american institute of    architects'    
      guide to   new  york cit  y
    four th     edition    (2000)

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    part two
continued from previous page.

Happily, the pretentiousness is only skin deep--but nevertheless, there's been substantial reformatting and redesign within. This break with the past might startle and dismay the familiarized AIA-NYC afficionado at first glance, but upon close inspection, if not without raising a few caveats, the reworking really does seem to perk up the enterprise (or at least the look of the enterprise) a little. (One nice touch: the stars that once denoted officially landmarked buildings have been replaced by--what else?--apples.) The once-leisurely knit of text and illustration has been replaced by a more "structured" format that for the most part concentrates photos on the outer edge of the printed page--and while not every single entry is illustrated (thank God), the photographic presence is much stronger than it once was. Moreover, the bulk of the photos are new, many of them taken by Norval White himself; and while their thumbnail size (and pedestrian-level perspective) cannot by design convey a terrible lot, the net effect is worth the price of admission--it really gives a more freshly "intimate" feel for the places in question. (Some may quibble with the illustration/non-illustration choices, but in my estimation that random-fire illustrative what-the-heckness has always been part of the charm. On the other hand, and this may or may not constitute a subliminal architectural critique, the newer buildings lose an awful lot more in thumbnail-photo translation than the older ones. Also, there are blotches here and again where the photos and key entries have been sequentially thrown out of whack, and in at least one case--the banal apartment tower on p 369 representing the "Collegiate Gothic" Central Baptist Church--what's illustrated isn't discernably discussed in the text at all, but represents an entry from previous editions that was in the end pruned for this one, yet the photo sneaked its erroneous way in! In other words, the copy editing's a bit rough.)
               Also, there's been a reworking of the map format, with all new maps and a subtle change to a "tour" from a "zone" emphasis (i.e. no more big charts of Midtown Manhattan et al with a whole casserole of tours crisscrossing the place). The new maps are attractive and, especially given what almost 4 decades of publishing-technology advance might have wrought, happily sympathetic to the original AIA-NYC visual concept; and they also vividly, graciously contextualize major sectors of the outer boroughs (Flushing, Mott Haven, et al--yes, Mott Haven's in the dreaded South Bronx orbit where tourists fear to tread; whatsitoya) that previously needed an awful lot of Hagstrom elbow grease to properly discern (earlier editions had no proper "local" maps outside of Manhattan and inner Brooklyn). For that, we should be grateful--though on first blush it also threatens to dilute the "full coverage" pretensions that gave previous editions such a (deceiving?) feeling of glorious all-of-Noo-Yawk-at-your-fingertips infinity. In fact, the dilution might be in more the opposite direction; that is, ol' Norval bristling at being locked into the tour-map rut and allowing the freewheeling old spirit to break those manacles here and again. In the end, Manhattan's just about as thoroughly covered as ever--the only "unmapped" "tour zone", for whatever reason (I suspect an oversight; certainly not politics...I hope), is the Gracie Mansion area. But in many of the outer-borough zones, the amount of off-map entries make a mockery of whatever the new maps were intended to achieve. Brooklyn's suffered most; areas like Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, which were well-mapped in previous editions, were totally mangled in the remapping process, and entries 40-57 were left off the Clinton Hill map--while other previously mapped/key-entried areas like Red Hook, Sunset Park and Gowanus have now gone unmapped! Elliot Willensky must be turning (or toinin'; it's Brooklyn, ya know) in his grave over this...

It also seems that in the process of burnishing, some of the guide's original idiosyncratic zest has gone--perhaps out of necessity, maybe because the formula was seeming strained and shopworn after three decades, maybe because the previous edition was toeing the evanescently "trendy" line a little too finely, and maybe out of respect for Willensky. And of course, to prevent the furshlugginer mess from getting even more overpouringly top-heavy than it managed in '88. Waddeva. But the uncertain quality and consistency of the modifications--evident in the aforementioned photo-keying and mapping gaffes--makes one wonder if Willensky's ghost was haunting the whole enterprise. I suspect the decisions were as painful, in a "this'll hurt us more than it'll hurt you" sort of way, as the selective pruning of valuable services by a cashapped government so familiar to c21 Torontonians...
               First, most of the restaurant/shop listings et al are gone--perhaps the easiest sacrifice in an age when Access and its like has usurped a lot of that role, but what's raggedly left (much of it, but still not all of it, justified on an "architectonic" basis) still reminds us of the pain of what's been lost. Second, much of the text has been streamlined, and the quirky boldfacing/italicizing antics that gave past editions such a delightfully proto-Spy quality (ahem) have been obliterated --now, the only things boldfaced are architect's names and the like. Also gone: the stop-pressy emblazoning of entries with "DEMOLISHED", which by 1988 had baroquely erupted into variations like "CUM GRANO SALIS" (presumably related to W&W conflict-of-interest situations and other internal Dee'n'Dum arcana) and "DEGRILLED" (after the Edward Durell Stone house lost its grillage--since reinstated).

NEXT: Temopral Problems: necrology sacrificed to utility; to re-evaluate or not (bronx-style)?
in PART 3.

guide to guides AIA Guide to New York City entry in Omnitectural Forum's "Guide to Guidebooks"

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