June 17, 2024

Fix Xanadu? The Problem May Be Where to Begin

“It’s by far the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America,” the governor said last week, drawing cheers at a public forum in Nutley, and knowing nods across the state.

Mr. Christie is hardly the first to complain about the looks of the huge, nearly completed retail-and-entertainment mall alongside the Meadowlands sports complex here. Columnists and online forums have taken swings at it. State Senator Richard J. Codey, a former governor, called it “yucky-looking.” And former State Senator Raymond H. Bateman said, “I think the exterior will always be schlocky, no matter what you do with it.”

The facade of the 2.3-million-square-foot complex has walls of horizontal rectangles, walls of vertical stripes, varying shades of blue, green and orange. An indoor ski slope rises at an angle above the rest. Critics have compared the look to stacked shipping containers, Lego blocks and bar codes.

The garish walls were not intended as a naked skin. An array of animated electronic signs and other décor was supposed to surround the building, but may never be built. With $2 billion spent and more needed to finish it, Xanadu’s main problem is money. Twice, developers have been forced to withdraw when financing ran dry; the state is trying to get another developer to take over and perform a face-lift.

The architects who created the original design, the Rockwell Group, have thrown in the towel: After previous developers repeatedly changed the plans, the group withdrew in 2008 and disavowed any responsibility for the project’s appearance.

So we asked the experts to weigh in.


Architecture critic of The New Yorker

“It really is unspeakably ugly, there’s no doubt about that. It looks like someone tried to decorate a nuclear reactor.”

“In really big projects in this region, there’s been nothing as horrible as that. I would put Madison Square Garden on the same scale, but it’s not recent. I know various people have said the whole Trump complex on Riverside South is worse, and it is pretty bad.”

“With Xanadu I think the only solution, other than dynamite, is lots of lights and signage. The thing is vulgar by any standard, so maybe the only solution is to make it more vulgar — more lights than Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip.”


Architect and partner in Cook + Fox, which designed the Bank of America Tower

Xanadu is “the building every architect loves to hate,” said Mr. Cook, who is also a partner in Terrapin Bright Green, an environmental design consulting firm.

“Personally, what I find to be a horror is, this massive project turns its back on this incredibly beautiful ecosystem. The meadowlands has this incredible biodiversity with real beauty, believe it or not. It’s one of the most important stopover points on the eastern flyway for migratory birds.”

“At least it could have been a background building and nondescript, like all the warehouses and industrial buildings we’re used to driving by.” Instead, its artificiality “makes it an in-your-face offensive building.”

Rather than try to redo the exterior, “I would hide it.”

“I’d find any way to open the building to make it so people can appreciate what’s stunningly beautiful around it, and any way to marry it into the natural ecosystem, like a green roof. I would hire some biologist who specializes in migratory birds to figure out if you could do some kind of armature around the building that would create nesting areas, and camouflage the way it looks now.”


Editor in chief of the Web site The Infrastructurist

“Sure, Xanadu is ugly, but the true extent of its repugnance has to be taken in relation to its building costs. Every Wal-Mart and KFC in America is ugly — but what are magnificently ugly are the buildings that cost hundreds of millions to construct, and still emerge as aesthetic monstrosities.”

Considering Xanadu’s price, “it may have a good case for Ugliest Money Pit in America.” In the New York region, “the only thing comparable would be Trumpville on the West Side Highway. It beats Xanadu in its sheer mass, and its brutal imposition on the eyes of millions of people.”


Managing partner of the architectural firm FXFowle, and a New Jersey resident

Structures with cavernous interior spaces pose a particular design challenge: to avoid an exterior of huge, dull slabs. Xanadu’s multicolored panels are understandable “as an attempt to break down the mass of the building, because it is so large,” but they do not work well.

Is there a less attractive high-profile development of recent vintage in the region? “I would be hard-pressed” to think of one. “Just the number of eyes who see it every day provide an opportunity for whoever gets to redesign it to maybe make a more serious statement about what we should be thinking about in our buildings these days. So, for instance, maybe that exterior could be solar, potentially clad in photovoltaic panels.”

A new developer could make some of the exterior transparent, “re-skinning it to expose more of what’s going on inside the building” — an approach FXFowle is taking in renovating the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

The original vision of flashing, moving signs could be “distracting to people while they drive. Might be more of a hazard than a benefit.”


Founder and principal of Urban-Interface L.L.C., an urban design consulting practice

“It’s the ultimate example of the shopping mall as an enclosed space that doesn’t engage the environment around it. New Jersey is famous for those,” said Mr. McGrath, who a decade ago worked with the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission to generate ideas for developing the area.

“It’s less about the ugliness and the scale and the ambition, and more about how you engage a wetland. An indoor ski slope that requires refrigeration year-round blatantly disregards the environment.”

Xanadu’s design “could in some ways make reference to its environment, to the wetlands, the wildlife,” but it does not. “These open areas — the Meadowlands, Jamaica Bay — are the blue and green lungs of our region, and they’ve been completely disregarded and dumped on. They’re just places to drive past and fly over when we’re landing at the airport.”

The outer layer as originally planned, with its electronic components, would be something of an improvement. “It’s definitely in the spirit of Las Vegas, and the love of the ugly and the ordinary in the American landscape.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3589c3749764822471fc7c3da914e1dc