The Flatiron Triangle & A bite of Eataly

At the triangle formed by 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway, facing Madison Square Park and pointing directly at the Empire State Building, stands one of New York’s most iconic skyscrapers – the Flatiron Building.

Built in 1902, at 20 floors and 285 ft (approx. 87 m) it was not the first nor the tallest skyscraper in New York – but it was certainly the first triangular one. Actually, another floor was added in 1905 raising it to 21 floors and 307 ft (93 m) height. Which explains why in order to reach the top floor, one has to take a second lift from the 20th. But it doesn’t necessarily explain why the bottoms of the windows are chest-high making it impossible to enjoy the magnificent view unless standing up.

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Flatiron Building in early stage of construction, Fifth Avenue and Broadway, New York City. 1902.

Designed by architect Daniel Burnham from Chicago, with influences from the Beaux-Arts architecture (a late form of Neoclassicism where Greek and Roman models are combined with Renaissance forms) and built by George A. Fuller, a construction company also based in Chicago.

Its peculiar form and postcard-perfect structure has inspired countless artists, photographers, filmmakers and travellers like us who, camera on hand, hope to catch its geometrical magnificence from every possible angle.

Although it was named ”Flatiron” the building is not an isosceles triangle (a triangle with at least two equal sides) like a real flatiron for cloths, but a right triangle:

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Floorplan of one of the Flatiron building’s floors from a 1902 issue of architectural digest. Found in a very interesting article by R. Grigonis regarding history and myths around the Flatiron Building: http://www.interestingamerica.com/2011-01-03_Flatiron_Building_New_York_by_R_Grigonis.html

Depending on where one stands, it may look like a normal building or a thin, flat wall – like being in an IMAX theatre having an intriguing real-life 3D movie experience.

Looking at its curvy vertex, I was wondering what it would be like to work in one of the ”point” offices. Being a working space it is not open for viewing but I gather from different articles that, because the building is so narrow, most of the offices are flooded with light which helps create a pleasant working environment; but, on the other hand, its structure favours a number of atypical spaces which not only make it difficult to fit modern office furniture but also discourage casual contact between staff. And, oddly, the bathrooms alternate by floor – men’s rooms on even, women’s rooms on odd floors. Not the most user-friendly office building but only a small inconvenience considering that workers spend a big part of their day in one of New York’s – and indeed the world’s – most recognisable buildings!

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Flatiron Building today from same angle: Fifth Avenue and Broadway, New York City. 2014.

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The other reason why you should visit this part of Manhattan is just across the street and is called Eataly. The grandest and finest food emporium dedicated to Italian gastronomy, with more food shelves, stalls and gourmet restaurants than you would normally expect to find in a small Italian town, all brought together under one roof.

The variety and quality of products neatly displayed in stacks, refrigerators, on ice or pallets, spread over an indoor area of  50,000 ft² (4,600 m2), is so dizzying you’d be excused for forgetting what it was you came in for, in the first place!

Actually, Eataly is a chain with Chicago being the largest in the USA (at 63,000 ft² – 5,850 m2) and Rome accommodating its Megastore in a staggering 170,000 ft² (15,800 m2)-large abandoned Air Terminal of the Ostiense railway station. Considering the scale difference, why Rome would need an Italian food market larger than Piazza del Popolo escapes me, but these are the facts.

So bedazzled were we at Eataly that, after the first few rounds we decided to keep it simple and settled for a salad of the freshest seasonal vegetables and a crunchy bruscheta del giorno, at Le Verdure. But the real treat was a homemade, wonderfully creamy gelato (right next to the entrance on the 5th Avenue) with vanilla and salted caramel flavours, washed down with an Italian latte. Mouthwatering bliss!…

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The Flatiron Building,
175 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York

EATALY,
200 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

New York, 3 June 2014

Devil’s Food & Tweaked Smoothies

Consumer art // High Line art, variations.

Josh Kline (b. 1979, United States) creates sculptural installations that employ the language and strategies of advertising. For Archeo, Kline presents Skittles, an industrial refrigerator containing smoothies produced by the artist using unconventional and poetic combinations of ingredients including kale chips, squid ink, sneakers, phone bills, and pepper spray. Each smoothie stands as a portrait of a different contemporary lifestyle. When grouped together, they evoke a landscape of aspiration, taste, and – at times – deprivation in a metropolis like New York City.

Large super market chains create harmonious installations of attractively packaged products using established marketing methods to promote and increase consumption by enhancing existent and creating new needs. The consumer enjoys instant gratification by purchasing goods in excessive quantities as a demonstration of affluence and social status. Each product mirrors the contemporary lifestyle. When grouped together, they evoke a landscape of aspiration, taste, and – at times – deprivation in a metropolis like New York City.

The secret to a successful recipe lies in the right blend. Which smoothie are you today?

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Josh Kline’s commercial refrigerator just visible on the right. His refreshing smoothies are available for viewing until March 2015

Art on the High Line and super markets & delis in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

New York, 4th June 2014

Views from the High Line

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Three things became apparent the moment we landed in New York: the difference in scale, ranging between big and enormous; the cool and friendly nature of the people; and a sense of community, evident in all aspects of their daily life.

New Yorkers will lift you up if you stumble and fall  (we’ve seen this happen frequently which struck me as rather odd considering Manhattan’s fairly even pavements as opposed to Brussels’ dangerously wobbly tiled ones). They will offer help if they spot you struggling to figure out the mysteries of New York Subway. They will talk to you on the train, offer inside information, tips on shortcuts and fastest routes. They know their East from their West (my inner compass is extremely inefficient) and their directions will be clear and to the point. They know their city and, more importantly, you sense that they care about it.

This strong sense of community and the conviction that one’s opinion matters, has helped shape not only peoples’ daily lives but formed the urban landscape of the entire city. Take for example the High Line, the elevated freight rail line that carried meat and fresh produce to factories and warehouses, from 1934 to 1980. Although when introduced it transformed the West Side by elevating rail traffic and providing a fast, safe and efficient freight service, if fell in disuse with the modernization of the highways and the growth of the trucking industry that inevitably followed.

A campaign for its demolition started soon by local land ownership interests with redevelopment aspirations. But some neighbours harbouring a vision thought differently, and in 1999, a group of local residents formed the ”Friends of the High Line”, aiming to preserve and use it as a public open space. By that time, a wild ecosystem had developed on and around the High Line but the careful planning, successful fund-raising and collaboration with designers (James Corner Field Operations), landscape architects (Diller Scofidio + Renfrothe multidisciplinary studio, another aspect of its work we enjoyed later in the Met), and experts in horticulture (Piet Oudolf) paid off and the wild urban jungle was tamed.

Today the High Line offers a mile-long walk, acts as a breathing space for just lazing about, reading or people watching; it is also an open-air art gallery (a useful ”art map” is available on the High Line website). It used to be a favourite among die-hard fitness crazy New Yorkers, but nowadays it tends to get crowded during peak hours, so I guess there has been a shift of fitness activities towards the Hudson River Park, nearby. But there are still some undeterred by the crowds:

- Those funny Europeans!… muttered the grumpy New Yorker, whose path was blocked by people busy photographing.

- Did he mean me? I  wondered for a second as he hurried along and I went on clicking away…

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Isabelle Cornaro – God Box (column). Monoliths contain a collection of objects which resemble artifacts from ancient cultures

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Spencer Finch – The River That Flows Both Ways. On the High Line at the Chelsea Market Passage

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The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. It is open daily from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm and is accessible through a number of access points. More info available here.

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

New York, 4th June 2014