Board 5 O.K.’s Facelift For
Columbus Circle’s ‘Lollipop Building’
Reviled by some and revered by others, 2 Columbus-known as the “Lollipop building” because of its quirky, candy-shaped columns-has just edged a bit closer to a major, and controversial, renovation.
On Wednesday, May 8, Community Board 5 voted to approve the disposition of the building from the city to the Museum of Arts and Design, largely on the strength of the architectural renderings for a façade renovation presented to the board by the museum’s architect, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture. The emotionally charged meeting was attended by many who were distraught over the planned renovation, and nearly a dozen people testified during the public session to protest the plan, hoping to influence the board’s vote.
Designed by Edward Durell Stone and built in 1964 to house the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art, 2 Columbus Circle was immediately assailed for its unconventional design. Its stark, monolithic face, nearly windowless except for the loggia on the uppermost floors, eventually was declared an architectural asset because of its fierce statement of modernity and its mélange of different styles.
Commissioned by the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum), which plans on moving to the building from its West 53rd Street location in spring 2006, the new design will dramatically change the face of 2 Columbus Circle. The plan features several glass columns running from the top to the bottom of the 10-story building which, along with “woven terra cotta panels,” will allow filtered sunlight into the building during the day and create a glowing effect at night.
While most opponents of the renovation are pleased that a cultural organization such as the Museum of Arts and Design will call the building its home, they’re displeased that the museum insists on tearing down the distinctive façade, citing 2 Columbus Circle as an integral component of the city’s architectural history. Columbus Circle resident Sue Mellon spoke of her attachment to the building and its powerful presence, saying that “the whiteness and the grillwork of the building are out of this world.” John Stuart Gordon, a design historian and another opponent of the renovation, referred to the building’s distinctive design, saying: “Great art like this building makes people stop; it makes people think. New York is an encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture, and this building [as it stands today] belongs in it.”
Also addressing the board was Olive Freud, vice president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, a West Side building-preservation and watchdog organization. “What is particularly heartbreaking in this circumstance,” she said, “is that a museum whose mission is the appreciation, collection and display of art is the proponent of destroying what is probably the most precious object in their collection.”
Others were not so kind. Jeffrey Osborne, a design consultant who endorses the façade renovation, called the building’s original architect a “C-minus fashionable gentleman architect,” and expressed dismay that people were opposed to the new scheme.
Architect Bart Voorsanger, who also supports the renovation, told the board that the current structure “is aesthetically wrong,” and that the popularity of its current façade is a case of “the emperor’s new clothes.”
Speaking to The Observer , Kate Wood, executive director of the landmark-conservancy organization Landmark West, called 2 Columbus Circle a “rare and courageous” building built in an expressive modern style that avoided the cold sterility of both corporate modernism and the International Style. She quoted a 1963 New York Times article published after the destruction of the old Penn Station (“We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed”) and says she has implored the museum to maintain the building’s current design. When reached by The Observer , a spokesman for the Museum of Arts and Design declined to comment on criticisms of the façade redesign.
The public hearing at times resembled an architectural-quality commission considering the relative aesthetic merits of the building (or lack thereof) and its importance in the city’s architectural landscape. After hearing the public testimony and having a heated discussion among its members, the board passed the resolution to approve the renovation with a vote of 18 to 8.
In order to proceed with its purchase of the building, the museum must now gain the approval of the City Council. Community Board 5′s vote, while nonbinding, has considerable influence with the City Council.
Opponents of the redesign have stated that they will continue their campaign to save the stylistically unique façade by lobbying the Manhattan borough president and the City Planning Commission, which are both due to consider the issue before sending their recommendations to the City Council.
-Matthew Ian Grace
May 21: Board 8, New York Blood Center, 310 East 67th Street, auditorium, 7 p.m., 212-758-4340.
May 22: Board 2, N.Y.U. Law School, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, Room 110, 6:30 p.m., 212-979-2272.
May 27: Board 3, P.S. 20, 166 Essex Street, 6:30 p.m., 212-533-5300; Board 12, P.S./I.S. 176, 4862 Broadway, 7 p.m., 212-568-8500.