If Mel B is "Koolhaas Spice", Emma is "Jencks Spice"!



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Subject: New York SpiceScrapers
Date: Mon, 25 May 1998 23:11:00 -0400
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"WHAT IF the Spice Girls were midtown modern skyscrapers?? Mel B is Blackrock of course...a chameleon, imposing, moody, threatening, physical and vigourous. Geri would be the Worldwide Plaza...big boned, colorful, not quite stylish but a 'looker', talks big and hangs out in a bad part of town. Vic is so many but mostly 9 W 57th...sleek and swooping, monotone, attempting to look 'expensive' rather than elegant (and succeeding). Emma's detractors would cast her as the (former) Pan Am but we see her as Johnson's AT&T...popular and beloved, 'happy', devoid of irony, perhaps a bit bland. Mel C. is CitiCorp... self confident among peers, athletic, a tour de force of expressionism, finely balanced."

"(...)Mel B is Blackrock of course...a chameleon, imposing, moody, threatening, physical and vigourous."

 

 

AS: That's the one I have the most problems with, however appealing it appears on the surface... Black Rock aka Eero Saarinen's 1965 CBS headquarters might suit the "idealized" Mel B, the noble savage, but it doesn't take into proper account her Scary Spiceness, that loud, tactless, grating whiz-in-the-flowerpotness...it's got her narcissism, but is just too Bill Paley-elegant for that full threatening blackness to come through Darth Vader-style. It's too Posh to be Scary. Though it's hard to tell what the midtown alternatives are...an outlandish, overweening 80s opus like Helmut Jahn's CitySpire doesn't quite fit the bill, nor do the extroverted recent towers in the Times Square area. The decorated loudmouths of the 80s and 90s are just too overdressed and cheap looking (Mel B is actually relatively restrained, by Spice standards, in her getup); perhaps if there was a midtown version of one of those 70s SOM raw-or-rusty-steel Led Zep-era gargantuas like One Liberty Plaza downtown or the Annenberg Building way up on the Uppermost East Side, we'd have the proper (if more gross than "physical and vigorous") Scary Spice equivalent. Maybe there's the rub...Mel B simply isn't "midtown" enough. She's much more at home in the tight-packed asparagus-anarchy cauldron of downtown...though NOT including World Financial Center (a less tarty variant on GeriPoMo) or the World Trade Center (the most un-Spicified skyscrapers in all of New York)...

SR: Yes, yes, yes. You are right that CitySpire will not do nor will most any other Post Modern or Deco Revival trinket. The closest PoMo contender is Murphy/Jahn's 750 Lexington which has a sort of an audacious hightech sizzle that is somewhat crazed. It suits Mel B because it's both intimidating AND fun, not an easy trick really. It's a Darth Vader in a mutant bar. Moving South West and back 20 years we have Astor Place. If Blackrock's Poshness is an idealogical stumbling block then Astor Place provides some sort of equvilant but with a more utilitarian edge. It embodies Mel B's street-smart nonchanance. My new best bet (as good as or better than Blackrock) is the 'MSG Tower' (actual name unknown to me). This takes your cue, the idea that she's scary in a rusty-steelcage-behemoth way and AMPLIFIES it: a hulking black diamond; a graceful electrically ugly/beautiful slab; a toxic, monstrous, towering proto-karbunkle; a snarling, sullen black cloud frozen into submission; a building so tall, dark and SCARY that mortals fear to speak it's name (what IS its name?); a building SO unsettled that even its glass skin seems to be rusting away. Wow.

 

 

AS: Do you mean Astor Plaza on Times Square? Hard to think of it in terms of BR, but I see the point. And is the "MSG Tower" that inane hulk looming over MSG from the north? I think it's called "One Penn Plaza" or something...well, I never thought of it as specifically "black", but it *is* New York's answer to Tour Montparnasse, the tinniest thing for miles. Perhaps a little too tinny; it is to Mel B what Pan Am is to Emma. Though that tinniness seems strangely prescient of current architectural trends; put a few creative lops and slashes and gouges here and there, and it'd suit them Euralillies to a tee. Which reminds me; of all the Spices, Scary probably has the most in common with the S,M,L,XL spirit. She's the most "radical", the most "contemporary", in the 90s sense. If she goes solo, Bruce Mau should design the CD artwork.

