Since 9/11, I have been mistaken rather regularly for a terrorist. These misunderstandings — and I assure you they are misunderstandings — occur not in airports, but on the streets of Manhattan.
There I am, standing in front of some dull and innocuous building, taking video footage of it in order to aid my memory so that I can write articles like this one. More often than not, some concerned citizen starts observing my actions with a greater than ordinary interest.
People are still uneasy seeing someone videotape, or even look, at any building above street level, because maybe the person — in this case, me — is casing the joint in order to bomb it at some later date.
Who could blame them, when the building in question could have no other possible attraction to anyone with a recording device? And it is true enough that all too many new developments in Manhattan live up — really down — to that cynical appraisal.
A case in point is the recently completed 255 East 74th Street, a 30-story, 87-unit condominium developed by World-Wide Group, and whose only distinction is that, compared to most other structures in its immediate vicinity, it is rather tall. According to the development’s Web site, not one but two architectural firms were needed to gestate this pallid mediocrity, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture and SLCE Architects, both of which have been active on the New York scene for some years.
To all appearances, no one was even trying when it came to the design of 255 East 74th Street, which rises up from a six-story base that contains an Equinox gym. Its silvery mass, mostly a curtain wall held in place by steel latticework, has just enough folds and indentations to signal that it means to be a fairly slavish copy of several other recent projects in Manhattan, among them Daniel Libeskind’s design for the Freedom Tower, Christian de Portzamparc’s LVMH office tower on 57th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues, and perhaps even the new Bank of America Tower at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue.
Beyond that, there are a few balconies facing east and others rising more regularly to the north. The entrance to the residences, on 74th Street, is marked by a large glass canopy. The irregularities in the shaft of the building, ultimately derived from the deconstructivist style, attest to just how defanged and mainstream that once incendiary style has now become.
Certainly, 255 East 74th is not an ugly building. Perhaps worse than being ugly, it is almost entirely invisible, the sort of structure no one would ever see unless, like architecture critics, they were paid to look at it.
James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.