Manhattan as Muse

Europeans in New York

David Cohn 

The current wave of European incursions into New York, with major new building projects announced by Renzo Piano, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron and others, is the culmination of a courtship that first began in 1978 with a book, Koolhaas’ Delirious New York. Delirious offered a mytho-critical analysis of the city as a pleasure-ground of capitalist excess, of surreal juxtapositions and promiscuous concentrations. Its style recalls something of the anarchic spirit of the Situation list’s, absorbed in Koolhaas’ years of study at London’s AA. The book relished in sites such as the New York Athletic Club, a 1930s skyscraper with a different ludic activity programmed for every floor; in the lurid popular amusements of Coney Island; and in the exaggerated luxuries of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, such as the berths for private railroad cars in its basements. Koolhaas ’inspired portrayal of the city in the voluptuous terms of consumer desire, seduction and satisfaction anticipated the architecture of spectacle that currently dominates commercial building in New York and elsewhere. At the same time, contemporary European icons such as MVRDV’s Dutch Pavilion at the Hannover Expo, with its sandwich-like stack of natural habitats, would be unthinkable without it...[+]

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