[AS Jan 2001: It ain't the 90s no longer, and it's darned fortunate Bruce Mau didn't collaborate with Mel B...but I overlooked what may be the final candidate for the most Mel B-ish building in Midtown, and it's effectively a skyscraper turned on its side: the Port Authority Bus Terminal following its 70s renovation/expansion. Unapologetically brash and harsh steel X-bracing, as the archetypal hard-use setpiece for the urine-soaked rubbies and crack whores and transients of 42nd St's nadir. The architectural sublimation of the kind of environment that'd give you either diesel poisoning or scabies.]

"(...)Geri would be the Worldwide Plaza...big boned, colorful, not quite stylish but a 'looker', talks big and hangs out in a bad part of town."

 

AS: Fine judgment, using the proudest relic of pre-crash Skidmore Postmodern; it does both the building (or, rather, the complex) and Ginger Spice justice. Of course, what could be more Geriesque than any proud derivatives of the Bofill precast-concrete - Baroque - loud - tarty - overdecorated - overscale - 76-trombones aesthetic? (Even when the details are more Gothicky than Baroque, Ricardo Bofill made it all possible.) And of course, the tendency of the proudest PoMo skyscrapers to look overinflated profoundly suits the the physical reality of Geri...

[AS Jan 2001: And just as architects like SOM stepped away from Bofillesque classical frippery back toward a neo/retro-Modern simplicity once PoMo boiled over, post-Spice Geri, after undergoing her emotional equivalent of the Crash of '87, slimmed down and stripped away her gaudier Spice visual excesses. Well, sort of, on occasion. After all, 90s Neo-Modern is just 80s PoMo in gentler clothing, much as Clinton and Blair were Reagan and Thatcher in soft focus, and Geri continued to be Queer Icon Spice long after she stopped actually *looking* like a drag queen...)

"(...)Vic is so many but mostly 9 W 57th...sleek and swooping, monotone, attempting to look 'expensive' rather than elegant (and succeeding)."

 

AS: Nice choice, too. Mies van der Rohe was by far the Poshest of the Modernist heroes, ergo Victoria, "Posh", is by far the most Miesian Spice...but she ain't half as Posh as she pretends she is. So instead of Mies, she's one of "Bunshaft's boners" from the 70s, the sort of immaculately-designed but urbanistically brain-dead High-To-Late Modern opuses that gave such architecture a bad name. Of course it looks "expensive"--Easy V doesn't come for free, after all. It's a high class whore, not an obvious trollop like the GM Building nearby. That big black glass waterfall does not sing, does not smile...but BOY is it ever, er, "Posh". Or tries to be. Or something...... (But now, Victoria WITHOUT makeup; that'd be, of course, Harrison & Abramovitz's 1955 Socony-Mobil building, the big hideous aluminum box across from the Chrysler Building that looks like it's got a terrible case of acne...)

SR: And Geri w/o make-up would be....?

 

 

AS: Certainly, one of the classics; Empire State, Chrysler, Woolworth, etc. She's OLD, you know...

[AS Jan 2001: And much as Mies attempted to persuade the Third Reich to adopt his architectural style in the 30s, Victoria adopted what might be whimsically regarded as a "Hitler haircut" in 1998. Perhaps, too, she and David Beckham together might be compared to what 9 W 57th and the GM Building are to Grand Army Plaza <cringe>. They may think they're Fifth Avenue class, but all they produce is Brooklyn...]

"(...)Emma's detractors would cast her as the (former) Pan Am but we see her as Johnson's AT&T...popular and beloved, 'happy', devoid of irony, perhaps a bit bland."

