There has been much brow-wring and hand-furrowing around these parts about the apparent demise of architecture criticism—never mind the fact that capital-a Architecture seems more popular than ever. Well, good news. That most crass of crass real estate sites, our dear friends Curbed, have conscripted not one but two fine architectural writers, now appearing on a rotating basis.
Thomas de Monchaux, the gadabout critic and occasional curator, and his compatriot Philip Nobel, long-rumored to have been Curbed’s old Gutter blogger, have joined the good ship, and Mr. Nobel is treading his favorite territory, the World Trade Center, with a lovely inaugural post calling into question the very nature of tall buildings.
How tall is a building? This one should be simple—lay a scale on the architect’s drawings, add up a known measure floor-to-floor, read your altimeter, dust off your trigonometry—but it is not so. Begin at the ground, a wavering, unreliable surface prone to dips and peaks. The hillside site of the Empire State Building, for instance, is a good deal higher than the spot maybe a dozen feet above the high tide Hudson from which One World Trade Center (formerly Freedom Tower) gets its start. So if, as reported, a new column installed Monday at Freedom Tower (old habit) has reached 1,271 feet, a tall, multi-story column, necessarily, since it is said to have beat out the Empire State by a whopping 21 feet, that new structure is now higher than the old only if the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street lacks that much in elevation above sea level relative to Ground Zero. As that Midtown site in fact rides at 49 feet above the waves, there’s more work to be done downtown.
And on and on he goes. Welcome to the kiddie coral, sir. Things have been too lonely around these parts.