Keep New York weird

March 18, 2009

St. Vincent Hospital’s O’Toole Building

St. Vincent Hospital’s O’Toole Building

New York’s architecture critic Justin Davidson takes on the issue of preservation of St. Vincent Hospital’s O’Toole Building from an unexpected angle: keep New York weird. His approach to the “endearingly awkward, formerly white, three-layered stack with tear-off perforations and protruding upper floors” is only a little surprising because actually I was wondering specifically what Davidson thought. In an architecture criticism workshop he recently led, our final assignment was to take a position on the potential demolition of this 1964 Albert Ledner building. We had volunteered our opinions but didn’t hear his, until now.

For what it’s worth, over the course of my research the building began to endear itself to me, even as I find it overbearing and hardly assimilated to its Village neighborhood. So I argued that the architects the hospital has hired, Pei Cobb Freed, should keep the shell of the O’Toole and plunge a new tower down through it. Not really jokingly either; such seeming insanity is already on the New York skyline to a rather broad consensus of approval. Of course New York isn’t LA, whose urban character still proudly bears the legacy of the “mid-century misfits” Davidson cites. And the broad mandates of the Landmarks Preservation Committee cannot match the single-agenda focus of a ModCom. But maybe just a little more creative problem solving is in order here?



  1. I too was curious about what JD thought. It seems that he is taking a relativist position: the O’Toole building, compared with the new Pei Cobb Freed plan (as boring as that is), has character and is weird in a good way. If a “better” (for lack of another word) architect were building a replacement, than the O’Toole would probably not be so kindly regarded.

  2. Let’s not forget the functional argument here either. Instead of debating the quality of the facade we could be building a superior hospital. That shouldn’t be an excuse for lazy architectural proposals (which are what we’ve been given), but neither should this debate overwhelm the net benefit of a new facility.

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