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Old Posted Nov 18, 2015, 5:10 PM
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tdawg tdawg is offline
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From the Times today about 7 Bryant Park, which is quite striking in person:

7 Bryant Park Embraces Its Place in the City

With little fanfare, an eye-catching work of corporate architecture has landed in Midtown: a 30-story, glass-and-stainless-steel building called 7 Bryant Park, between 39th and 40th Streets, along Sixth Avenue.

For months, I grumbled passing the construction site. The project was blocking views of the super-slim, hexagon-shaped Springs Mills Building next door, a green-glass International Style landmark from the early 1960s, by Harrison & Abramovitz. That building is a modernist jewel box. I often detour through the lobby because it’s so beautiful. It’s part of my private stash of city treasures, which all New Yorkers keep.

Then the scaffolding came down.

I’m not saying 7 Bryant Park is architecture for the ages. It’s not.

But the building clearly is not just another spec office tower, or at least it wasn’t designed to look like one. It makes the case for why architecture matters.

It’s a two-tiered midrise, with a setback a third of the way up and an arresting pair of cones incised almost as if by a giant ice-cream scooper out of one corner, the one facing the park. The first cone rises from the setback to the roof. The other, opening downward, clears space for a circular canopy, made of steel, hovering, a little like the Starship Enterprise, above the building’s entrance.

The building's entrance facing the park. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
The effect is something akin to a flashing Broadway billboard, begging for attention. Hines was the developer. The architects are Yvonne Szeto and Harry Cobb from Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Mr. Cobb’s Tour EDF in Paris, an elliptical skyscraper with a similar conical cavity, built for France’s main electric company in 2001, will come to mind among architecture aficionados.

The soft-spoken Mr. Cobb is 89. In his long, distinguished career, as teacher and designer, he has also overseen, among much else, Goldman Sachs’s bespoke headquarters in Lower Manhattan and the storied John Hancock Tower in Boston.

That building, one of the most beautiful skyscrapers ever built, an austere, double-notched rhomboid in the historic city center, has always stood out and blended in, its disappearing, wafer-thin profile and glass skin deferentially reflecting H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church next door.

7 Bryant Park, center, with a conical cutout rising to the roof. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Without approaching Hancock in grace or invention, 7 Bryant Park aspires to be what Mr. Cobb has categorized as a “contingent” building: “not self-centered or autonomous,” as he has put it, “but shaped by its place, its context.”

The context here is the park, diagonally across the street, to which the tower’s sculptured cones clearly gesture. Two blocks north, the much taller Bank of America Tower commands the skyline: It’s a crystalline behemoth and tent pole for the northwest edge of the park. Commercial property values start to drop south of 42nd Street, and the architecture changes, as well, getting less ambitious.

But 7 Bryant Park takes advantage of its location near the park’s southwest corner, as if to declare itself the Bank of America building’s little brother, which is to say, part of the uptown crowd. The logic is economical, not just architectural. Mr. Cobb is fond of Wittgenstein’s famous remark to the effect that just as every movement of the body isn’t a gesture, every building isn’t architecture. Translation: Architecture is a dividend that pays off when properly invested. The Bank of China bought 7 Bryant Park from Hines earlier this year.

There’s a civic dividend, too. The building’s entrance is now a modest plaza, with a fountain and bench, where passers-by can briefly sidestep the usual crush of office workers and maybe rendezvous with a friend. (“I’ll meet you under the Star Trek canopy” is a phrase I can almost imagine catching on.) Mr. Cobb also likes to say “a building should be a good citizen; it should make a place in the city.”

I might put it this way: Streets are more significant than buildings, and smart buildings make the most of this fact. Hines volunteered the plaza and forked over for a new subway entrance inside the tower, at 39th Street, to free up sidewalk acreage.

For their part, the architects found a way to animate the facade so that, seen from the park, it plays off its neighbors, the stately rhythm of its 10-foot-wide modular windows syncopating with the busier window patterns of the buildings around it. From inside, those modules open up the office floors of 7 Bryant Park to the outdoors, generously. Where the windows curve and incline to shape the cones, the effect is akin to standing on the prow of a ship, gazing down.

From outside, the wide modules ensure that the cones don’t become a distracting muddle of mullions when the building turns the corner. It’s an elegant, sculptural solution.

In the evening, colored lights in the spandrels outline a kind of mirrored Christmas tree. Artists talk about creativity feeding off restraints, self-imposed or otherwise, a truism architects have to live by. Mr. Cobb and Ms. Szeto capitalized on the limitation of a city setback rule to sharpen the points where the two cones meet. So there’s also a crispness and concision to the geometry, derived partly from necessity.

The other day, I watched gawkers in the park point at the new building, struck by the cones and the canopy: 7 Bryant Park is the latest Times Square attraction. I still miss seeing the block-length facade of the Springs Mills Building along Sixth Avenue. But I have to admit that too many mediocre commercial projects gets a pass in this city, making developers money while shortchanging the rest of us. This one by Hines, Ms. Szeto and Mr. Cobb could have been another one of those buildings. For being otherwise, they and it deserve a shout out.
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