One of two things will result from a private dinner the Guggenheim Museum is holding at its Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York tomorrow. The first is that nothing will come of it. The second is the birth of an architectural project that will alter the imprint of Manhattan forever.
Awaiting the attentions of the 100 or so guests are the first models of what the Guggenheim hopes will become the newest addition to its growing portfolio of public spaces. The museum envisages buildingit in New York, and specifically on a platform of piers extending into the East River close to Wall Street.
The design is from the mind of Frank Gehry, whose previous commission for the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation turned him into one of the most celebrated architects and put a provincial Spanish city firmly on the international map. Indeed, if you think of Bilbao, and the extraordinary structure of undulations and curves he forged for the foundation there, you will have some idea of what he would like to do here.
Arguably, the impact of such a building in New York wouldbe more extraordinary still. The Manhattan skyline is dramatic. To some, it is also devoid of architectural surprises. It is a celebration of the vertical - [Donald] Trump-itis is its lingering disease - and, with its bridges, the horizontal. The Chrysler Building stands out for its eccentricity, as does the Guggenheim of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The models reveal a building even more ambitious than the Bilbao structure. It would be taller - there is a central tower of about 40 storeys - and its main body of reflective steel or titanium seems even more daringly demented. It has the appearance almost of scrolls of paper that have been tossed into the East River wind. Some might see the sails of sea clippers in it. Mr Gehry calls these curves wrappers.
Within it, he imagines 36 galleries, a cinema, an ice rink, promenades by the water and a dock for boats to take visitors across to a sculpture garden on nearby Governor's Island. The Guggenheim wants the Lloyd Wright space to house the part of its collection that spans the late 19th century until 1945, and anything more recent would go to the Gehry building.
To get the thing built, the Guggenheim Foundation faces multiple challenges. One may be the conservative tastes of the people who matter in the city.Even Peter Lewis, the chairman of the Guggenheim board, is uncertain. "This is a quixotic effort," he told The New Yorker. "We all think it's a spectacular idea. But I despair of thinking there will be enough power and energy to get it done."
Thomas Krens, the director of the Guggenheim Foundation, will rely in part on stoking public enthusiasm. The Gehry models will be on display at the Fifth Avenue museum all summer. He will also be telling anyone who will listen of the economic benefits that the Bilbao Guggenheim, now one of Europe's most popular buildings, has brought to that city.
In New York, the space below the South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn Bridge will at least be available to someone. The New York City Economic Development Corporation is terminating the current lease of a tennis club that has courts under white bubble domes.
The corporation is also considering alternative uses, including berthing facilities for cruise ships, a hotel complex and a city marina.
For residents of the Lower East Side the choice is simple - either they look at Bilbao and see what a shimmering wonder greets people thereevery morning, or they might consider sharing their pavements with hordes of cruise line passengers.Reuse content