The New Yorker's resident architecture critic Paul Goldberger takes on investment banking giant Goldman Sachs in his latest column, and boy are we not disappointed. Goldberger sets the scene, appropriately enough, with some financial nitty-gritty:
"There was not a lot of development going on in lower Manhattan, and Goldman’s plans appear to have sent city and state officials into giddy ecstasy. They quickly agreed to give the company $115 million in tax breaks and cash grants to build the new tower. More singular still, state and local governments decided to give the firm another big subsidy by letting it use $1.65 billion in tax-exempt Liberty Bonds, intended to stimulate economic development after 9/11, to cover part of the building’s $2.1-billion cost. Last month, Goldman announced that it had made a profit of nearly $3.5 billion in the first quarter of this year—enough to have paid for the entire building, in cash, in a couple of months, without any help from taxpayers."
So we know the bank is powerful, wealthy, and controlling. Then what kind of architecture screams "omnipotence"? One that's quiet on the outside and over-the-top on the interior, apparently. Goldberger describes how Goldman commissioned "forward-looking architects" -- Office dA, SHoP, Architecture Research Office, Preston Scott Cohen, and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg -- to show off their moves in the sections of Henry Cobb's corporate tower that remain hidden from public view.
In an Architizer exclusive, we've gotten someone on the inside -- a Goldman Sachs employee who for obvious reasons shall remain anonymous -- to respond to Goldberger's review with a layperson's account of 200 West Street. Read, digest, enjoy:
I’m pretty sure the image of the new Goldman Sachs building accompanying Paul Goldberger’s review in the New Yorker is an actual photo, but to me it might as well be a rendering. I know nothing about architecture, but I’m also a New Yorker who has spent plenty of time over the last several years navel-gazing at the flashy (and Flash-y) websites for new parks and developments. I’ve seen lots of renderings in my day in their smooth, airbrushed glory.
The 200 West Street lobby, though, makes me feel like I’m inside one of those glossy brochures. I can’t pinpoint what it is specifically but the soft-brushed and rounded-off walls (having read Goldberger’s piece, I now know them to be limestone) and easygoing lighting scheme are certainly contributors. Natural light is highly softened – one large screen lets only a glow in, and it reminded me of another feat of limestone: the walls of Beineke Rare Book Library in New Haven. But the thing that most makes me feel like an architectural ant is the massive size of the space around me: Goldberger likens it to an airport, and I agree. (An airport in like, Norway though. It’s no Newark Liberty!)
In fact, it’s so much bigger than the buildings I’m used to that I quickly learned the hard way that I need to bake in an extra 10 minutes at least to account for how long it takes to get from my desk to the door to the world outside what Goldberger correctly terms a “gated community.”
It definitely feels like a gated community, with all the attendant claustrophobia – less because of a lack of space and more from of a crushing density of people. (Maybe that’s more like agoraphobia, I guess.) What Goldberger doesn’t mention is that 85 Broad was only one of our former buildings – GS employees were spread out across a “campus” that included that bleak headquarters (I always winced imagining the investment bankers trudging out of there at like 3 in the morning) but also properties like 180 Maiden Lane, a glassy-in-a-power-80’s kind of way building where most new hires got their training by HR; 32 Old Slip, which had terrible subway access, housed the asset management division, and featured mirrored elevators; 1 New York Plaza, which I always described to lost clients by saying “just look for the building shaped like a waffle!”
With all the once-disparate employees now stuffed in one place, as big as that place may be, it’s a little overwhelming. The 11thfloor “Sky Lobby” is a grand, gorgeous delight, with huge windows and high ceilings that feel even taller when juxtaposed with the spare low-to-the-ground benches laid on one side of the space. But if the main lobby is an airport, the Sky Lobby is Grand Central Terminal: bustling with scowling humans cris-crossing between a matrix of entrances and exits and elevator banks. And the cafeteria, which is huge and gleaming and hospital-like and a little scary, but surprisingly quick and efficient. The dining area adjacent to the cafeteria is a far cry from what we had at the old building – it’s huge and bright, with tables spread out at various distances and heights and angles, and a number of soft leather chairs lining the walls so that you can sit by the window and have coffee with a friend, or make a clandestine phone call, which is what I use those chairs for.
Of the many GS buildings above I neglected to include 10 Hanover, which ultimately converted into a rental apartment building (one of many in the financial district that transitioned from banks to lofts) but continued to hold our company gym in its dark, secret lair of a basement.
I like my gyms in basement lairs, though; the better not to be seen as I pant and sweat. Using the Goldman gym was awkward enough – they give out uniforms, and it’s kind of strange to see your managing director on the elliptical next to you in a pair of grey cotton gym shorts – that I ultimately got a membership at a more, um, diverse place. But now, it’s even weirder – you access the gym by a huge spiral staircase that lets off at a huge spiral set of sliding glass doors. It feels like something out of minority report. Right behind those doors are already people working out in plain view, and it creeped me out so much to see people essentially riding exercise bikes while looking straight at me through a glass wall that I turned on my heel and fled back upstairs.
Much has been made of the artwork in the lobby, and until this morning I was partial to the less-heralded work, a huge blotchy colorful spread that covers all the walls of the back entrance. It looks like the background of a Murakami painting before all the little men are added in. The large overhang outside that Goldberger refers to in his piece makes weird light-plays occur – early in the day, before the sun has moved westward and started to flood the building, it casts a weird pinkish-orangish glow on the whole mini-lobby, but when you look outside you see the clear greenish-blue of the awning. I like it a lot.
But this morning I detoured out of my way to walk past the Julie Mehretu mural that has garnered so much attention, and I couldn’t believe it – set within the limestone walls, it looks almost like its been painted directly onto them, and it’s a wonder to see up close – all hectic lines and bursts of color that seem complicated inch by inch and astounding when you look up and out and realize the scale. It manages to be shiny and matte all at once, and I had to keep myself from running my hand along the wall. Somehow I think the solemn mass of security guards that surround the building like a medieval sentry would probably frown upon that.