With new name, former GM building gets uglier

Joseph Moinian’s 1775 Broadway (building photo source: PropertyShark)

Granted that, as architecture goes, the former General Motors Building, at 1775 Broadway between Broadway and Eighth Avenue and 57th and 58th streets, is no beauty. In fact it is downright ugly — an overbearing and unimaginative study in pre-war red brick with a tasteless splash of mortar at street level. It took two firms to create this thing, with William Welles Bosworth contributing the pale granite base and Shreve & Lamb of Empire State Building fame finishing the brick-clad upper floors.

But whatever one thought of their collaboration, no building deserves the indignity to which this one is now being subjected at the hands of the Moinian Group, which has decided to change the building’s address to 3 Columbus Circle and reclad the building in a cheap-looking layer of bluish, reflecting glass that is acrobatically tactless in this context (not that it looks especially good anywhere else).

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Worse still, they are not actually replacing the brick. Perhaps because that would be too costly (and thus destructive of the cheap look that they seem to be going for) they have decided to encase the brick in a layer of glass that covers the surface like an endless length of Saran Wrap.  

Even worse than that, in order to carry out what should never have been started in the first place, they have encased all four sides of the building, which occupies its entire block, in scaffolding for the past several years, which would be, at best, inconvenient enough to the people who live and work around there if, at the end of the ordeal, some beautiful architecture were in the offing. 

This act of recladding really amounts to little more than vandalism in slow motion. In the future, there should surely be more oversight to forestall any comparable affronts to taste in the future.

James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.