The Columbia University Law School (Harrison & Abramovitz, 1961).
The "toaster" with its cooling ribs. If only the horribly dated window treatment was left undone... A photo marred by the converging verticals -- the closeness of the shooting location and the horizontal composition meant that even the highest position of the tripod (yep, I was allowed to use it) wasn't enough to improve the resulting "tilting" of the building.
Mr. Polshek's "contextual" style of architecture runs into problems when the building it has to harmonize with is hideously ugly in the first place. The inevitable result: more ugliness, as in the case of his Law School addition. The original building is a dismal brick of 1960's bureaucratic modernism, complete with a bloated and formless sculpture that hangs ominously over the entrance, perhaps alluding to the intellectual incoherence contained within, perhaps merely threatening to crush the unlucky pedestrian. This building was nicknamed "the toaster" because of two balcony-like structures protruding from each end. This building would be a lot less ugly if its elaborate system of built-in window boxes for plants were used, but they hardly ever are.
1956 -- Law School building on 117th St. approved; later thought to resemble a toaster.
Virtually all the new buildings Columbia constructed in the Kirk years were criticized on aesthetic grounds. Campus wags referred to the Law School building as "a toaster," with Seeley Mudd "the box it came in." The opening of Uris Hall was picketed by School of Architecture faculty and students, while Carman and Ferris-Booth were promptly declared unworkable as undergraduate habitats, a judgment of Ferris-Booth confirmed in 1994 when it was demolished to make room for Lerner Hall. The alumni magazine, Columbia Today, was moved in 1964 to devote an issue to the University's recent architectural miscues.
Successive architectural editors of The New York Times, including the formidable Ada Louise Huxtable, criticized Columbia for its architectural sins. Most campus master plans for Barnard in the last three decades have begun with the happy prospect of demolishing McIntosh Center and Lehman Hall.
16 September 1968, New York Times, pg. 50:
Columbia's architecture has been widely condemned by critics as "dull," "bureaucratic" and "unimaginative" in an era when many other universities are experimenting with new forms. Among its new buildings, the Law School has been called by students "the toaster" and the Seely Mudd Engineering Building "the box the toaster came in."
9 October 1994, New York Times, pg. R1:
A New Front Door for "the Toaster"
At Columbia Law
The Columbia University Law School is more distinguished for its alumni - Franklin A. Thomas, Harold M. Ickes, George E. Pataki and Ellen V. Futter among them - than its architecture. The 33-year-old modernist box, Jerome L. Greene Hall, is known on campus as "the toaster."