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In recent years, life on the “lower” Upper West Side has blossomed: amenities, shops, Michelin-starred restaurants, and cultural attractions.
It was not always this way, and one of the institutions that helped transform this neighborhood into a destination for culture and condo seekers alike is the Museum of Arts and Design. Formerly housed across the street from the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street in a non-descript space dominated by an outsized staircase, MAD now has its very own building with a unique footprint nestled at the base of Central Park.
Originally the site of the Grand Circle Hotel – built in 1874, later renamed the Boulevard Hotel, and demolished in 1960 – 2 Columbus Circle eventually became the home to one of NYC’s most unusual structures. A&P heir Huntington Hartford built the edifice that was christened the “Lollipop Building” by New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable in 1964 to house his collection of Modernist art. Hartford commissioned the famed architect Edward Durell Stone, known at the time for designing the main lobby and grand ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, for the project. The building he created was a travertine-clad monolith with a slightly concave shape that hugs Columbus Circle, lined on the ground floor with a row of Venetian-style columns. It was the row of large circular insets that made Ada Louise Huxtable think of lollipops and give the building a moniker that, once assigned, would be impossible to shake. Lacking windows on its upper floors, the structure was never quite right for its intended usage, and eventually it fell into a state of neglect.
When the the Museum of Arts and Design acquired the building and sought to pursue a major renovation of it in the late 1990s, bestselling author Tom Wolfe was moved to pen an impassioned New York Times op-ed defending Edward Durell Stone’s original design. The Museum argued that though historically significant, the existing design prevented the site from being fully utilized and enjoyed by the public, thus undermining the value of its architectural heritage. Eventually winning out after a lengthy battle, MAD gutted 2 Columbus Circle in 2008 and hired architect Brad Cloepfil for its redesign. The debut of the new 2 Columbus Circle revealed a fully updated façade and vastly improved functionality for the interior space that opened the building to natural light and breathtaking views of Central Park that had been obscured by stone.
“Mr Cloepfil,” Times’ architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote at the time, “retained the form of the building … but wrapped it in a new skin of glazed terra-cotta tiles.” While the terra-cotta offers a nod to antiquity, Cloepfil’s design is fully modern. On the outside, its light surface glints in the sun as the bold graphics of the Museum’s signage beckon to potential visitors. Inside, the Museum of Art and Design is a small but brightly burning star in NYC’s museum constellation. Its four floors of exhibition galleries can be traversed in about an hour or two. MAD’s twelve-story space also contains an auditorium for lectures, films, and performances; a restaurant; a Center for the Study of Jewelry; artist-in-residence studios; and an Education Center.
MAD displays a permanent collection and rotating exhibits that focus on both historic and contemporary innovations in the fields of craft and design. The museum spotlights the creative process through which materials and ideas are transformed into works that enhance contemporary life, integrating a rare high-culture nod to art in industry. Residents of apartments on the Upper West Side can readily enjoy the exhibitions that draw visitors from all over the Northeast, to say nothing of a lovely afternoon looking out over the bustle of Columbus Circle and enjoying a meal at the Museum’s on-site eatery, Robert. Despite all these changes, architectural history buffs who miss the previous incarnation of 2 Columbus Circle will still recognize the “lollipop” arches at the base of the building that were preserved from Stone’s 1964 design.
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