reconcile in even the most relativistic of environments, yet he is forced try as so many of his generation that where steeped in modernism's orthodoxy to push the party line or be ridiculled as a nostalgic intellectual light weight. On the one hand he would like to be invited to the pre-war Park Avenue Apartment Parties that the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis crowd frequent, what with their retardaire shingle styled creations in the Hamptons, on the other hand, he ain't no wimp.

As an architectural student in NYC in the late 80's, I enjoyed his Jane Jacobesque acknowledgement of reality in his defense of the fledgling traditionalist school then in its infancy, especially as I tried to learn from NYC's rich architectural history. It's clear by this schitzophrenic review that the pull of the ideologues was too much for him to break away from. That's why years ago I stopped taking him seriously as a critic. I understand life isn't black and white, that everyone must take care of number one, etc. but at some point you must take a stand. It's not about what style one finds beautiful as much as the underlying architectural principles one advocates that can either have a positive effect on humanity or a baleful effect.

He ends with "The more you look at his work, the more you see that he was one of the last great romantics, truly convinced that human imagination was going to make the world better"

Similar things can be said about the mysogynist who claimed to have loved his wife too much as a defense for his beatings, or for a dictator who fervently wished that his people where clean, righteous and pure of soul. Romantic shouldn't be a euphamism for a meglomaniac. Thankfully, it's just architecture, and while the residents of many a flattened neighborhoods would object to the modernist "romance" of a tabula rasa, gladly Jane Jacobs prevailed.

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