Monday, March 27, 2017

New York 2017 - Architectural Walking Tour, Financial District

During our strolls through various neighbourhoods in Manhattan, we have come across some interesting architectural designs, both historic and modern.  The beautiful Sunshine Cinema at 143 East Houston first opened in 1909 as the Houston Hippodrome, a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts and films.  Recently restored, it is now a modern movie house with digital & 3D technology, stadium-style seating & gourmet concessions but its exterior still retains its original charm.  One morning we planned an architectural walk through Tribecca to see some very different and interesting design styles.  At 56 Leonard St. stands  a 821-foot luxury high rise built by Swiss architects  Herzog & de Meuron.  It is known as the "Jenga" building because its vertically stacked, staggered units jutting out in all directions makes the building resemble a Jenga game with some of the blocks removed.  This unique, towering building can be seen from many vantage points all around Manhattan. 

The former AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas St. is built in the Brutalist architectural style popular from 1950s-1970s.  This style is known for its stark concrete structures with no ornamentation and very few windows to let light in.  Although the style is named after the French term beton brut meaning "rough concrete", I think it is also an apt term in English since every time I see one of these buildings and imagine about people working inside in a windowless environment, I think "how brutal!".  But for a Brutalist building, I actually find this one strangely attractive with its severe ridges and massive shape.  There are rumours that this building has been used by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a spy hub.  The AT&T Long Distance Building at 32 Avenue of the Americans (6th Ave.) was built in the Art Deco style in 1932.  The exterior of the brown-bricked masonry facade exhibits common Art Deco features including long sleek lines, rows of windows grouped in threes and crowning stepped architecture.
The building's entrance lobby is truly spectacular and luckily, visitors are not only allowed to look around but even to take photos (unlike the Western Union Building where the security guards banned photos).  The gorgeous ceiling is decorated with an elaborate mosaic murals of allegorical figures including a soaring goddess accompanied by an eagle in the centre panel, and renderings of images representing Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa in the four corners.  Parallel gold speed lines emanate from each of the characters, giving the illusion of speed and motion, again common Art Deco themes.
At the front of the lobby is a tiled map of the world with the slogan "Telephone Wires and Radio Unite to Make Neighbors of Nations".

Continuing to walk south from Tribecca, we headed towards the former Alexander Hamilton Custom House at 1 Bowling Green in the Financial District.  Built in 1902 to house the duty collection operations for the Federal government, the building was renamed in 1990 to honour Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury (now suddenly famous again due to a hip-hop musical).  We were expecting to get guided architectural tour of this Beaux-Arts building but the guide was a no-show so we were left to wander around on our own.  We were totally blown away with the magnificence of the rotunda with its Romanesque dome and gallery of murals depicting scenes like a freighter passing the Statue of Liberty or customs officials boarding an ocean liner.  Each mural is flanked by sculptures of explorers such as John Cabot.  Had we received our tour, we would have been taken into the Collector's Office, but we had to settle for just looking at the door.

The former Custom's House now houses the National Museum of American Indian and since we were already here, we decided to check it out.  The main exhibition on the second floor was called "Native Fashion Now", featuring contemporary wardrobe, footwear, accessories and jewelry by Native American Indian designers and artists who branch out from the buckskin and feathers of traditional Indian clothing but still reflect their Native heritage and identity in each of their creations.  Orlando Dugi created a headpiece made from African porcupine quills and feathers to go with a vibrantly dyed silk dress and cape decorated with beads, feathers and gold.  Native patterns, colours and images are imprinted onto traditionally non-Native clothing including an evening gown, canvas sneakers and even a kimono.  Designer Wendy Ponca used mylar, a shiny reflective polyester or plastic film as the main fabric of her gowns, which are accessorized with jewelry made from crystals, space-shuttle glass and shells, a fox fur and a feather headpiece.  Bright blue suede Christian Louboutin stiletto boots are decorated in glass beads by Jamie Okuma to form bird motifs.  It is so refreshing and exciting to see these Native fashion designers explore new materials and modern esthetics while still reflecting their culture.

Not just focused on haute couture, a section of this exhibition was dedicated to street clothes and gear including a skateboard with the words "Apache" and the image of an Indian painted on it, running shoes with native symbols and several t-shirts that displayed wit, irony or social commentary.  One t-shirt proclaims "Native Americans discovered Columbus", not the other way around.  Another is shocking at first with a seemingly racist representation of the North American Indian that is a caricature and exaggeration of the logos used for sports teams like the Chicago Black Hawks.  However the text underneath says "Misrep" implying that the designer is commenting on how Native Indians are stereotyped and misrepresented.  Perhaps the most thought-provoking t-shirt alludes to
Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte's famous work "The Treachery of Images" which presents the image of a pipe along with the text "Ceci n'est pas une pipe", meaning "this is not a pipe".. it is just the visual representation of a pipe.  The t-shirt displays the image of a gun with the text "Ceci n'est pas un conciliateur" (this is not a peace-maker).  In addition to referencing the meta notion Magaritte's work, this could also be taken as a commentary on violence and gun control.

