What Should We Do With 2 Columbus Circle?

Four views on whether a much-reviled Manhattan building should be saved

By Phillip Lopate, Robert A.M. Stern, Theodore H.M. Prudon, and Witold Rybczynski

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Few works of architecture have been more reviled than 2 Columbus Circle, erected in New York City in 1964. Edward Durell Stone (whose credits include the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.) designed the 10-story building for the heir to the A&P supermarket fortune, Huntington Hartford, who wanted a space in which to display his extensive art collection. Thus was born the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art. Stone's creation was unabashedly ornate, the famous ground-floor arcade among its most striking features. Although these flourishes amused or puzzled some people, many critics of the building were merciless, including Ada Louise Huxtable, who famously likened the arches to a series of gigantic lollipops. After Hartford's museum left 2 Columbus Circle in 1969, several tenants came and went. Today the building is vacant and owned by the city.

New York has now agreed to sell 2 Columbus Circle for $17 million to the Museum of Arts & Design. Before the museum moves in, there will be a renovation, overseen by architect Brad Cloepfil, that will essentially destroy Stone's famous facade. Though the National Trust placed 2 Columbus Circle on its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list this year, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has argued that the building does not "possess a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation."

Does 2 Columbus Circle indeed lack these qualities? We put that question to essayist Phillip Lopate, architects Robert A.M. Stern and Theodore H.M. Prudon, and architectural historian and critic Witold Rybczynski.

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