Building as an art canvas

There’s often a debate in architecture about the blurring of art and architecture. Perhaps Frank Ghery does this best – making buildings that really are works of art. They set out to be that way; whether they do it for you is a matter of taste.


But wandering around New York this week I saw a building which looks abandoned – strewn with graffiti and with boarded up windows. We walked past it a few times and wondered how this could be so. It’s on The Bowery – at the eastern edge of SOHO. I figured it had probably been a Bank in the past – big stone facade and built to last – a statement if ever there was one. Except it is plastered in posters, graffiti and ‘art’.

Google is a wonderful thing and a few milliseconds of research solved this issue.

It was a Germania Bank – built in 1898. It has six floors and 72 rooms – totalling 35,000 sq ft of accommodation! Although the outside may have an abandoned persona it is, apparently, perfectly habitable of the inside. It is occupied by three people…

The story goes that Jay Maisel, a famous photographer bough the ‘pile’ in 1966 – for $102,000 (£63,000 at todays change rate). Even allowing for the ravages of inflation the sum factored up would be around $750,000 (£466,000). With New York apartments  – in Manhattan starting at c£300,000 (for a studio room!) this was clearly bargain of the Century. It is estimated to be worth around $70m today.

As for the art – the City want it cleaned up but Maisel (interview in 2008) said it was just impossible – he did try to clean it off, but the artists came back and started again on a new clean canvas. It once had Roy Lichtenstein as sub-tenant and Keith Haring chalked baby paintings numerous times!

Maybe not pretty but certainly art…

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