Step aside, public editor Clark Hoyt! The Times's impulse for self-assessment takes a more material(ist) turn today with architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's review of the new Renzo Piano-designed Times HQ on Eighth Ave. and 41st Street. Ouroussoff—as far as architecture critics go, really an unimpeachable guy who continues to fight the good fight against the Cialis-crude phallus going up as the so-called Freedom Tower—doesn't dodge the conflict of interest issues. Much.
So let me get this out of the way: As an employee, I'm enchanted with our new building on Eighth Avenue. The grand old 18-story neo-Gothic structure on 43rd Street, home to The New York Times for nearly a century, had its sentimental charms. But it was a depressing place to work. Its labyrinthine warren of desks and piles of yellowing newspapers were redolent of tradition but also seemed an anachronism.
Phew. No more crummy "yellowing newspapers" in the newspaper building!
Indeed, the de-paperification of newspapers looms large in Ouroussoff's review of a building that "comes to life when it hits the ground" but is "less than spectacular in the skyline" with the "menacing air" of its "battleship gray" steel frame and the "ragged and unfinished" effect of its "disappointing" crown. Because, hey, Modernism or whatever may be on life-support, but: "Journalism, too, has moved on. Reality television, anonymous bloggers, the threat of ideologically driven global media enterprises — such forces have undermined newspapers' traditional mission. Even as journalists at The Times adjust to their new home, they worry about the future. As advertising inches decline, the paper is literally shrinking; its page width was reduced in August. And some doubt that newspapers will even exist in print form a generation from now."
"Depending on your point of view, the Times Building can thus be read as a poignant expression of nostalgia or a reassertion of the paper's highest values as it faces an uncertain future. Or, more likely, a bit of both."
While it's unclear how Kid Nation will challenge the Grey Lady's supremacy as Truth, and—hi mom!—even Gawker posts ain't anonymous nomore, but the sentiments are Lever House-pure. Still, for a critic who tells us that "One of the joys of working in an ambitious new building is that you can watch its personality develop," Ouroussoff is tantalizingly demure about the real building components that deserve judgment regarding capital-"D" Design. That's right, not a word on the men's rooms. So, insiders, has architect Piano solved the problem, apparently endemic in corporate Manhattan, of urinals that either regularly disgorge their contents onto the tiles underneath or, um, encourage their users to "sell short"?
And the stalls: How wide of a stance are we talking about there?