Manhattan Central Library Tower   

  There is a new arms race in construction today: sleek, glassy towers continue to pop up around in central Manhattan, from the supertalls south of Central Park to the newly-opened Hudson Yards. These buildings are as much, if not more-so, monuments to capitalism as they are spaces to live in work: bold in profile, symbolic on the skyline, with legible boundaries which make explicit who is in and who is out. These speculative building projects are made possible by developers who see a lucrative real estate investment; whether the end product can be occupied, lived in affordably, or worked in comfortably is secondary only to the revenue it generates.

In this architectural speculation, New York City has responded by some public backlash to the subsidization of these monuments, such as at Hudson Yards, by building a public supertall tower which is open and occupied by all: a brand new, massive central branch of the New York Public Library. For New York, the Central Library Tower is a chance to reclaim democracy in the sky, demonstrating that knowledge – not capital – is true, cultural power.

The Central Library Tower is a figural foil to the sleek curtain-wall supertall; it is a democratic collection and aggregation of components into a larger society, opposed a plutocratic, top-down imposition of envelope. The collection of objects from which the tower is formed are pulled from symbols of notable literature – lions, witches, wardrobes; Nimbus 2000’s and sorting hats; sperm whales; and much, much more – but are not one-to-one, literal appropriations of those things, but digital twins. They have been re-interpreted or borrowed from freely-accessible 3D-printed files (i.e. Aslan becomes a generic lion model; sunglasses become the “deal with it” meme) and re-combined, modified, distorted, multiplied, scaled, and morphed strangely together to create inhabitable interior and exterior spaces with emergent spatial conditions and object relationships to create something tangibly physical from digital parts (which, in turn, have their origins in the physical world).

While there is an oscillation between the digital and the physical in the reading of the project, there is also an oscillation between the recognition of individual objects (the whale, the conch, the flames), and the illegible distortion of the figural whole. This serves to democratize the project by grounding it in mainstream, accessible culture and by reminding us that one single interpretation (as in the iconic curtain-wall skyline profile) does not a democracy make, but a confusing, messy, beautifully-composed symphony of voices.