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Reflections on The Times Square Competition

Rodolfo Machado   Boston, April 2014

Competition Board


T

he situation in which Architecture found itself in the United States thirty years ago was greatly different from today's. My 1984 schematic drawings for Times Square, and the short text that complemented their reading, can be seen as an example of the issues on which architectural discourse necessitated to focus on if it was to be relevant at all. This is how it seemed to me.

Competition Model

By 1984, the fundamental and immensely liberating ideas on which post-modernism as a critical endeavor rested had been corrupted, misunderstood, consumed and vulgarized enough to produce a kitschy building styling that covered the land from coast to coast. The professions of development planning and landscape design were also affected by this demise. There was a similar condition in academia—my teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design in those years was fueled by the same objectives that prompted me to undertake the Times Square proposal.

Site Plan New York, NY

Central to this state of architecture was a fascination with "things European", with an urbanism of "fabric and monuments", with "the campanile and the clock", with "gates and parterres", "the pitched and the pedimented", "the Chippendale Skyscraper", etc. More importantly, with this affair came the concomitant disdain for the American city, a disregard for the building types that culture and the market had produced and that were not yet "brought into architecture", one could say; a discomfort with the infrastructures that organize our cities, with the "parking lot and the mall", and with a myriad of built facts that characterized American urbanity.

Times Square

Thus, it became pretty obvious then that Architecture needed to engage itself with the late 20th century American city, catch up with its design demands and respond with an array of new building configurations, even with new types.

Perspective

It is in this ideological context that this proposal for Times Square should be seen. We should remember that there was a "struggle" of sorts going on at that time; it is interesting to note that this struggle was internal to Architecture (or within Architecture), which mattered intensively in the early 80's. This is, again, quite different from todays struggles, which seem to be more about the survival of Architecture—subsumed as it has become in a sea of concerns that are exterior to the discipline of Architecture, rather than about the ideologies within itself. Thus, when the invitation from the prestigious Municipal Society arrived I, optimistically, thought of contributing a few thoughts - years later, when the call was for ideas for Columbus Circle, I participated with similar purpose.

Looking at this board again, so classically composed, with words and hand drawings on equal standing and in black and white—both yellowed now—one notices two things. The first is minor: the youthful but intentional disrespect for building codes (means of egress, and the like). This was done in order to express the concept, to represent ideas more purely—or, in other words, to underline the message. Today I find such attitude irritating, knowing all too well that the opposite is true, that a fully resolved design carries more weight than a concept sketch.

The second is more important, and personal. It has to do with the long life, or the stubborn persistence of personal ideas. Reading the text again thirty years after it was written I was surprised to encounter in it, incipiently or already developed, the body of ideas that have structured our professional practice in the years that followed (my partner, Jorge Silvetti and I incorporated Machado and Silvetti Associates in 1985). This business of persistence can of course be taken as positive, or negative—I have found it useful, because it has given me a focus or a sense of direction, which is necessary in one' s practice.

Since this is written now in the context of an exhibition at The Skyscraper Museum, I will comment on just one of those ideas that seem fixed in one's mind: the necessity to go beyond, with our work, the beautiful simplicity of the skyscraper type, as conceived in late 19th century in the USA, and engage in the invention or other, more complex configurations of tall, very tall high density buildings; truly unprecedented hybrids composed assembling diverse building pieces, mixing long inherited typologies while proposing others. This is no longer new: a few architects have given us in recent years good examples of such an approach. This I find rewarding.


Perspective
Times Square Tower
Housing & Commercial
Urban Places
Rodolfo Machado
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