30 May 2006

New York, New York

This very long entry is dedicated to a week long trip to the ‘Citiest of Cities’ – New York City. I have to say that this past week in NYC has to be one of the best weeks I’ve ever had.

There is something about this city that makes it almost as perfect as a city could be – the scale, the imagination, the filth, the pace, the density and the people – this place as got it all.

I was there as part of my annual Excursion part of our theory programme at the Berlage along with our Dutch Architecture Historian/ New York Fanatic/ Eccentric and Fast-paced/ Frog loving professor – Thomas Van Leuven. His passion for this city and life in general was completely inspiring and has made this trip very dear to me. Our mission in NYC was to trace the history of the city (actually only Manhattan) as a pedestrian; taking clues from the streets, the curbs, the sewage caps, the facades of the buildings and everything that presented itself to our curious eyes.

So the race to uncover the history and familiarize our self with this great city began literally a few minutes after we reached our hotel on Riverside Drive. Below I shall try to narrate a day by day account of the major architectural achievements of places in the city that we visited or pasted by.

Day 1 – (22nd May 2006)


The above images show us a few minutes after our arrival from Amsterdam. Thomas decided to start of our trip by introducing us to our hotels surroundings. So along the Hudson River inside the Riverside Park we walked north and later cut across towards the Central Park exploring relatively quiet neighbourhoods of mid town Manhattan. After which Thomas asked us to move on our own trying to stay up as late as possible so as to avoid any jetlag since we had a tight schedule to keep up for the coming few days.

Once on our own we formed small groups and moved around in the area, but a few of us more crazy people headed straight for the one place that everyone knows is as clichéd New York than any other – Times Square.


The strange thing for me about Times Square was the fact that it wasn’t as big as I had imagined. But nonetheless it is one of the best spots to feel the life and pace of the city.

Day 2 - (23rd May 2006)


The day started off early with a two hour long lazy cruise in the Circle line go around the Manhattan Island. It was a great way to understand the scale of this city to catch a few glimpses of buildings that we either already knew or would know in the next few days. A great way to orient your self to the city provided you have time to actually see it from the inside.

After that we explored some parts of Down Town by foot before heading to see one of the pioneering buildings of New York – The Wool Worth Building. When it was newly constructed it was the Tallest building in the world and much later the WTC was build on a plot almost adjoining this great building. The building is now going through a major revamp and is being converted into exclusive apartments.




Here’s an image of our whole group in the building’s lobby.

After an extensive tour of the building and viewing from its various terrace we headed towards SoHo and explored many streets along the way with Thomas pointing out to many interesting objects along the streets that helped us understand a past of the very streets we walked on.


Here are a few shots to sum up the day.

Day 3 - (24th May 2006)

The Next day took us to one of the most celebrated Monuments in the World – The Statue of Liberty.


Once past the absurd amount of Security we gained access to the statue itself, but since 9-11 all access beyond the plinth has been banned for all visitors because of guess what?

After that we headed to see Ellis Island and the great Immigration Hall. Besides the great view of Manhattan from here (shown below) the Hall itself is a marvellous space making this a must see at least for all architects.



Then back to Manhattan to discover a few things close to our hotel.



And last stop of the night was the new Apple store close to Central Park. Besides having heard that it’s a nice building I really needed to check my mail. (Free Internet can really boost your popularity)


Day 4 - (25th May 2006)

Day 4 was mostly spent in Museums – The Metropolitan Museum of Art (or simply the MET) and at the Cloisters way up north on Manhattan.

The MET has a very nice collection of Art work but not too many Artists that we generally here about (I mean not the ‘Star Artists’). The view of Central Park from its terrace is amazing – don’t miss it.




The Cloisters is a very different kind of Museum, it’s a branch of the MET and house an amazing collection of Medieval Art and Architecture from different parts of Europe. In fact most of the interesting parts of the Museum (the courtyards and colonnades) were bought to America by some enthusiastic collectors during the mid 19th Century. And with generous help from Rockefeller Jr. it was all acquired a put together as a Museum designed in a very interesting Medieval like style incorporating all the parts bought from Europe with modern Museum functions by Architect – Charles Collens.


Most people who have lived in the city or visit there haven’t seen this Museum and I feel it’s a very interesting building and if you’re an architect you must see how as early as the 1920’s the architect of this project has wonderfully handled the whole issue of heritage and conservation. (Read more about the Cloisters HERE)

And the last major stop of the day was a quick halt at the famous Columbia University. Check below the hideous piece of circulation (or better still pedestrian infrastructure) that Bernard Tschumi designed in the campus when he was dean of the Architecture department here.



Day 5 - (26th May 2006)

This day has to be the biggest architecture marathon of the trip.

