Where's the Weird?

Architectural eccentricity is becoming a rarity in New York, as evidenced by the demolition of the O'Toole Building--a fairly weird building.
March 19, 2009, 6am PDT | Judy Chang
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"In theory, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which green-lighted the proposal last week, could have demanded a new building of equally powerful character. In practice, no agency has the authority or inclination to mandate weirdness. The commission exists to safeguard the city's status quo and tolerate incremental change. Demanding individuality lies beyond its purview. Hospitals depend on standardization, efficiency, and routine, and to achieve this, St. Vincent's hired Pei Cobb Freed, which doesn't do whimsy.

And so the corner's next occupant will be a tastefully bland, well-tailored facility-the sort of comfortingly impersonal environment meant to minimize the awfulness of a stay there. Preservationists acknowledged the need for St. Vincent's to expand, but decried the loss of a fine work of architecture (though the O'Toole Building isn't really that fine), the violation of the low-slung skyline (which is not really that low), and the transformation of the neighborhood (which shed its bohemian attitude long ago). The hospital duly whittled down the height and softened the graceless ribbon windows with terra-cotta louvers. The new building will do its best to look inconspicuous, though there's a limit to how much a thickset medical tower can blend into a historic district. The effort is beside the point in any case. The site needs character, which St. Vincent's abhors."

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Published on Sunday, March 15, 2009 in New York Magazine
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