We Can Do Better Than Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street

The Observer has been obsessing over Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, née Beekman Tower, for months now, even declaring it

The Observer has been obsessing over Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, née Beekman Tower, for months now, even declaring it our favorite building of 2010. Yet try as we might, Times architecture critic Niccholai Ouroussoff remains the ultimate authority on buildings in the city and the world (for better or worse).

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He weighs in today with a review he knows many have been waiting for—”Many New Yorkers have been following the construction of the new residential tower at 8 Spruce Street, just south of City Hall, with a mix of awe and trepidation,” it opens—and the verdict is, not unsurprisingly for the starchitect worshipper, a positive one.

Yet it is not Ouroussoff’s opinion of the building in particular that interests The Observer—he calls it “the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building went up 46 years ago”—but his idea of what the building symbolizes.

8 Spruce Street seems to crystallize a particular moment in cultural history, in this case the turning point from the modern to the digital age.


The power of the design only deepens when it is looked at in relation to Gilbert’s Woolworth building. A steel frame building clad in neo-Gothic terra-cotta panels, Gilbert’s masterpiece is a triumphant marriage between the technological innovations that gave rise to the skyscraper and the handcrafted ethos of an earlier era.

Mr. Gehry’s design is about bringing that same sensibility–the focus on refined textures, the cultivation of a sense that something has been shaped by a human hand – to the digital age. The building’s exterior is made up of 10,500 individual steel panels, almost all of them different shapes, so that as you move around it, its shape is constantly changing. And by using the same kind of computer modeling that he used for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, more than a decade ago, he was able to achieve this quality at a close to negligible increase in cost.

Do you hear that, developers of New York City? It is fully within your ability to design not only better but world-class buildings without sacrificing the bottom line. In fact, you will probably bolster your bank account by doing so. Look no further than Durst Fetner’s Bjarke Ingels project on West 57th Street, which we declared the marker of a new era only two days ago. Or the news since then that SHoP is designing vast housing projects in Queens and Brooklyn.

With some luck, intelligence and a little talent, this is not only the beginning of a new digital age of architecture in New York but also a better one.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @mc_nyo

We Can Do Better Than Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street