What is your favorite New York City building? Which one(s) do you passionately detest? Often times, those most loved are also the most hated. Some are critics darlings or, alternatively, the people’s choice. Some just take awhile to get used to, while others capture the zeitgeist but fade in popularity as tastes change. Some are forever polarizing. Some, like the Twin Towers, get a second chance in public opinion, but only because of the circumstances of their loss.

Looking over New York’s architectural landscape, for your consideration we’ve identified eight controversial works, from the beginning of the twentieth century to today, that are still standing. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these or any other buildings you adore or despise.

1. Flatiron Building

A muse of artists, photographers, and, of late, Instagrammers, the Flatiron Building is one of New York’s best loved icons and a neighborhood namesake. However, in its early days, negativity and controversy swirled around it like the wind storms it purportedly created. Insults came from many directions. “Some would call it gorgeous; it is in reality grotesque” (New York Press) and it is “a monster that violates every principle of architectural art” (sculptor William Urdway Partridge). The New York Times called it a “monstrosity,” The New York Tribune describing it as a “stingy piece of pie,” the Municipal Journal & Public Works called it “New York’s latest freak in the shape of sky scrapers” and the Municipal Art Society went as far to say it was “unfit to be in the Center of the City.”

Montgomery Schuyler of Architectural Record lamented that architect Daniel Burnham “built to the limit” and went on at length about the odd shape site: “Having an awkward triangle as a site, he has not recognized its awkwardness, nor its triangularity.” What time has shown, however, is that by following those awkward dimensions, Burnham supplied the Flatiron Building with much of its singular popular appeal.

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2 Responses
  1. Oh no, my pet hate has been left out! One Liberty Plaza (formerly U.S. Steel Building), “designed” by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The most overpowering, oppressively ugly building in Manhattan, I say! Of course, the loss of the marvelous Singer Tower and City Investing Building has a lot to do with it, too.

    Another contentious tower missing is the former PanAm Building, which I’ve grown to like, despite its location. I just wish the PanAm sign could have remained.

    As for those on the list, I like them all, except for the Whitney Museum (brutally out of context with its surroundings for one thing) and Hudson Yards (generic, unremarkable glassy glitz). I love the TWA Terminal and was surprised to learn that Philip Johnson, whose architecture I admire, was so critical of it. I think its conversion to a hotel is an excellent example of inspired adaptive reuse.

    • Thanks for sharing. I strongly considered including PanAm. Seems to me the antipathy against it has mellowed over the years, though I’m not sure it’s widely loved.

      As for Philip Johnson and TWA, he later embraced it. In 2001, when the building’s future was uncertain, Johnson contended “our duty is simple, to save it” and acknowledged “Saarinen’s work was part of an entirely new direction which would influence me greatly. In fact, it influenced all of us in architecture.” It just took awhile for Johnson and appreciate it.

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