Like Gothic architecture, I take great delight
in flouting servile regulations that infringe
the rule which says that only what is straight is right,
because redundancies make all good people cringe.
Although between two points the shortest distance is
a line uncurved and straight, my preference is to take
a tangent leading to a curl that says gee-whiz,
and, like St. Pancras Station, is not a mistake.
The color of our words, like stones, should not repeat
a pattern that’s determined by the servile laws
of man while fearing that excesses may deplete
the empty spaces of our minds with fatal flaws.
Nicolai Ouroussoff writes about the new hotel tower next to MoMa designed by Jean Nouvel (“Next to MoMa, A Tower Will reach for the Stars, ” NYT, November 15,2007) :
Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building, William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building. If New Yorkers once saw their skyline as the great citadel of capitalism, who could blame them? We had the best toys of all. But for the last few decades or so, that honor has shifted to places like Singapore, Beijing and Dubai, while Manhattan settled for the predictable. Perhaps that’s about to change. A new 75-story tower designed by the architect Jean Nouvel for a site next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown promises to be the most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation. Its faceted exterior, tapering to a series of crystalline peaks, suggests an atavistic preoccupation with celestial heights. It brings to mind John Ruskin’s praise for the irrationality of Gothic architecture: “It not only dared, but delighted in, the infringement of every servile principle.”…
And what of the Modern? For some, the appearance of yet another luxury tower stamped with the museum’s imprimatur will induce wincing. But the more immediate issue is how it will affect the organization of the Modern’s vast collections. The museum is only now beginning to come to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Taniguchi’s addition. Many feel that the arrangement of the fourth- and fifth-floor galleries housing the permanent collection is confusing, and that the double-height second-floor galleries for contemporary art are too unwieldy. The architecture galleries, by comparison, are small and inflexible. There is no room for the medium-size exhibitions that were a staple of the architecture and design department in its heyday. The additional gallery space is a chance for MoMA to rethink many of these spaces, by reordering the sequence of its permanent collection, for example, or considering how it might resituate the contemporary galleries in the new tower and gain more space for architecture shows in the old. But to embark on such an ambitious undertaking the museum would first have to acknowledge that its Taniguchi-designed complex has posed new challenges. In short, it would have to embrace a fearlessness that it hasn’t shown in decades. MoMA would do well to take a cue from Ruskin, who wrote that great art, whether expressed in “words, colors or stones, does not say the same thing over and over again.”
In the same issue of the NYT John Burns (“Forget Waterloo: London Has a New Route to Paris”) writes about the renovations of the Gothic masterpiece that is St. pancreas Station in London, which was saved from demolition by John Betjeman:
St. Pancras has undergone a three-year, $1.7 billion government-and-privately financed restoration meant to rehabilitate the station from a grimy, semi-derelict drug haven to the “railway cathedral” it was after its soaring canopy of glass and steel and Gothic brick archways were completed in 1867. Britain and France, separated only by the width of the English Channel, have a long history that has made them enemies more often than allies, and both have railway stations named for military triumphs that turned the tide of war between them in 19th-century Europe: Waterloo in London, and Austerlitz, a stop on the Paris Métro, named for Napoleon’s victory over the forces of Austria and Russia, allied with Britain, in 1805. But now, St. Pancras station seems likely to bring the two old foes closer in a very tangible sense. Wednesday’s opening of the new route to Paris and Brussels served as the official inauguration of the last 20-mile section of what British engineers have called “High Speed 1, ” the 68-mile, $12 billion stretch of fast track that runs from St. Pancras to the English coast at Folkestone.…The 100-foot-high canopy, with 18,000 panes of glass, was only 10 days away from demolition in 1967 when the government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson bowed to a campaign to save the station from the wrecking ball. That campaign was led by the poet John Betjeman, who wrote at the time of St. Pancras’s “great train shed, gaping to devour incoming engines.” In tribute to Mr. Betjeman, the new station has a life-size bronze statue of him.