Perhaps even more interesting than the clothes and shoes were the jewelry and accessories.  Denise Wallace's belt made of sterling silver, ivory and other materials tells the story of a meeting of influential Alaskan Native boat makers, doll and mask makers, basket weavers, ivory carvers and other artists during a group exhibition in Anchorage.  The elaborate and dramatic headpiece that encircles the mannequin's head and neck is titled "Postmodern Boa".  It was created by brothers David and Wayne Gaussoin" and is made with stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel, paint, and feathers.  I really liked the mixture of colours, materials and textures in the long arm bracelet made of sterling silver, spiny oyster, abalone shell, turquoise, jet, and onyx by designers Mike Bird-Romero and  Eddie Begay.  And how awesome is the name "Bringer of Thunder, Lightning and Rain Handbag" for purple beaded purse by Orlando Dugi and Troy Sice where the pattern of the beads mimic rainfall and the handle of the purse seems to be shaped like a shark or some other sea predator with sharp teeth.  The handbag is made of elk antler, stingray leather, parrot feathers, bobcat fur, rubies, shell, glass beads, and sterling silver.

On the ground floor was the exhibition called "Circle of Dance" that showed the costumes and described the dance rituals of various Indian tribes.  The Hopi Butterfly Dance is a two day ceremonial dance for young unmarried girls as they learn about becoming Hopi women.  The girl wears a colourful shawl over a black dress and sport and elaborate headdress called a kopatsoki designed with images reflecting her clan. The Cubeo Oyne Dance is performed at funerals where mourners dressed in painted hooded masks pretend to be spirits.  The Seminole Stomp Dance is performed with tortoise shells tied to a woman's feet, making rattling sounds as she dances.  The Yoreme Pajko'ora Dance is a ceremonial dance for hunters and gatherers expressing gratitude for bountiful crops or successful hunting.  The dancers wear a painted mask, metal bells around their waists and giant moth cocoons around their legs.  A video showed actual members of each tribe performing their dance.

Just across from the Alexander Hamilton Custom House can be found the bronze sculpture of the Charging Bull or Wall Street Bull, a symbol of male strength and virility, but also perhaps alluding to a "bull run" in the Financial markets?  The bull has always been a huge tourist attraction but lately he has been overshadowed by another bronze sculpture, that of a defiant little girl with her hands on her hips, fearlessly confronting the masculine symbol of power.  Created by Kristen Visbal, the "Fearless Girl" sculpture was installed on International Women's Day as an advertising campaign for an index fund with the ticker "SHE" that tracks companies with higher levels of gender equality.  The plaque in front of Fearless Girl reads "Know the power of women in leadership .. SHE makes a difference", where SHE refers both to the ETF and to the female gender in general.  Fearless Girl has been so popular that a petition has been raised to keep her there permanently.  Her importance seems to have soared beyond being a mere advertisement as she has become a symbol for women's rights and equality.

While in the Financial District and near "ground zero", we wanted to visit the 9-11 Memorials to pay our respects.  The first thing we saw was a long bronze frieze with images of courageous, heroic firefighters battling the blazes during the 9-11 tragedy, engraved with the words "Dedicated To Those Who Fell And To Those Who Carry On", and "May We Never Forget".  This was a beautiful tribute as well as a sombre reminder of what happened.

Walking further along, we came up to one of a pair of reflecting pools, each one acre in size and containing the largest man-made waterfall in the centre of the pool.  Called "Reflecting Absence" by architect and designer Peter Walker, the two pools sit on the former sites of the Twin Towers, symbolizing the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. Engraved in stone surrounding each pool are the names of the victims.  The fire hall called "Ten House" was closest to the attacks and its firefighters amongst the first responders, resulting in the loss of six members from Ladder Co. 10 and Engine Co. 10.  The severely damaged fire hall was rebuilt in sleek stainless steel with vibrant images of the American flag painted on the doors.  A bronze plaque pays tribute to the six fallen firefighters while a larger memorial sits inside the station.

Right by the 9/11 memorial site is a spectacular building shaped like a bird in flight although some think that it looks more like a whale carcass. It turns out that this is the newly opened World Trade Centre Transportation Hub, also known as "the Oculus".  While searching for the entrance to our Metro stop, we ended up inside the Oculus.  The glass and steel structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has a space-age feel from the interior.  Looking down from the top floor, you could imagine that you were inside a giant space station within a Sci-Fi movie.

Located in the Westfield World Trade Centre shopping centre within the Transportation Hub is a Ford Hub, an "interactive brand experience studio" that allows you to explore theoretical ways to "move faster, smarter, more freely" in the future.  That future could include autonomous cars, smart intersections, high-speed (driverless?) trains and more.  In the central display, marbles roll up and down along an intricate road maze, either aided or impeded by gates (representing stop lights?) that you can control by pressing buttons in an attempt to make traffic flow more efficient.  A two man video-game race called "Race to the Future" is played by each person standing on a podium and steering his vehicle by leaning and tilting the steering wheel.  Points are awarded for speed and for running over specific objects.  We did not get a chance to try the virtual reality glasses that let you simulate being on top of the Empire State Building in a Ford Mustang.

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