Book Review: New York, New York

By Michael Webb

Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture. John Hill. Norton ($29.95).

This is a catch-up review of a handy pocketbook I missed when it first appeared—much to my regret. It would have saved me hours of digging up information on new buildings and have been an indispensable companion on recent visits to New York. Having written an architectural guide to LA, and edited two others, I know how much skill and effort must have been invested in research, selection, procuring images, and writing succinct descriptions. Hill has chosen more than 200 buildings completed in the first decade of the 21st century in all five boroughs, plus a selection of projects anticipated for the second decade. What makes the guide a joy to use is the clarity of the layout, in which buildings are grouped in 22 districts and indicated on useful maps that also include subway stops. Scattered through the geographical coverage are break-out sections on public spaces, designer shops and restaurants, fire houses, memorials and other categories.

In a city as compressed and challenging as New York, only a few contemporary buildings show up on the radar, and many if not most of Hill’s selections are hidden in plain view. Knowing what and where they are and being enabled to connect the dots is a valuable public service to architects and aficionados. There’s even room for background information on the designers and how the buildings were realized. One hopes this guide will be updated every decade, like the encyclopedic AIA Guide to New York City, which is a unique resource, but too richly detailed to be a good field guide. The two publications complement each other very well; AIA focuses on history, Hill on the present.  Though many of the buildings he describes may prove ephemeral, and some already reveal their shortcomings, it’s important to consider this latest increment of construction and how it is reshaping our perceptions of a great city.

 

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