The Iconic Neighborhood Newark’s next step in the evolving architectural world Michael Lawson Envisioning Newark May 2009
The iconic building is a modern day phenomenon that has swept people into
believing that celebrity architects and large non‐contextual blobs should form the urban fabric of today’s cities. These spectacles of technology and computer power, though full of wonder and awe, have taken on different meanings than icons of the past. The hierarchy of building types has evolved into a democratic hodge‐podge of structures, relying not on their context but rather on the aspirations of politicians wanting to make their city a tourist attraction. This being said, the current economic situation has allowed for a slow down in the progression of iconic buildings, and all construction for that matter. Buildings have been allowed to take apart the urban fabric, one block at a time, placing structures that neither help nor stimulate urbanity and communal living, two important aspects of cities.
The City of Newark, New Jersey is posed to set itself as a model for other down
on their luck American cities to redevelop themselves into thriving urban centers. Only with rigorous consideration and planning can this be accomplished. In the current market the day of the architectural icon may have passed leaving Newark without a new sleek, geometric Gehry icon it can call its own, However this may be just as well, considering that to become this model a new strategy must be created not an old restored.
Newark has an abundance of neighborhoods that spread out from its downtown.
These neighborhoods have felt the decline of the city the hardest, with high poverty and crime rates; however they symbolize the essence of this once industrial city. Within
these neighborhoods some of the most culturally diverse communities in the United States can be found (Sullivan). From the Brazilian and Portuguese populations in the Ironbound to the Black’s and Italian’s in the North and Central Wards, Newark’s neighborhoods have a cultural heritage that far exceeds what any celebrity architect can pull off his stock room shelf.
Newark does not need another shiny metal icon, but rather iconic
neighborhoods that encapsulate the buildings within them. The architecture must embrace the history and contextual physicality of the city. The Gateway complex must be the last of the non‐descript office towers, and in favor must come a new genre of buildings that create an icon for their communities not just for themselves.
To fully understand the influence of icons of the past and architectural icons of
the present, an analysis of the 1990’s exuberance must be cataloged. Architecture is at the whim of the economic cycle. When times are good, construction and design are limitless in ideas, pushing the boundaries of expectations. However, as is today, the cycle will always reverse itself. Although this means hard times for architects, it allows for much needed planning and ideas to resonate before premature conception. In the high times, ideals are quickly tested and built; new designs and building methods are put on the fast track, needing to be built before the next best thing. Architectural icons
can be seen as one of these premature ideas. Icons, within the last decade, have become the tool for cities and companies to reinvent themselves.
In today’s era of contemporary architecture, few will dispute that the
architectural icon has shaped the worlds cities. From Bilbao to Dubai to Shanghai, icons have been created by celebrity architects to not only be eye catching, but give these cities an identity, a tourist industry that will make these regions prosperous. An architectural icon has become more than just a building, through social and economic forces the icon has become more important than the urban hierarchy it sits within. Icons, such as Norman Foster’s Re Office Building in London or Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim have become the modern day church steeple or clock tower. These structures are the most important features of the city, however they rarely are contextual. Alien to the fabric around them, icons rely on themselves for success not their surroundings (Jencks 7).
Architecture has been able to make a statement, one that in the past was
unclaimed. The public has seen what a piece of architecture can do for a city. Sydney, Australia was the first with Jorn Utzon’s Opera House, followed by Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao decades later. Both of the structures were able to transform their respective cities into tourist destinations. However at a closer glance, architecturally both projects are strikingly similar. Both the Opera House and Guggenheim sit on their site, interacting minimally with their context. Neither are part of the urban fabric but
rather become an object within the city, an alien being within the human race. Though both projects allowed for their cities to reap the benefits of increased tourism, architecturally no design hours were put into the community around the sites.
