A guide to art in NYC, with families in mind.

Friday, June 3, 2011

goARCHkids: Brutal Mitchell-Lama on 96th?

The RNA House at 150-160 West 96th Street was built in 1967. It was part of a vast plan by the NYC government called The West Side Urban Renewal. The City Planning Commission had been studying housing deterioration and social unrest on the West Side and felt that something needed to be done. The architects Edelbaum & Webster were hired for this job. Ida B. Webster was one of very few female architects working at that time. This building is what is called a Mitchell-Lama. Mitchell and Lama were two politicians who created these types of buildings specifically for middle-class New Yorkers to live in. Basically, the rent has always been below market. Even today there is a very, very long list of people who want to move in.

I love the beehive effect of this seemingly endless repetition of pattern across 96th street. It's a big building and this is a large, unbroken facade. The kids kind of hate, but are also pleased with, its enormity, and what they say is the ugliness of it. To me, its classic mid-century stuff, though all that concrete and relentlessness does veer towards Brutalism. Brutalism is style of architecture that took hold in the 1960s and 1970s. It applies to buildings made of rough concrete, blocky in shape, and having not much to do with the other architecture or anything else around it. This building fits that criteria.

Down around the parts of the building where the humans really interact with it, its a bit cozier. Along the entrances here's a shady passage way that protects from the weather. There are also these nice planters. A friend whose grandmother lived at the RNA House when he was growing up remembers "the long, narrow lobby with floor to ceiling glass on either side, the monolithic travertine benches in the lobby, the two stainless steel elevators, long windowless hallways with strong cooking smells coming from somewhere, the terrifying incinerator chute." So, Brutalism or a nice exercise in mid-century modern middle-income housing?