The news of the day, sports fans, is the release of Fumihiko Maki‘s design to replace the Cooper Union engineering building at 51 Astor Place in NYC.  I’m seeing this all over my rss reader today from Curbed and Tropolism so far (but I expect it to be pretty much everywhere by day’s end.)  For those who are familiar with the area- it’s the building where the other Starbucks is over by Astor. The one closest to St. Mark’s Place. North side of the street.

Now, I am sickeningly familiar with this spot. I have taken *innumerable* pictures of this spot.  I have nothing to say about the design of the building (yet) because honestly, I’m up to my eyeballs in a massive portfolio revision, so I haven’ t looked at it very closely yet.   The only reason I am even commenting on this at all right now is because this rendering is MAKING ME NUTS.


It took me ten minutes to figure out where the hell this view was taken from. Granted, I’m slightly dyslexic so for a normal person I expect it would have taken five.  Now, I realize that they wanted to show the whole building. I get that.  But it drives me crazy when renderings magically appear with views that simply *CAN NOT EXIST* in real life.  And this, folks? Is one of them.  Because near as I can tell, this view is in theory, from the southeast corner of St. Mark’s Place, looking northwest.  I don’t think I have a photo of this specific corner, but now I have a reason to take one, just to prove the point.  (If anyone has one, let me know, just to save time.)

In the foreground of this (otherwise perfectly lovely) rendering, it looks like there’s a big open plaza. Looks nice, right?  Yeah.  That doesn’t exist.  There’s a bustling old corner right there that last I heard wasn’t going anywhere.  No one will *ever* see this view of this building, pretty as it is.   As much as (yes, I *get* it, you’re trying to show the whole building. I get it, I get it…) this view looks awfully nice, it’s just got nothing (at all) to do with reality.  I would have liked it a lot more if even in a transparent layer, you’d see what actually exists there.

Granted, I haven’t looked at the whole proposal yet.  I’ll get there. They may have images that show what this really would look like more realistically. But this is just such a peeve of mine, because somehow, it feels fundamentally dishonest to me.  You’re selling people on a view that will simply never exist.   The vision that’s presented here will never be realized, even if they build the building to look precisely like this.   People have enough trouble visualizing things they can’t see right in front of them.  Do we have to lie to them, too?


  1. Ah, the concept of building *for the space*, not strictly for the sake of the object being built. Harmony and situational appropriateness… You mean it’s not all about the designer’s ego and the “cool” factor? ;P

  2. My problem is that in this case it’s not just sort of like lying to the client, it’s like lying to the whole city. Again, my criticism isn’t with the building itself(goodness knows anything is an improvement over the ugly thing there now) or with the quality of the rendering. It’s just that the view presented here has no basis in reality. Next time I am downtown I’ll snap a photo of the corner you’re theoretically viewing this from and you’ll see what I mean.

  3. Right – one of the key elements of designing for a space is understanding the kinds of sightlines that will be possible, and designing *for them*, not for sightlines like this which will never actually happen. Why build a cool profile that no one will ever see except in scale model form?!

  4. I have been condo hunting and some of the complexes I am looking at are new and come with brochures to entice potentials (or have websites).

    A lot of them do this sort of lying.

    Look at this amazing unit, and it is a back corner unit so it is a perfect location, with a lot of privacy and a really nice patio…

    Once you go in person you see that it is overlooking the storage area of an auto body shop.

    When the websites only show renderings, not photos, even though the buildings are already built? That is not a good sign.

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