It is then not so un‐predictable that many of these new icons have found a home
within the museum typology. With an open program and many times almost unlimited budgets museums offer an innate flexibility uncharacteristic of any other building type. Exuberance and technology combine to create not only a museum but a shop and an icon, all at the same time. In this sense “the museum became more like the department store and architects were given the job of branding them both.” (Jencks 44) It is ironic that Andy Warhol was correct in his assumption that in the future “all department stores will become museums, and all museums will become department stores” (Jencks 44).
Celebrity architecture has thrived in this era of exuberance and wealth. The
architects who get to design these iconic buildings are dwindling in number, the capitalistic market only allowing a select few to feel the glory of fame (Sudjic 317). However this has led to a decrease in the diversity of design. This group of famed designers has led the industry into a place that no longer permits form to follow function but rather form to follow image (Sudjic 319). Image has become the forefront of architectural icon design. The image of a building makes a statement to what the
inhabitants of the building are trying to make or to what a city is trying to proclaim about itself.
As Charles Jencks points out in his book, “The Iconic Building”, cities are not the
only ones that are prospering from iconic buildings; companies are branding themselves through architecture as well. When Frank Gehry was contracted by the Guggenheim Museum to build a new museum in Bilbao, the museum director was not looking for just another building. Thomas Krens was looking for an image for his museum empire. Jencks explains rather cleverly that to many museum foundations, buildings have become more valuable than the art they hold. The buildings proclaim an identifiable image, one that can be seen within the urban fabric and one that can transform a city or museum into a tourist attraction. Bilbao, itself a rustbelt city in decline before the Guggenheim, knew that the price tag for the building, although considerable was worth it. Bilbao reinvented itself, creating an identity through the museum. Newark’s Icons The City of Newark has always been a city with icons. Whether it be the churches of the 18th century or the factories of the 19th and 20th centuries, Newark has seen its fair share of important buildings. History is an important part in understanding what Newark’s next icon should be. To not make the same mistakes as previous architectural icons of the 1990’s, historic and physical context must be maintained so to create an urban fabric, not to disintegrate it.
The settlers of Newark originated from the New Haven Colony of Connecticut. The Puritans, who had left England to establish a ridged theocracy, felt forced to relocate from their home in New Haven when King Charles II ordered the Puritan colony to be absorbed by the Connecticut Colony. The Puritans believed only members of the church should have governmental rights such as voting and as the new colony’s constitution contained no such restrictions, the Puritans decided to pursue theocracy elsewhere. A site along the Passaic River, in what is today New Jersey was purchased from the Hackensack Indians for goods amounting to seven hundred and fifty dollars. Broad and Market Streets were the first major roadways created in the new colony of Milford. It was not until later that the village would be officially named Newark. First Church or Old First Presbyterian was the first pubic building to be constructed in Newark. Just as the Puritans had wanted, the government and the church worked hand and hand (Hartman). The church within the town was the location of worship, town gatherings and even military assemblies. If a person was not a member of the church, they were deprived of any privileges and rights the local government would give. The church was the center of not only religion, but government, education and recreation. The village looked to their religious establishment for not only spiritual guidance but also leadership and stability. First Church was Newark’s first iconic building representing these goals and ideas that the Puritans believed in. First Church was built to bring the
community together under one faith. This single building represented a unique community with a centered and just cause (Hartman). This early icon was more than just a building; it embraced the community and was the center for the neighborhood. It meant more than just a capitalistic image because it was worth more; there was an underlying meaning to why it was important. This church was the center of their government, social arena, and family life. No new architectural icon can challenge that.
In Newark, the churches that line its avenues still enliven the neighborhoods
through faith and community service, although during the industrial revolution the factory was the icon within the city. In the 1800s, the city's industrial boom was made possible by the first wave of immigrants moving to Newark. Specifically, the Irish came to the area in the 1820’s to work on the construction of the Morris Canal. At its peak the Morris Canal, present day Raymond Boulevard, carried tons of freight across New Jersey, terminating in Newark Bay. This naturally led Newark to be the manufacturing city of the region, allowing for industry to build up within the city (Hartman).
