Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ouroussoff on the Times Tower and "a franker reading of contemporary life"

In his mostly approving review of the new Times Tower designed by Renzo Piano and built by the New York Times Company and Forest City Ratner, headlined Pride and Nostalgia Mix in the Times’s New Home, Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff suggests that the building's style reflects some tensions in the evolving practice of journalism.

He writes:
Architecturally, however, The New York Times Building owes its greatest debt to postwar landmarks like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Lever House or Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building — designs that came to embody the progressive values and industrial power of a triumphant America. Their streamlined glass-and-steel forms proclaimed a faith in machine-age efficiency and an open, honest, democratic society.

Newspaper journalism, too, is part of that history. Transparency, independence, the free flow of information, moral clarity, objective truth — these notions took hold and flourished in the last century at papers like The Times. To many this idealism reached its pinnacle in the period stretching from the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War to Watergate...

This longing for an idealistic time permeates the main newsroom...

Even so, you never feel that the building embraces the future wholeheartedly...

Few of today’s most influential architects buy into straightforward notions of purity or openness. Having witnessed an older generation’s mostly futile quest to effect social change through architecture, they opt for the next best thing: to expose, through their work, the psychic tensions and complexities that their elders sublimated. By bringing warring forces to the surface, they reason, a building will present a franker reading of contemporary life.

Journalism, too, has moved on. Reality television, anonymous bloggers, the threat of ideologically driven global media enterprises — such forces have undermined newspapers’ traditional mission.

Not just anonymous bloggers. Might someone inspired by working in the building come to the conclusion that the contrast between railyard developments in Manhattan and Brooklyn deserves a bit more transparency?

(Oh, and let's not forget the special advertorial section yesterday praising the building.)

1 comment:

  1. And as we gaze upon the New York Times’ new headquarters and listen for a clarion voice on issues facing the City we should not forget that the tower stands on land taken by eminent domain from unwilling sellers who took their case to the New York State Court of Appeals.

    For so long as the tower stands there will always be that to think about.

    As the city takes shape memorializing in concrete for years-to-come processes that the newspaper could have reported upon it is fascinating to note that the New York Times is perhaps more than happenstantially connected to two of the most significant eminent domain cases affecting the City: Atlantic Yards because of their developer partner Forest City Ratner, and the proposed Columbia University expansion into West Harlem (Manhattanville) given the design by Renzo Piano.