To: Randall Stephenson, CEO and Grand High Poobah, AT&T
From: Erik Seims
Re: 33 Thomas St., New York, NY, a.k.a. “The Long Lines Building”
April 29, 2012
I’m writing to ask you to do something about this:
The Long Lines Building is a terrible thing to do to a city. Opened in 1974, this Brutalist hellbeast went up near the end of an era when blank street-level walls, windswept plazas, and excess sidewalk space for the sake of space were somehow seen as good things, or at least were seen as secondary to aesthetics designed to overawe. On those grounds it succeeds completely.
Brutalism doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Whatever one might think of Boston’s City Hall and the surrounding plaza, architects Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles were clearly trying to develop a thoughtful interpretation of what a modern democratic space should be. The Long Lines Building, on the other hand, could only have been developed under the following scenario:
(Scene: City Hall, 1973)
AT&T CHAIRMAN FREDERICK KAPPEL: We’re building a structure a few blocks north of City Hall that is the manifestation of Fear, a dark temple devoted to the crushing of souls, a dead wind blowing in the face of the human spirit. It shall blot out sun above and life below. It shall be stillborn and age badly. And it shall be built so strongly, that decades hence, it shall be impossible to tear down. Your. City. Shall. Suffer. It. Forever.
MAYOR LINDSAY: The city’s going broke. Sounds swell to me!
CHARLTON HESTON (bursting into room): SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!
Look. I’m a realist. It won’t be easy to tear down this building. Aside from the obvious question of where to relocate everything that it houses, it’s so fantastically overbuilt (A well-sourced Wikipedia article says that its floors were built to carry live loads of 200-300 pounds per square foot, and that it can remain inhabitable even after 2 weeks of radioactive fallout), that demolishing it will probably require opening the Ark of The Covenant and the launching of multiple nuclear weapons laced with streptococcus and Spam.
Perhaps a more realistic scenario would be to wrap the building — or at least the lower levels of the Church Street and Worth Street sides of it — with a retail or commercial-use exterior, not unlike the hot dog in the middle of a pizza crust that is currently entombing people too stupid to eat regular pizza. Unlike the aforementioned lousy idea, though, a commercial exterior is entirely viable. In fact, it’s already been done. Returning to Boston, 500 Atlantic Avenue is a residential property which is wrapped around a ventilation building for the Central Artery Tunnel.
The area’s also zoned C6-4. Think of everything you could do with a C6-4-zoned space down there. Golly! Overpriced wine bars and little nibbly things at $17 a pop. Everyone else seems to be doing it. And you’ll still have enough room to shield the bedrock of our society or whatever you’ve got in there from The Day After.
Feel free to catch the next flight up from Dallas to walk around the building yourself. I eagerly await your reaction to it.