Newark’s industrial boom attracted enterprising inventors like Thomas Edison,
who created the ticker tape machine while in Newark. Seth Boyden invented the process for making patent leather and malleable iron, in addition to developing a hat‐ forming machine and an inexpensive process for manufacturing sheet iron. John W. Hyatt developed celluloid, used for camera film, which he went into the business of
selling with his brothers in 1872. The Weston Electrical Instrument Company created the Weston standard cell, the first accurate portable voltmeters and ammeters, the first portable light‐meter, and many other electrical developments. Such developments helped the city enter early into the manufacture of plastics, electrical goods, and chemicals (Hartman).
During the industrial revolution, the factory was the most important driving
force within the city. Factories allowed for people’s livelihoods and became what Newark was known for. Even today, Newark is known for its manufacturing past, known to many as one of the largest industrial hubs of the 19th century. The factory was Newark’s icon, during this era, allowing for the city to grow and prosper. In many ways these are the goals of modern day architectural icons. Icons today are envisioned to help struggling cities bring people back to their inner cores. However this mainly consists of tourists, rather than residents. This is the difference between old and new icons. New icons rarely help the inhabitants of the cities they are in. Although bringing in more cash flow is a necessity and proponent, the idea that a cities icon should help the city’s residents has not been seen.
During the 20th century Newark saw its rise and fall. The Pre‐WWII era was when
Newark found itself living the high life; it was a center of manufacturing and commerce for the region. Department stores lined the avenues crossing Four Corners, making that intersection one of the busiest in the United States (Zhang). The Insurance industry in
Newark was one of the strongest with such names as Prudential and Mutual Benefit being founded in the city. Newark’s commercial icons were the many department stores and large insurance firms. These were the rock behind Newark’s pre and post war successes. These intuitions offered stability to the economy and were the places to be for Newarker’s and New Jerseyan’s.
As the century lingered on civil rights issues became a forefront issue within the
city. The riots of 1967 halted Newark’s growth placing the city in a stall pattern for the next two decades. In the late 1990’s Newark has seen a rebirth, thriving off of its arts and entertainment sector. NJPAC, Newark Symphony Hall, and the Prudential Center have placed Newark on the map again as a city on the verge of a renaissance. However none of these institutions prove to have the iconic power of Newark’s past icons, the church, the factory, or the department store. Contextual Neighborhoods
Throughout the over 300 years that Newark has been incorporated, many
neighborhoods have become the essence of the city. These neighborhoods offered a sense of warmth and salvation to their members. In recent decades, Newark’s many diverse communities have been the subject of urban decay, or failed urban renewal projects. For Newark to move forward these neighborhoods have to be the first to see a rebound, signifying that the city is a suitable place to live (Sullivan).
Within the past ten years a form of planning called new urbanism has evolved. People have long been hampered with the fact that where they live and work are not in the same place. New Urbanism promotes a neighborhood that is mix‐use and mixed income generating a community that is diverse culturally and physically. Traditional Neighborhood Developments as they are also referred to as, create “places where residents, if they so desire, can live quite comfortably without an automobile” (TND Neighborhoods). The variety of uses permits educational facilities, civic buildings and commercial establishments to be located within walking distance of private homes. The communities are served by a network of paths, streets and lanes suitable for pedestrians as well as vehicles. This provides residents the option of walking, biking or driving to places within their neighborhood. Mass transit and other transportation necessities are taken into account within the planning stages. Public and private spaces have equal importance, creating a balanced community that serves a wide range of home and business owners. The inclusion of civic buildings and civic space, in the form of plazas, greens, parks and squares, enhances community identity and value (TND Neighborhoods).
These types of communities have already started to become policy within the
City of Newark. Society Hill in the University Heights section of the Central Ward is a start towards a Traditional Neighborhood Development. Society Hill is a mixed income condominium complex that includes recreation facilities and pubic transportation links to the downtown area. Similar projects are being undertaken by the Newark Housing
Authority at the old Baxter Terrace public housing development. A new mixed use mixed income neighborhood is planned to replace the low income pubic housing.
