The Glass Limelight

The September 15 issue of New York magazine may have featured all the current presidential-race personalities on its cover, with six pages devoted to the article, but a little further into the issue was an architectural critique, building by building, examining what impact the last building boom has had on the city. Headlined The Glass Stampede, the article was 16 pages in length.


Wow, that blew my mind. Six pages on the presidential race and 16 on the role that glass has played in New York City construction.


The magazine’s architecture critic, Justin Davidson, gave a total of 54 examples, with before and after shots of the site/structure, to discuss whether what he called the “new see-through city” looks better or worse than the one it replaced.


Among his more provocative pronouncements are that most architecture in any age is crap and today’s crap isn’t as bad as yesterday’s, and that we must welcome a certain amount—okay, a large amount—of bland architecture.


Specifically of glass Davidson says, “Architects love glass for an assortment of technical reasons: It is relatively cheap, malleable, and lightweight; it can be used in tiny chips or vast sheets. It can be mounted on movable frames; it can take on a thousand forms…. It can be environmentally virtuous by letting in more light than heat. Its delicacy can set off an assertive frame, or it can be inconspicuously clipped to a hidden structure and appear to float in midair. But the chief allure of glass in this era of deceptive exhibitionism is its usefulness in crafting illusion. A glass wall carries with it the suggestion of obviousness; it is the architectural equivalent of a magician’s rolled-up sleeve. Glass looks insubstantial and yet it keeps the weather out. It’s brittle yet remarkably immune to age; weightless yet able to carry a load; revealing as it keeps secrets. If glass has become the material of our age, it’s not because it keeps us honest but because it implies, falsely, that we have nothing to hide.”


He then goes on to say, “…glass is becoming an ever more complex and flexible material. So long as clients will pay to live behind it, designers will keep finding new ways to bend it, toughen it, color it, coat it, cast it, etch it, fill it with light, and bake it full of ceramic frits.”


The article is must reading for architects and designers. (Here is a link to the article at the New York magazine web site.) ( Its focus on glass makes it doubly exciting and thought provoking for me.