News Highlights of the Week: March 22 – March 28, 2008

March 28, 2008

By James Murdock

Plans to resurrect the spirit of old Penn Station in a new structure named after the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan “suffered a potentially fatal blow,” The New York Times reported on March 28, after the owners of Madison Square Garden, the Dolan family, abruptly pulled out of the project. Moynihan suggested moving Penn Station in the 1990s from its existing location underneath the Garden to the Farley Post Office across the street, a 1913 work by McKim, Mead & White, designers of the original rail terminal. The plan has progressed in fits and starts ever since. As of 2005, the Dolans had agreed to give up the existing Garden and move it into part of the post office along with a new rail terminal. As the Times wrote, “Demolishing the aging, drum-shaped arena is crucial to building a new station and opening up its platforms and waiting rooms to daylight, as advocates of the plan have envisioned.” Rising construction costs—which soared to $3 billion—and the resignation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer have recently cast doubt on whether or not this plan will survive. The Dolan’s announcement only adds to the uncertainty. The family had “grown increasingly impatient over the lack of progress and the sniping by preservationists critical of their designs for a new arena at the landmark James A. Farley Post Office,” the Times wrote, and therefore decided to undertake renovations on the existing Garden. In addition to hosting concerts, trade shows, and other events, the facility is home to the Rangers and Knicks sports teams and “is the second-oldest arena in the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association, according to Garden executives.” The Related Companies and Vornado, private developers that would oversee construction of office and retail components in the revamped Penn Station project, said that despite the Dolan’s announcement they remain committed to the project.

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Above: Watch a time-lapse video of The Ascent, Daniel Libeksind’s 22-story condo tower, rising in Covington, Kentucky.
Video courtesy Corporex
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Daniel Libeskind’s first high-rise in the U.S. opened on March 26—at least, that’s how the U.K.’s Building magazine, in an article the next day, described the debut of The Ascent, a 22-story luxury condominium tower in Covington, Kentucky. The building is located just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, near the foot of an 1860s-vintage suspension bridge designed by John A. Roebling—a prototype of his masterpiece Brooklyn Bridge. The Cincinnati Enquirer, in a March 27 editorial, hailed Libeskind’s Ascent as an equally powerful and lasting landmark. The 292-foot-tall tower features a semi-circular plan. Roughly halfway up the building, the roof begins a sharp rise to its apex, resembling a curved ski slope. Although condos in the blue-glass- and white-panel-clad structure range from $800,000 to $5.5 million—out of reach for all but a privileged few—the Enquirer’s editorial contended that “like most great structures, this is not a building constructed just for those who will inhabit it. Most people in Greater Cincinnati who will come to know the Ascent will see it from a distance as they approach the city on Interstates 71 and 75, or view it from upstream on the Ohio River or from the perspective of Mount Adams.” The editorial went on to note that Libeskind described the Ascent as uniquely inspired by its setting and “not a building that is anywhere else.” Even so, observers will likely detect the influence of the architect’s fascination with crystalline shapes in the way that the Ascent’s apex cants over a plaza below.

With the unveiling of a 1,500-foot-tall building designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), Philadelphia could be the next U.S. city to join the super-tall tower club, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron wrote on March 22. While it’s entirely possible that the current economic climate might scuttle the developer’s plans, she noted, the city’s long-term prospects for property demand are good because Philadelphia erected only a handful of new towers during the last decade and many of its existing buildings are showing their age—opening the door for future developments. KPF’s handiwork, dubbed the American Commerce Center, would include a mix of offices, shops, and hotel rooms. The design is a work in progress and Saffron hinted that it could use some extra time for refinement. Her review included the adverbs “oddly” and “dully” to describe, respectively, the amount of office space afforded by the programmatic organization and the way in which corners of the tower would be sheared off. The design also appears to lack a certain amount of originality. “Despite the center’s boast of soaring 1,500 feet, its office tower would top out at just 1,200 feet. A 300-foot spire would poke out from its asymmetrically sliced crown—like a toothpick in a martini glass. That crown, incidentally, is a virtual clone of the original design that Daniel Libeskind submitted for Freedom Tower in 2003,” Saffron wrote.

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