At the route of these neighborhoods is the idea that these developments must
fit into the city’s urban fabric. The developments are high density and do not permit suburban style or “Bayonne Box” type architecture. A new urban neighborhood is created at the human scale. Buildings are placed closer together and exteriors are designed to be safe and attractive for pedestrians. Streets are constructed for slower speeds and traffic is dispersed through many different connections. Walking in front of a business or around town is simply a pleasant, interesting activity (TND Neighborhoods).
The iconic neighborhood is a combination of contextual iconic buildings with
neighborhoods around them that can grow and prosper from them. These neighborhoods are not ordinary traditional neighborhood developments, but rather are linked to the urban fabric by an iconic contextual building. In many ways stating the need for a contextual icon is an oxymoron, however that is what is needed in this evolving architectural landscape. Newark Architecture must embrace its long history and derive from it the true meaning of having an iconic building in Newark.
Newark icons have not just been large buildings with no meaning; they have
been places that people have felt a connection to. The church was physically and spiritually the center of life for early Newarker’s. The factories were iconic because they
represented the livelihood of so many Newark citizens. The factory work allowed citizens to put food on the table and support their families. It also allowed Newark to prosper and grow. During the department store era, the stores were the center of society. Everyone wanted to walk around Bamberger’s on the weekend to see the new styles.
Today the Newark is trying to define its icon. The city has defined itself as a city
for the arts and sports. With NJPAC, the Prudential Center, Newark Symphony Hall, the Newark Museum and dozens of galleries, Newark has the venues to create a city that can again be an icon for the region. However architecturally none of these structures speak to being iconic; further more none of the communities around them have seen the revitalization that needs to be seen for a full city renaissance.
The new Shifting Forward 2025 Master Plan for Newark is a start to
understanding how to compile a revitalization plan for the city, however a more distinct plan for each neighborhood needs to be laid out, centered along architectural icons that can help to symbolize those distinct areas. Architecture needs to be looked at as a tool for innovative ideas on how to restore the urban fabric and successfully rejuvenate a city. An architectural icon can no more stimulate a depressed economy alone, Newark needs neighborhoods that can thrive and push Newark in the right direction.
Newark’s new image is the Arts and Entertainment Sector. These venues can be
used as architectural elements within the urban fabric to create sustainable
communities. The Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District is a great example of how this idea can be implemented. The LPCCD has been able to set forth for itself a plan that will see new residential and commercial development all centered around a new Museum of African American Music (Community). Newark’s cultural history will hopefully be infused with an architectural icon and a community to form an iconic neighborhood. One that will be a place to live, work, and enjoy. Architecture must be looked at as more than just a building, it is the urban fabric that a city is in. From the way a building sits on the site to the way people move around the building, to the way it interacts with its neighbors, a building is the city and the city is the building. Conclusion
For so many years, Newark has been underprivileged. The time is now for the
fourth transition of iconic symbols to be passed. The arts and entertainment sector must be used as well as architecture to create iconic neighborhoods that can prosper and grow. The iconic neighborhoods need to be developed so that the citizens of Newark prosper as well as the companies and government. Too many times in Newark’s past has the citizen been over stepped in favor of greed and capitalism.
For Newark to become a model, the city must learn from the mistakes of others
and develop a strategy that encompasses all divisions of the city. The iconic neighborhood is the solution. It allows for contextual iconic architecture to be infused within the communities. City heritage can be discovered and an identity based in history
and culture, rather than capitalism and greed can be taught to the children of tomorrow. Newark’s next icon must symbolize, like the in the past, what the city values the most. Its hidden cultural and historical treasures must be unearthed to show the world that this industrial city is more than just a group of old factories, but a city who is iconic to its own heritage.
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