Monday, May 16, 2016

Architecture of "A Bigger Splash" [2016]

The luxurious villa featured in "A Bigger Splash" (part of the Tenuta-Borgia Estate, in Pantelleria, Sicily) is a key character in this thriller, acting to further the feeling of foreboding that permeates the film. In the beginning, its quiet and sparseness suggest a precious, if fleeting, privacy that we sense will be invaded. Once the loud & pushy guests finally (and inevitably) do descend, the feeling of dread is increased - to the point of fear for the fragility of the furnishings, if also for the inhabitants.  As the story unfolds, the rising levels of noisiness & agitation - from the commotion of dancing to rock-n-roll on the vintage stereo, to the clandestine & aggressive sex act performed standing up smack against the plaster walls, to the arguments and invective that shatter the silence - all the safety and comfort that define this posh & privileged house & grounds & pool - clearly & lavishly designed for the purposes of recreation & entertainment - are slowly, inexorably and emphatically, dissolved by the tension, and the pleasure, even of the house itself, is subsumed by the violence of ... "A Bigger Splash". 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

NYC of the "The Crowd" [1928]

King Vidor's on-location silent film drama's chief character is the bustling, beautiful metropolis. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Roger Thornhill Doesn't Work Here

With all due respect to both Steven Jacobs, author of the otherwise scrupulous The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock and the always entertaining ScoutingNY  website of movie-location scout Nick Carr, among others, a correction is in order.  

The office building featured so prominently in motion-graphics designer Saul Bass's memorable opening titles for Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 North by Northwest -


is 430 Park Avenue, btwn 55 & 56th Streets on the the west side of the block. This elegant glass curtain wall was designed by Emery Roth in 1953, as a renovation to a previously existing building - a 1923 luxury apartment house - which was, according to the New York Times, "stripped back to its basic structure and converted into an office building. .... the original brick and limestone facade .. replaced with a glass wall along the side facing Park Avenue. [and the] ... glazed brick, which is typically used only on the western side of buildings on this side of Park Avenue, was continued around the north and south sides."

It is not, as is claimed by our esteemed movie analysts, the same building from which Cary Grant is seen leaving in the opening scene that follows the opening. That building's address, clearly marked, is 650 - 

And as any advertising firm, and surely NxNW's archetypal ad executive would be found, 650 is on Madison Avenue. Designed  in 1957 by Harrison & Abramovitz for the Commercial Investment Trust Company, this building is located btwn 59th & 60th Streets, (conveniently near the Oak Room at the Plaza a half-block away).

650's facade features a very distinctively pronounced, projecting double-mullion dividing vertical window bays; and a slightly recessed horizontal muntin between primary and secondary spandrel (non-vision glass) panels. The resulting shadows create a heavier, more regulated and, to this observer, more muddled appearance.

The NxNW opening's building, on the other hand has a lighter, more taught curtain wall of equally expressed, more narrowly dimensioned, stainless steel horizontals & verticals with single mullions btwn bays and a single band of spandrel glass at every second row, masking the floor slabs.  Also revealing, in the reflection of the windows of 430 can be seen 4 lanes of traffic, with a planted divider btwn directions - a unique characteristic of Park Avenue.  In 1959 midtown, the only other Avenue running both north & south was 5th Avenue, but never with a median. 

To make the case conclusive, the cropped image from the film's opening can be seen below, first stretched to change its perspective while preserving its proportions & rhythms -
Finally, a composite of the NxNW opening's facades overlaid onto the image of 430 Park, revealing unmistakably their unique and unvaried identity:


Admittedly, this post shows a long process of clarification for a minor detail, but one which has gnawed at this blogger's interest & enjoyment in the crossed paths of cinema, modern architecture, and New York City; though as the Master of Suspense would no doubt remind us, "It's only a movie"

In the years since NxNW, both buildings have been renovated with far more bland treatments to their curtain walls. In 2001, 430 Park (left below) was reclad with a new curtain wall designed by Moed de Armas & Shannon, which removed its distinctive rhythms by eliminating the smaller, lower divided lites of the clear windows facing west & east, and encasing, rather than replacing, the glazed brick north and south elevations.  650, (right) was enlarged with a generic tower and freeze-wrapped with a unhierarchically gridded pattern, relieved only by a pseudo-frieze at the top of each level of massing, by Fox and Fowle in 1987.


BRM 3/2015