Even though it’s difficult to reach consensus in this town, sometimes a collective consciousness bubbles forth simultaneous and similar thinking about things. Just as people were getting together to come up with ways to improve the 7th Street Park and its environs, came word (via Sam Pratt, relaying a New York magazine blog post) that Marina Abramovic, Hudson’s own world-renown performance artist, had hired starchitect Rem Koolhaas to renovate the Community Theater, the 1930s movie palace right off of the park, which Abramovic purchased a few years ago.
Although it turns out that the Pritzker award- winning architect would be designing the (gutted) interior, just the merging of the words Koolhass and Hudson got hearts racing, for most out of excitement and perhaps a few trepidation, since he is far from what would call a contextual architect. For myself, as a new member of the Historic Preservation Commission, I wondered if I might be faced with some difficult choice between preservation and a larger appreciation for good architecture, which certainly includes modern variations. Briefly contemplating this prospective dilemma, I envisioned great mergings of the old and new such as Norman Foster’s redesign of the Reichstag, pictured below. Foster popped through the top of the building and created a dazzling rotunda that is both cutting edge and grandly classical in spirit.
Koolhaas, devoid of any classical inclinations at all, is a great architect who works in a deconstructionist vein that is very much his own: like others of his caliber, he creates buildings that are events (almost always successful ones.) When I was in Seattle a couple of years ago I made a special trip to see Koolhaas’s library building there, and, not disappointed, took this photo (which doesn’t do it justice–I literally could not fit the grand totality of the building into the limited aperture of my lens).
If very unakin to anything in Hudson, at least intentionally, Koolhaas buildings are dramatically urbanistic: perhaps better than any of his peers, he understands what makes cities deliriously exciting places to both look at and be in. (His book Delirious New York, published in 1978 was the appropriately named kickoff to his career, though as a journalist, not architect.) My thinking at least is that it would sometimes be better for us to have the real thing—even if it breaks a few eggs– than the historical simulacrums being erected or “restored” by Eric Galloway all over town. (Although luckily no one is discussing the razing of the handsome theater building, it would be great if an architect of Koolhaas’s –or any other reasonable—caliber would design a building from scratch on some vacant or ungainly lot, such as one the Hess station sits on.)
Happily, an equally sound (and vastly more realistic) one for Hudson’s purposes turns out to be the actual plan: Along with Koolhaas’ inside job, local architect Dennis Wedlick will work on the façade of the theater, a synthesis that demonstrates to the world how smart the town can be. At the same time as Abramovic embarks on raising the eight million dollars needed for the project, we can start our own plans (I proposed the idea of designating the park a historic landmark, one way to focus efforts on restoring it to the elegant public space it once was) and celebrate little improvements to the area abutting it, such as the continued presence of the diner, the food coop, Park Falafel and Pizza, and the sprightly shop window at the newly relocated B’s Hats. —Scott Baldinger