Saturday, November 25, 2006

Chopsticks on a Renzo Piano

The New York Times is building itself a new temple of self-worship. “The Gray Lady” will dwell in a heavy gray building (despite rapturous descriptions of the design team as to how the new building would be reflective of the color changes of light and sky, and despite renderings that make it seem to glow).

New New York Times bldg

This building is the product of the prominent Italian architect, Mr. Renzo Piano, who has provided mid-town Manhattan with a building that is trapped in a trellis of tubular ceramic and steel, the effect of which is exquisitely and literally grating.

New New York Times bdg

Italian design has certainly plummeted of late. Even Missoni, now in its second and third generations of ownership, is devoid of inspiration. Their zig-zag weaves are akin to Mr. Piano’s trellis and are to be considered good examples of what people do when they lack good ideas. Instead of producing something with integrity and good bones, they cover their mistakes with contrivances and gimmickry that they hope will distract the viewer from the basic weakness of their designs.

I wonder why I am so annoyed by this. Is it the colossally wasted opportunity to add something of beauty to the mid-town landscape? Is it the incredible stupidity of the design selection team assembled by the Times? Is it the obscene amount of money Mr. Piano undoubtedly received for this inferior product and the fact that it will bolster his resume and make other stupid design teams more susceptible to his snake oil?

At the gym earlier today, as I was flogging my needlessly sturdy thighs into submission with a punishing extra mile around the track, I had a bit of a revelation. I am descended from southern Italian peasant stock. We are not an aerodynamic people. We are short and thick. Our limbs are wide and we who have mirrors are chagrined to look as we do. What could have been the evolutionary purpose for thighs like a Maytag washer-drier set? Surely they did not help our ancestors ride broad backed mammals. That skill belongs to the bow-legged. They are not much good at running across the veldt while being pursued by a lioness whose den we might have accidentally disturbed. They don’t possess the simian spring that might have granted us the fruit of the highest branches of the mango tree or the snatching of the magenta flower of the lofty jacaranda for impressing a potential mate. We cannot even cross them comfortably as would a Nubian supermodel, hooking a foot behind an opposing ankle.

These are thighs that seem to be good at doing exactly one thing: sitting on chairs in village squares. Perhaps this trait anchored my people; teaching them the value of leisure over movement, the value of pruning the grape vine and the fig tree lest either grow beyond easy reach. But here in America, these thighs are unreasonable, and we who are forced to trudge among the spindly develop a heightened appreciation for smart furniture, for sleek cars, for elegant architecture, for good bones and for the long muscles that propel them. (Mercifully, there are whole cultures of men who find our little gypsy bodies very attractive, or we’d still be trying to hail cabs at Ellis Island.)

I began my thigh resentment in kindergarten. Our teacher gathered us into a wide circle and chose me to stand in the center to sing a song she had recently taught us. I was delighted for the opportunity to perform, and began a pert, almost saucy rendition.

“I’m a little teapot short and stout,
Here is my handle. Here is my spout.”

(I half considered changing the indication of my spout from left hand to crotch, but I decided to hold onto that blue bit for maybe twenty years and an encore at the Apollo.)

Suddenly my voice caught in my throat. The lyrics hit me like bricks and I realized that she had selected me for this song because I was indeed a little teapot by dint of genetic victimization. I looked at the smug faces of my classmates sitting comfortably cross-legged on the floor. Their little limbs already lithe and quivering with the greyhoundy promise of slender tubular growth, while the chafed inseams of my Osh Kosh By Gosh corduroys were already throwing sparks whenever I ran in the playground. I continued the song slowly, in the broken and haltering whisper of Nina Simone or the end-of-the-road Garland.

“When the water boils, hear me shout.
Tip me…over...Pour… me… out.”

My teacher put a hand to her throat, awed by the pathos of my delivery. I saw my future: today a teapot, tomorrow a Bunn-o-matic 75 cup coffee pot plugged in at PTA meetings and church socials next to that big tray-o-Danish. I’d grow up to be Nathan Lane, not Tommy Tune. Costanza, not Seinfeld. Oprah, not Gail. Cho, not Paltrow.

I said “Excuse me”, and walked through the silent circle with my chin held up, until I got to the little boys’ room where I slumped to the cold tile floor and wept. (All right, so that last part never really happened, but if I were shooting it today…)

Anyway, I’m really upset by this building, by its architect and by the company that chose its design. I’ve done the best I could with my thighs, and they’ve earned me a good amount of favorable attention (including that of a man who bit the insides of them relentlessly for an hour in a Montreal bath house some years back), but when one has the opportunity to build something from scratch, there really is no excuse for choosing the inelegant.


Mike said...

Well, Mr. Piano is supposed to design the new "tallest building in New England." Looks like yet another decorator spaghetti box with a flat roof...ack.

tornwordo said...

My first thought was that it looked like a prison. Thigh biting as fetish? Who knew?

Cooper said...

I love the title you chose for this post. Those steel tubes look like security bars on a store front window. It's very cold and off-putting.

Anonymous said...

have seen it - in this architect's opinion it is severe, restrained, refined, and very beautiful.

Anonymous said...

It looks like a new prison for Judith Miller.

Bruce said...

Italian design seems, in fact, to have run into a dry period. Even here in Venice, where I live, we chose a design by Calatrava over those submitted by Italian architects for the new bridge over the Canale Grande.

But I'll have none of your denigration of wonderously thick Italian thighs. Many make pilgrimages to Il Bel Paese just to partake of the joys they offer.