New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, January 11, 2008

XYZ

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 ...

10 comments:

Lucy said...

Yes, it's kind of amazing that your youthful enthusiasm could get the excitement just from the scale and the density. I have found this area of the city pretty difficult to deal with. Too many monoliths in a row that are not very interesting, going on and on for blocks along Sixth in midtown. The break at Rock Center area with about a three blocks of Art Deco, and Radio City, really are a big relief in that stretch of Sixth.

Rambling Round said...

Great photo, but I am just glad I don't have to live or work in a building that tall. I'm not even crazy about huge, multi-story condos at the beach. Reminds me too much of that dreadful movie, "The Towering Inferno!"

marley said...

These buildings just say 70's design and architecture!

b13 said...

I love the composition of the shot. And although I am a New Yorker I love reading your insightful posts. Very interesting.

Clarice said...

Does any light reach the earth? They are banal but en mass they do look striking.

Felicia said...

Yes, and these buildings are not alone in their joylessness - we have several shorter buildings here from the 60s & 70s that are even more hideous.

Anonymous said...

I love dropping by your site to for your photos and to read the accompanying text. It's always interesting.

Those buildings? Downtown Toronto has nothing but such buildings that are "rather cold, lifeless and joyless."

Murph said...

I used to call these buildings the domino buildings. As in:
If a cartoon giant came to destroy NYC, he would knock those buildings down like dominoes.

Then I worked there from 89-91, and I have happy memories from those times, and hence, happy thoughts when I see these buildings even today.

oldmanlincoln said...

A beautiful photograph.

I am sometimes amazed that streets like this one, just don't break off and disappear. I assume the foundations are all resting on bedrock but then all rocks break and who wants to think about bedrock breaking. The weight, all in one place, would seem to me to be more than enough, coaxed by an occasional earth tremor, to snap. I guess that is something we have yet to happen.

Mme Benaut said...

Brian, I studied architecture at the end of the 70's although I didn't finish my degree. While the power of this photo and indeed the buildings is immense, one wonders where the sunshine has gone.