2. Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center, designed by an architectural team including Raymond Hood and Wallace K. Harrison, is widely considered “the greatest urban complex of the twentieth century” (AIA Guide to New York). But it was not always so. In 1933, as it was taking shape, leading architectural critic Lewis Mumford wrote that “the whole effect of the Center is mediocrity — seen through a magnifying glass” and “every touch of ornament is bad with an almost juvenile badness.”
He was not alone. Its artwork formed a “Rockefeller chamber of horrors” (art critic Thomas Craven) and its “raw pylons, obelisks, ovoids and pyramids have nothing to do with man; their scarps and tall cliffs crush him and his soul” (architect Ralph Adams Cram).
Upon the completion of the center’s original buildings in 1940, Mumford conceded “they get by,” but called the roof gardens “insipid,” Radio City Music Hall “superfluous”, the Atlas sculpture “idiotic”, and so on. “Rockefeller Center,” he predicted, “will look pretty old fashioned by 1970.” Instead, “the center looks at once both backward and forward,” architecture critic Paul Goldberger countered, in 1976, a view that still prevails today. Or as a Gershwin song goes: “They all laughed at Rockefeller Center, now they’re fighting to get in,” Mumford excepted.