An implant for Troy's urban smile

troy city hall

Everyone, well almost everyone, can agree the current City Hall is, um, not good-looking.

Troy mayor Harry Tuntunjian's announcement last night of a plan to build a new city hall on the site of the current city hall made us think back to a conversation we heard recently between Tutunjian and James Howard Kunstler, new urbanist and sprawl nemesis.

Well, maybe conversation isn't quite the word. "Getting jumped on in the street" is how Tutunjian put it afterwards.

The exchange was recorded during Troy's Victorian Stroll last December for Kunstler's podcast series called "Kunstlercast." K-Cast is hosted by Duncan Crary, whose question opens this snippet:

Crary: Monument Square is one of the great public spaces of the Capital Region. It's an enclosed outdoor room with three walls. One of the things that people are talking about, though, the city council, is demolishing City Hall, which would be demolishing one of the three walls, replacing it with an underground parking garage with, literally, a Chemlawn toupee -- a bunch of grass.

Tutunjian: Have you seen it? I mean, that's what maybe some of the critics are saying, but it hasn't been done, yet. It's going to be a real lawn.

Kunstler: The question is why shouldn't there be a building there? Why do you have to put a lawn there. the public space is the square itself. You don't need a public space adjacent to the public space. so, what's the point of that?

Tutunjian: You don't want to see the river? I mean, isn't that what it's all about? Access to the river -- and having a building there also and having access to the river.

Crary: No, you can walk behind City Hall to see the river.

Tutunjian: How do you do that now? It's very tough. And not many people are able to get there.

Crary: But Mayor, Monument Square isn't a lean-to, it's a three-wall public room. And it feels good to be surrounded by walls on all three sides. If you knock down city hall and you don't replace it, you'll get a grand old gentlewoman with her front teeth knocked out in a bar brawl.

Tutunjian: There's nothing to say there won't be a building on that site. The plans are for a public space with grass and a public gathering space by the river.

Kunstler: (inaudible)

Tutunjian: Well, that's your opinion. And when you become mayor, you can do what you want.

Crary: Mayor, one other question, though...

Tutunjian: (walking away) Not when you attack me on the street like you're doing now... (closer again) I'm here for a conversation. I'm not here to be attacked.

Kunstler: Can we persuade you that there's a better way?

Tutunjian: What is a better way?

Kunstler: To put a building where that...

Tutunjian: There may be a building, that's what I'm telling you if you want to listen to me. There may be a building on either end and the central space open so that when you walk down Broadway you'll see the river, which you can't do right now. So there will be a building on the south End and the north end and the public space will be in the middle. it's not set in stone, yet. It has to go out to bid.

Kunstler: it's a mistake in our time, thinking that city life is about scenery and views. It's not about scenery and views. It's about the life of the street. And the life of public places. And when you make it about scenery, like the view of the river, more than the quality of the public space itself, I think it's a sort of fundamental error. but it's one that's being made all over American by all kinds of professionals, including design professionals, so I'm not surprised that you've been sucked in to that idea.

Tutunjian: (inaudible) you can combine both, though. You can provide access to views of the river, that's what people want to see and get to. Especially with new attractions along the river, more docking, more boat space, more recreation, storefronts, things like that. The city is an industrial city. it's built with its back toward the river. To have some space that open up to the river, so when people are walking along the bike path...

Kunstler: The streets are there to bring you to the river and then to bring you to whatever avenue is along the river. But the building lot itself is for the building. And you have to optimize the building lot and use the street as the way to make the journey to the river.

Tutunjian goes to say that the plans for open space on the lot are motivated by public demand -- and Kunstler essentially responds that the public doesn't know any better.

He also tells Tutunjian that Troy could be "one of the great comeback stories" in America.

The Tutunjian exchange is only about a third of this episode. The rest of it includes Kunstler's thoughts on the "missing teeth in the urban fabric" -- that is, parking lots and other empty spots.

And by the way: Kunstler declared the current Troy City Hall his Eyesore of the Month last May.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Troy City Hall = Eiffel Tower?


I'm not a fan of the missing tooth look either but it's BETTER THAN THE CURRENT MONSTROSITY. And I'd much rather see a big gap in the center of the city than another abomination like that building, RPI's library, and even that silly EMPAC building that looks like a glass mouthed beast ready to slide down the hill and gobble up the city.

Empty space is a better alternative than another structure that clashes w/ the beautiful history that remains. I'd personally love to see a gorgeous building to fill that hole, but I have little faith in anyone's tastes anymore.

Architects for the most part are monsters, designers of horrors and ghastly, inhuman monolithic piles of trash. They should all be fired and sent back to school to learn about aesthetics and beauty. Their modernist trash is a crime against humanity.

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