In the past few years, New York City has been valiantly trying to turn around its deserved reputation for treating innovative architecture like an exotic disease that should be stamped out by courageous developers, bankers, and government officials. One solution has been to import high-design architects whose experience elsewhere can help them withstand such assaults. But the expectations of what the famously fabulous architects can do on New York’s tough turf easily become inflated, as shown in the case of The New York Times Building, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genoa and Paris with New York architects FXFOWLE. Despite its creation of a superior workplace environment (with Gensler in charge of interiors), the new skyscraper hasn’t knocked a lot of the architectural community off its feet, whether standing near or far away. To be sure, the 52-story tower, veiled with screens of 3-inch-diameter off-white ceramic tubes over the glass-and-steel rectilinear structure, is elegantly proportioned. But it seems strangely bland in New York’s architecturally variegated context. At a distance, except under certain angles of sunlight, those ceramic rods don’t look like white, shimmering veils as much as delicate gray washboards.
As has been observed by Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, the building is a sophisticated sequel to New York’s mid-20th-century monuments—Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (1958) and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Lever House (1952). While it certainly updates its predecessors in terms of technique and sustainability, the design doesn’t proclaim itself as an ambitious prototype of skyscrapers for the 21st century.