As a Matter of Aesthetics

So a few weeks ago I stumbled across this article in the New York Times discussing the ongoing battle between environmental activists and LG Electronics over the company’s location for their brand spanking new North American headquarters. Now just where has this billion dollar corporation decided to set up shop and cause such controversy? Well it turns out they chose one of the most coveted pieces of land on the Hudson River (other than Manhattan) look to the other side, yup that’s it – the Palisades.

Now for those who don’t know the Palisades are a line of steep cliffs that run along the west side of the lower Hudson River in northeastern New Jersey and southern New York. Part of the Palisades Interstate Park the Palisades cliffs are a symbol of nature’s unspoiled beauty. With miles of picturesque wilderness with a tree line instead of skyline, this plot of land is a coveted national natural landmark. In addition the Palisades natural splendor, you cannot forget the fact that the Palisades lie in the midst of the most developed area in the nation. It is amazing development hasn’t encroached upon the Palisades sooner; but that is exactly why this is such a hot issue. For over 100 years people such as John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have been fighting to keep development away from the Palisades and they aren’t giving up just yet.

It all began in 2008 when LG set out on a hunt, exploring “more than 200 different sites around the country to find the ideal location for LG’s new North American headquarters.” One year later a decision was made and Englewood Cliffs, NJ was chosen. Though Englewood Cliffs is technically not “part” of the Palisades Interstate Park, it is dangerously close. Placed only one quarter mile back from the Palisades cliff, one can see for themselves, in the project rendering below, just how close the building is to the Hudson. Now I know you’re wondering what the big deal is if LG isn’t building on park property. Well…the problem is there is (used to be) a 35 foot height restriction to all buildings along the Palisades, in order to preserve the natural, undisturbed tree line; however LG’s building is 143 feet high….uh oh. Those unspoiled vistas are just about to be spoiled.

Alright, so let me back track for one second. Earlier I mentioned that I came across this recent article discussing these ongoing issues, the people vs. LG Electronics basically; however I failed to note exactly which section of the Times I read it in. One would probably assume that an article related to environmental and political issues would be found under the science/environmental or maybe business section, right? Wrong. Though I do like to read things that are not always art related, I was in fact perusing the Art & Design section of the Times to find something newsworthy to blog about when I found this article. At first I didn’t really find it odd that this article was in that section, but then I thought about it later and realized it had nothing to do with art, and though the design of LG’s building is impressive (you could write a whole article on that) it was barely discussed in the article. So then why am I writing about this issue??? Well after thinking about the whole debacle a little further I realized the issue had everything to do with aesthetics. It’s all about the view (that’s about to be destroyed.)

Since LG isn’t building in the Palisades Interstate Park, they aren’t technically damaging protected lands, just the view, In fact LG states that they are invested in green design and their new headquarters will, “embody the company’s commitment to sustainability.” A few highlights of the project’s environmental aspects, as listed on their website, include:

  • World-class green building which will be a showcase to promote environmentally-friendly energy efficiency, water conservation and reduced carbon emission.
  • The new building will utilize an 85,000 square foot photovoltaic solar array that will generate over 1,500 MWh of electricity annually.
  • Plans to transform the current site by increasing the percentage of green space by more than 50 percent, planting more than 700 new trees – all of which can be found on the Bergen County Native Plant List – and reducing harmful runoff into the Palisades and the Hudson River.
  • A series of leading sustainability initiatives including utilizing the EPA GreenScapes program to support run-off and cut energy usage; and adopting the EPA Clean Construction USA Program to help reduce emissions from internal combustion engines used in facility construction and operation.

So yeah, it looks pretty good on paper and you can see in these renderings that the new headquarters will be pretty snazzy looking. Honestly I can’t help but applaud them for their efforts in architecture and overall design. Now before we get all excited over a corporate company’s green initiative….

Let’s take a look at that new view! Oh no! That picturesque tree line now has a giant box protruding from it, how nice…

So the above picture is brought to you by the Protect the Palisades coalition, granted this simulated view may be slightly exaggerated, but honestly we won’t know what the building will look like from afar until it is completed. Below is LG’s simulated view of the finished building from across the Hudson, as seen on their website, but this too seems biased in the other direction. LG claims that their, “sleek, state-of-the-art glass building” will barely be seen by the naked eye. Yes it is true that an all glass building will reflect the sky around it and sort-of blend in, but I have seen many all-glass sky scrapers when approaching a city, and they don’t blend in…at all. Now if the building was all mirrors on the outside, that would be something different (but, then there would probably be issues with birds flying into it). Either way, with LG’s 143 foot building breaking the 35 foot height restriction the unspoiled vista will be no more.

So we know that the landscape along the Palisades cliffs will change, but now the question is; who exactly will be looking at the new LG headquarters everyday? Well, directly across the Hudson from LG’s 111 Sylvan Ave. address is Fort Tyron Park.

Fort Tyron Park, situated on a 67 acres ridge in Upper Manhattan, boasts breathtaking views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, the New Jersey Palisades and the Harlem River.

(is it just me or are those glass buildings ^ not blending into the sky like LG’s simulated view?)

It is also the home of the Cloisters. (If you have the chance, go there. The museum and the park are amazing, New York’s best kept secret!)

Here is a view of the Palisades and Hudson River, looking north from the West Terrace of the Cloisters Museum and Gardens. There’s no doubt that the LG building will be visible from here.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if LG had selected a section of land that wasn’t directly across from Fort Tyron Park and the Cloisters, people might not be as upset as they are now. But the people are heated, and though the whole issue has been going on for years, November 14, 2013 marked the official groundbreaking, adding significant fuel to the fire.

With all the outrage and protest against LG’s new building, one would think that they would have just backed down and either moved to another location or redesigned their building to honor the 35 foot height restriction. No such luck, as always time is money and according to their website, LG doesn’t want to spend any more..

“A redesign will mean a new round of approvals, additional architectural and site-planning work, as well as opening the doors to further legal challenges and related financial costs.”

Yes it is true that LG has designed a gorgeous, green, energy efficient building with a Science and Environmental Learning Center for children. (how ironic) And it is also true that this new facility will bring hundreds of jobs to New Jersey and economic growth and benefits, which is really great; but I ask you, at what cost?

The fact that LG could bypass local government laws, and design a building four times the higher than the current height restriction is alarming. If they can do it what’s stopping other multi-million dollar companies from doing so as well, absolutely nothing. I am sure other CEO’s, company presidents, and other high ranking employees would love a view of the Hudson from their office windows too…

LG’s new headquarters will sit on a sizable 27 acre lot, and though LG insists that a redesign would be detrimental to not only the company, but to New Jersey’s community, I can’t find any reason for why they didn’t design the building to fit the 35 foot height restriction in the first place…27 acres seems like enough space to me…(you can build underground too) If LG had truly listened to what the community wanted, they could have avoided this whole mess and came out looking like a hero to the community instead of a villain.

“This is like if somebody tried to build a high-rise next to Yellowstone.” – Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmental activist

WE WANT A BREATHTAKING VIEW, GOD DAMN IT, AND WE WANT IT NOW!

Are the risks of LG’s project worth the rewards? I am not so sure. It seems that this marks the beginning of the end of the Palisades natural vistas. The floodgates have been opened.

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One comment on “As a Matter of Aesthetics

  1. This looks like an excellent article! I never knew what an “Environmental Impact Statement” when I heard the term around the dinner table, as a child. This was my Dad’s job and back in the 60’s & 70’s. When private individual’s wanted to have the government build bridges for their private developments.

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