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Glass Menagerie

The latest architectural fad: extreme makeovers in glass.

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Architect Dan Shannon describes what he does to skyscrapers of a certain age as “rejuvenation.” It’s a rather New Agey term for the brutal business of stripping a faded façade down to the girders and replacing it with something more fashionable (and thus rentable). Last week, it was announced that his firm, Moed de Armas & Shannon, was going to “rejuvenate” a 1974 white-stone, black-glass slab on Bryant Park known as the Verizon Building into 1095 Sixth Avenue, which will be covered in green glass. “We can transform what was an unknown building into a landmark,” he promises.

The firm’s had a lot of practice. Beginning with 430 Park Avenue in 1999, it’s become the go-to for these extreme midtown makeovers. Thirtysomething buildings are often larger than today’s zoning would allow, and resurfacing is cheaper and faster than new construction (prefab façade panels can go on as quickly as a floor a day). But as early corporate-modern examples like Emery Roth’s Colgate-Palmolive Building at 300 Park (also redone by Moed de Armas) get glassed, preservationist groups like Docomomo get nervous. “In 25 years, the next generation might think [Verizon]’s an elegant façade,” notes Docomomo’s Nina Rappaport. “It is an issue of taste, and buildings of this era need to be evaluated before they all get reclad.” Shannon is emphatic that the ones his firm have redone were never considered “emblematic of great architecture.” And more to the point, “if you are a fan of the way 1095 looks now, then I shouldn't have been talking to you.”


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