Rem Koolhaas in his book “Delirious New York” has a chapter titled ‘How Perfect Perfection Can Be’ dedicated to the building we went to see on Day 5: The Rockefeller Centre. And believe me when you understand the project – its complexity, its response to this great city and its Utopian aim and achievement – you can’t but agree more with Koolhaas.


The Project itself takes over a few blocks of the Manhattan grid and makes a sort of city within the city, but I have to face it’s probably the only project I’ve seen any where that does this in a genuine way without any tall claims or pretentiousness.


The height of the main tower and it’s location in Mid Town gives amazing views from its roof top aka ‘The Top of The Rock’. Check out Central Park towards the North;


and the tall towers towards the South all piercing the sky. (Check out the Empire State building reaching beyond the clouds in the centre of the below snap).

After a good couple of hours we beheaded to see in my opinion the most beautiful skyscraper in the world – The Chrysler Building.


She (and this one is a she for sure) has the most amazing roof and a great story to go along with it – read this and more about the buildings history – in the links section of this Wiki

Next stop yet another famous New York eye catcher architecture – The Grand Central Station and its great hall. Sadly though the sun wasn’t out and all most of the day making it impossible for me to get one of those cliché images of the hall with the sun rays shining through.



When in the station don’t miss the wonderful food court in the basement and also check out the cool Guastavino Tiles on the roof and structure inside and just outside the Oyster Bar and Restaurant. (By the way they serve the best clamp chowder I have had in my life – try it, it’s awesome).

The rest of the day had more great pieces of architecture in store for us.

The United Nations building – Though I really like the slab and its look Super Studio look I have to say that the main lobby look on more real than the set made for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The space is all wrong – proportions, material, scale and what’s with that horrible roof?
Nonetheless an important building for any New York visitor to see.




The Seagram building (below) by the master architect Mies himself. It’s difficult to spot this building till you see the plaza in front of it cause of the many many look alikes that can be found near it.

I have to say that I love this building.


Next stop the Prada store by yet another Starchitect – Rem Koolhaas. Though it is only an interior design job you could classify it as an interior architecture project. This project was done as a collaborative between his office OMA and his research think tank AMO (that was helping in the branding and identity building for “Mrs. Prada’s” designs).


We had one of “Mrs. Prada’s” faithful girls show us the outlet and the concept behind the design of this nice exhibition and retail space.

And the last stop of the day was the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This has to be the Museum with the best collection of Art work anywhere. This great museum houses some of the most important works of Modern Art.


Walking through this Museum was like taking an art history class. (Pity I was thrown out before I could take a glimpse and quiet a bit of the Museum). Don’t forget that most Museums in New York allow free late entries on one day of the week, but as I found out it doesn’t leave enough time for you to see much ;).

Day 6 - (27th May 2006)

First stop of the day was the American Museum of Natural History. They have some really great Diorama’s depicting wildlife from various habitats from around the world.



Truly yet another MUST see in the city for Nature freaks like myself.

Then we walked across the street to take a stroll in the what may be the most famous park in the world – Central Park.



Some spots in the park have been shown in so many Movies and Sitcoms that it felt like I’ve been there before. In the bottom left above check out the memorial made to John Lennon very close to where he used to live and eventually got shot. (Imagine all the people … living life in peace……)

Last stop of the day was the old Meat packing district of Manhattan, however today it no longer serves as a Meat Packing district and has now transformed into a district full of trendy bars and restaurants.

Day 7 - (28th May 2006)

Day 7 was very easy going, not much stress of running around since a lot of people wanted to make the most of the great shopping the city so the only important sight of the day was the Brooklyn Bridge.


I couldn't resist getting thee snaps of myself (below) clicked as homage to one of Bollywood's Greatest Sad (sad as in sad and horrible) Movie in recent times. I have to admit besides being Sad and having Shah Rukh Khan as lead I love the movie, so here's to "Kal Ho Na Ho".


(You can see the title song of the movie HERE)

As I said it was a lazy day and soaked in the sun and enjoyed being in New York. Here’s a few snaps from the rest of the day.

We even managed to seek in a small Picnic at Central Park.



Day 8 - (
29th May 2006)

And sadly it came – the end of a great week in this great city. But there were a few things to finish doing before I left back to Europe.

Seeing the Permanent Mission of India to the UN by my es-boss Charles Correa was one of them. I have to say this is one of my favourite projects by him and I think it stands out as a very nice piece of Architecture even in this city.


And last but not the least I had to catch up with some good old friends from the other side of the world (from my College days in Mumbai and my school days in Dubai).

One thing about New York that made me completely fall in love with the city is it’s resemblance to Mumbai - the pace, the swamps of people and Yes! the trash.


(It was great to meet you gals, sorry I couldn't spend more time with you. Hope to see you people here in the Netherlands sooner or later).


(Arasu – as great as ever, keep it going man. Hope to catch you here in the Netherlands too).


And sadly my last pic from New York (or should I say my last pic for now).

Hopefully I’ll be back soon.

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