 

 

AS: I like the Pan Am idea because if there's any building in Manhattan that looks like it's got a big butt, it's Pan Am;-) (Also, the present "MetLife" logo fits the building as ill as Emma's clothing.) Still, AT&T isn't bad, though I'm ambivalent as to how popular and beloved or (especially given its place in birth-of-the-Postmodern lore) devoid of irony it is...perhaps, in the Venturian sense, Baby is the biggest "duck" of the Spices, her infantile image obvious from the getgo. And AT&T might be classified as "Baby" Postmodern, in that it represents an infant--and like Emma, a bit ungainly and awkward--version of the style that produced the fully mature "Geri" Worldwide Plazas of a later age. You're right about "happy"--it (and the bulk of PoMo on principle) is the antithesis of unsmiling Posh 9 W 57th. I'm trying, though, to rationalize the very awkward correlation between Emma boffing the (ex) Spice manager and AT&T now being HQ for a major music label (Sony, though, not Virgin)...

SR: You added the chronological dimension which is interesting. To me Emma and AT&T are read on the same level. It's obvious she's not a 'baby' like it's obvious AT&T is not a piece of furniture. Their intention is to be understood as corporate images, not artistic ones, because frankly as artistic ones they are a bit thin. Literally they're lying but are smart enough to pull it off at a profit. The other Spice Girls/Scrapers have more complex dilemmas and revelations. Emma/AT&T-Sony just says "feed me" (i'm *ssmmaaall*) and "play with me" (i'm **cute**).

 

AS: It puts that whole thread of Postmodern which leads from Philip Johnson's preposterous oaf through the Eisner/Disney projects and onward in a new light...so, I gather, if Mel B is "Koolhaas Spice", Emma is "Jencks Spice".

Mel C as Eisenman Spice --a closeted rust-belt rocker. Little Pink Houses as a sexual euphanism and all...

 

 

[AS Jan 2001: And 3 years later, Emma remains the most vacuous Spice--truly a nullity when detached from her "Babyness"--fulfilling the parallel to the fundamental banality of the "architecture as logo" fallacy. Which, if one thinks of examples like the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, even predates AT&T's PoMo in a very revealing way...)

"(...)Mel C. is CitiCorp... self confident among peers, athletic, a tour de force(...) "

 

AS: I like this one; a skyscraper that's always seemed, in a refreshing way, apart from the madding crowd in NYC (in style, vintage--built in the middle of NYC's "drop dead" 70s--and insouciance). Sort of the way Sporty's the fave of many of those who find the other 4 Spices a touch ridiculous or vacuous. But I think it's also because the architect (Hugh Stubbins) was a product of Walter Gropius' milieu in Harvard, and Mel C is, in a way, Gropius to Victoria's Mies--basic practical, sports-gear rational, built-to-function rather than self-consciously Classical-immaculate. In some ways plain-Janeish and overly neutral, too, and uncertain as to what kind of consistent image to project; Mel C's been through all sorts of guises, from pure Sporty to normal-natural to quasi-Posh and back to Sporty, and seldom with complete success--it's like decorating a diagram (and remember the title of that critical book about the Harvard school, The Decorated Diagram...). Citicorp, happily, combines the best of these--normal-natural looks, Sporty athleticism, a touch (just a touch) of Posh styling, whatnot; it's like those moments when Mel C gets her looks just right.

[AS Jan 2001: And unfortunately, Mel C's continued to decorate her diagram with as much neurotic much-ado-about-nothing arbitrary awkwardness as many Gropius/Harvard architects tended to do in the late- and post-modern eras. Whether it's with this-and-that additional tattoo, piercing, gold tooth, or with her strange image-shift into a laddish "rocker" (and then back into Spice Girl), her gestures seemed less and less convincing, and only seemed to betray her as no less vacuous than her fellow Spices. Much as Citicorp's clarity and insouciance has proven an architectural exception rather than the rule...)

 

Though detractors might claim that the TRUE modern-skyscraper comparison for the Spice Girls is La Defense (that lurid Oz on axis with the Louvre in Paris)...







nyc

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