I can remember back in the 90s when it seemed that New York had become an architectural backwater. I was living in Amsterdam, and a Dutch planner friend, about to leave for a trip to New York, asked what interesting new buildings to look for. I was momentarily silent — nothing immediately came to mind. I ended up recommending a few contextually sensitive projects that were admirable if not exactly innovative.
Innovation is not everything, in architecture or in other fields, but the lack of it in the 90s suggested a city treading water creatively. That sense of stasis is long gone for a variety of complex reasons — the post 9/11 vitality of the city is an area rich for exploration by journalists and social scientists. I am neither of those. But I am a photographer of the urban landscape, and there is much to observe in the swift rapids of the present.
Architecture can be dramatic or prosaic, showy or utilitarian, but usually not both simultaneously. Let me tell you about a salt shed in lower Manhattan on Canal Street. I had just gotten a new camera to play with — a hand holdable 4×5 camera designed by a couple of guys in Chicago funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As small as a DSLR and half as light. I decided to take it out for a spin to see how it would work for me photographing a building. My wife works in the Hudson Square area, the old printing district west of Soho, and she suggested I take a look at the new Spring Street salt shed designed by Dattner Architects, a New York based architectural firm.
It is just that. A shed meant for storing the stuff used to melt ice and snow on the streets of the city. But instead of the usual metallic tent-like structure, there is, here, a multi-facetted shard of concrete looking very much like a salt crystal, or at least that’s what two different sanitation workers passing by told me while I was taking pictures. And it has walls three feet thick. They loved it.
Here it is: