Nike & The New Ornamentalism

Blake Gopnik: “Sneaker fiends may know it as Nike’s grand new home, but design fans should soon be recognizing it as one of the most exciting and intelligent structures to be built for decades, anywhere. It is also one of the few that revives the old, pre-Modernist joy that we find in the ornate. The new building sits on the site of the long-demolished Prescott House, a wildly decorative hotel built in 1852, when masonry was still what held a building up and windows pierced it at their peril.”

“One end of the building’s wide facade is built around the kind of narrow window openings that had been required by the Prescott’s brick construction; they have elaborate terra-cotta surrounds that pay homage to the Prescott’s ornate lintels and sills. The other end of the same frontage has the much wider piercings that were the goal of SoHo’s cast-iron architecture … The surrounding decoration stretches and compresses to suit the ever-changing fenestration. Halfway down the building, that decoration even turns a somersault as a band of ornate terra cotta goes from sitting flat on the facade above the narrow embrasures to becoming a protruding cornice over the wider ones.”

“It conveys a sense of generosity, with each ornament conjuring up the moment when one human being made the decision to put it there, as an aesthetic offering to others. The facade’s details invite a closer approach and a dialogue about what they’re up to; they ask for interpretation and understanding, like letters in an alphabet you only just grasp.”

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