If you’re considering moving into a white brick building, perhaps to compliment your Mad Men craze for skinny ties and dry martinis, don’t. The bleached blocks, heavily used in the postwar building boom, have fallen distinctly out of style, both aesthetically and materially, according to The New York Times. Once championed as an easy solution to the wear and tear weather wreaks on traditional building materials, as well as a symbol of clean city living, highrises with white brick facades are crumbling around the city.
The brilliant architectural minds of the 1950s and 1960s—the same generation responsible for the Soviet-chic cement blocks seen elsewhere—thought that rain would simply wash off the polished finish, keeping the interior dry and the outside clean. The waterproof/self-cleaning theory, however, proved to be more in line with contemporary thoughts about cigarettes and pesticides.
Water inevitably seeped in—whether through the porous mortar joints between every brick or from behind—and became trapped, prevented by the glaze from quickly evaporating. Then, with the freeze-and-thaw cycles of winter, the water would expand, putting pressure on the glaze, causing cracks and overall deterioration.
The buildings are falling apart costing residents of the once super-modern apartment buildings millions of dollars. Affected properties have required extensive resurfacing work, with architects sometimes deciding to scrap the white-brick finish altogether. Several buildings throughout the city have been stricken by water damage, including 900 Fifth Avenue and The Pavillion at 500 East 77th.
And it threatens many more, like 2 Fifth Avenue, which has been struggling over a renovation now estimated at almost $31 million. That figure also includes other repairs and is resulting in an assessment of $125 per share, or $100,000 on average, from its shareholders.
Which leads us to wonder whether the today’s glass condos (a la Richard Meier and so much of Williamsburg) will be little more than leaky, see-through boxes 50 years from now.