A Twist of Fate
March 6, 2009
Previous posts concerning the folly of the New York Public Library’s $250 million dollar expansion plans have proved prophetic. Yesterday’s New York Times front page featured a report on the library’s failed attempt to sell its popular Donnell Library on 53rd Street to a developer who planned to demolish the building for yet another luxury retail, restaurant and hotel tower. Without the inflow of cash from the sale the library may not be able to follow through on its foolish scheme to have Norman Foster gut and redesign the center of Carrere & Hastings’ masterpiece on 42nd Street. Foster’s office announced a layoff of 350 staff, or 1/3 of its employees, as reported in the latest issue of Architectural Record.
Fate plays tricks on both the common folk and the high and mighty. The 10-year boom in expensive, high-rise construction throughout the globe is coming to an end, and architects like Foster, who benefited from the hubris of bigwigs throughout the world, have felt the pinch. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, or for his Arab, Chinese, Turkish, American, German and English clients. Thomas Hastings, the architect of the old library, may be chuckling from beyond the grave. He warned New Yorkers of the disastrous loss of community and urban coherence that would come from constructing tall buildings, and little good to say about modernism. Once again an economic downturn is proving good for preservation. A great building may escape unscathed.