The Secret Lives of Buildings:
From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories
by Edward Hollis
$28.00 List Price
New York City's Two Columbus Circle is a sprightly forty-five years old, but it has already had quite a career. The ten-story tower opened in 1964 as the Gallery of Modern Art, endowed by supermarket magnate Huntington Hartford and designed by proto-pomo architect Edward Durell Stone. The gallery, a reflection of Hartford's recherché, antimodernist tastes, bombed, and in 1969 he palmed the building off on Fairleigh Dickinson University, which used it as an academic pied-à-terre. That was short-lived as well, and the city took it over as office space. In 1998, the municipal bureaucracy departed, and the building sat shuttered until last year when, after a massive renovation, it reopened as the Museum of Arts and Design. Two Columbus Circle may have seen more action than most buildings in its relatively short life, but its story is hardly unique. The Tweed Courthouse is now the New York City Department of Education. Nashville's neo-Romanesque Union Station, once one of the South's major rail hubs, is today a luxury hotel. Just outside my DC apartment sits an old National Guard armory; it has since been a roller rink, a film studio, and a supermarket.
All of which makes Edward Hollis's assertion that "architecture is all too often imagined as if buildings do not—and should not—change" ring slightly off-key. To be fair, Hollis, a British architect, isn't thinking of my neighbor the armory. He means "great" buildings, like the Parthenon, which began as a temple to Athena but was later used as a mosque and an ammo dump, and the Hagia Sofia, which was a church before it was a