The Anti-Explosive Bean

Picture 3.png
Images from Tronic’s animation of 56 Leonard st.

When it was first announced, I have to admit being less than inspired by HdM’s newest pile of boxes. This one, promising to be the tallest residential addition to NYC’s skyline, puts the haphazard stacking to good use by creating terraces which will further drive up prices of the units. In other words, the stacking aesthetic that this office has been exploring for a while now has finally found its explicit benefit in the most fundamental of all programs: only to provide an escape from the building itself does the mismatch of planes come into its own. It’s a really tall condo building which is inherently a little boring, but at least we find in this the final test of the pile and – as a bonus – the aesthetic has been motivated for both affect and effect. The occupants of this tower, like all those who live in good architecture, are unwitting test pilots. As they step onto expensive, windy terraces we, the broader set of architectural observers, vicariously explore the terminus of one thread of contemporary architecture.

Picture 5.png

Picture 7.png
Images from Tronic’s animation of 56 Leonard st.

It’s appropriate, then, that the apotheosis of the pile is presented to us with a myth about the building as a product of explosion in reverse (watch the first animation on the page). Here the terminal violence of the end of the line is rendered quiet and contemplative. The animation opens with an image of a magical silver pea wandering onto the building site like a lost puppy (and let’s face it, for designers silver shiny things and puppies are about equivalent). But lo, it’s not just a random pea! It’s actually an interstellar communication device invoking the sublime assembly of its glass and steel cousins. Assembled by a slow motion collapse, with components and floor plates raining from the sky, the building comes together with eerie aplomb in an artificially quiet New York. The deserted interiors notwithstanding, this animation is exactly the sort of myth McLuhan proposes as:

the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a long period. Myth is contraction or implosion of any process, and the instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial and social action today. We live mythically but continue to think fragmentarily and on single planes.

Moreso than McLuhan could have imagined, we live in an integrated world but most especially in the realm of luxury condos we think fragmentarily, and those in 56 Leonard’s offset boxes will do so quite literally.

Images from a music video for Kid606 by Pleix

The animation trope is borrowed at least from Pleix’s music video for Kid606, where where we see a building undergo transition from piece of the city to celestial monolith. But whereas Pleix‘s animation is a story of rebirth, the 56 Leonard animation by Tronic is decidedly more static.

Images from a music video for Kid606 by Pleix

Late in the clip the camera swirls around a single motionless figure. Is this the legendary last inhabitant in New York? This animation is the creation myth of his world: a terrible swirl of fragments that can only be made bearable by a jocular, squishy ball-bean. With his passing the last living person in NYC will cede the city to a new culture yet to come. Maybe they will be able to move beyond the polarities of bean and building to a world where form follows fable rather than the other way around.

Images from Tronic’s animation of 56 Leonard st.

Oh, also: Remember those contested, giant footsteps over Beijing? I’d like to think that those few seconds of footage were not showing a complete journey, but the beginning of a godly tour of contemporary architecture. Perhaps those invisible feet were connected to a set of invisible hands orchestrating the careening pieces of 56 Leonard St.

1 Comment so far

  1. sevensixfive on November 11th, 2008

    Yes. Giant Invisible Monsters are my favorite model for thinking about architecture right now. The have Agency. They will kick your Ass.

Leave a Reply