The Value of Small-Scale Architecture

Toshiko Mori, Poe Park Visitor Center

Designs can be great regardless of scale, and bigger is not necessarily better. As Julie Iovine explains in her article on Toshiko Mori’s new Poe Park Visitor Center, “Splashy new architecture attracts a blaze of attention, but it’s the carefully conceived small projects that have the real impact on everyday lives.” Well said – let’s not get distracted by the big scale of certain glossy projects, but also realize the positive impact smaller projects can have on their community.

Mori’s Visitor Center, a new building on the 2.3-acre Poe Park in the Bronx, replaces a “scary 1928 Parks Department bunker for equipment storage, with bathrooms underground.” In addition, it’s the first “project to be completed as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Design and Construction Excellence Initiative,” a program that “aims at bringing good design to even the humblest city-funded projects.”

Iovine describes the poetics of the park and Visitor Center, and the importance of the “little farmhouse that was Edgar Allen Poe’s last New York home,” a structure that still stands, and gives the park its name. Everything about this project seems to be great for the community. However, while Iovine doesn’t mention its cost until the last paragraph, this seems to attract the biggest interest from online readers. The comments strongly react to the decision to spend $3.8M on the park, when the money could have been put to better use elsewhere in the Bronx.

One comment says, “That is about five times what it should have cost. No wonder New York is broke. Get rid of those architects and just hire builders.”

On the other hand, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said, “I am really pleased that we’ve brought a renowned architect to the Grand Concourse. And that it’s not in Midtown, but along the Champs Élysées of the Bronx where it’s fitting to have a work of great architecture.”

Of course, the city and especially areas like the Bronx can use better funding. But would the same criticism come up if this park was built in Manhattan? Or is this expense shocking because it is happening in the Bronx? Consider the High Line, which opens its second section on June 8. The two sections together, from Gansevoort Street to 30th Street reportedly cost $152M. Part of this was raised by Friends of the High Line, the group that led the project, but how much came from the city?

Spending $152M on such a structure seems an extravagant expense, but the benefits it brings to the city and the community have proven themselves invaluable. Is it really too much to spend $3.8M on reviving a community park and visitor center in the Bronx?

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