Monday, November 16, 2009

Architectural Anomaly Part 1: The Broken Angel


One of the things that I really miss about Europe is the architecture. After moving from a place where thousand year old cathedrals and Georgian architecture exist alongside newer developments; Vancouver (a relatively young city) was a shock to the system. Downtown Vancouver is mainly constructed of glass and steel; developers appear to prefer to bludgeon older buildings in favour of throwing up yet another skyscraper. I’m drawn to decay, crumbling structures and the unusual. A walk through an older building serves to fuel my imagination and leads me to wonder about the people that have previously walked the corridors. Over the next few months I’ll be posting a series of my favourite buildings.


One of my all time favourites: The Broken Angel building in New York. It’s located at 4/6 Downing Street in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Artist Arthur Wood originally purchased the building, which was the former Brooklyn Trolley Headquarters, in the ‘70s for $2,000. Arthur and his wife Cynthia raised their son Christopher and over time they created a unique amalgamation of art and design. The building evolved into his largest work and was a work in progress over three decades. Wood used found objects and explored design as he added new floors and rooms to the original building. Gradually the structure rose about 104 feet above the sidewalk and had a wood-and-mirror Floor which appeared to float in mid air when viewed from the ground.



The inside of the building was like a huge cathedral with arches and colorful stained glass windows that were made from found bottles and glass. The house is a neighborhood institution and was featured prominently as a backdrop in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party (You can see it in the clip below at 0.56 and 1.37). Christopher Wood said “Many of you wonder what the hell my parents are doing with that building. They always were building an outline of a dream, a building that was different from the usual architecture of today. They did this while never having enough money to complete their dream. But that didn't stop them for using found or discarded objects that we throw away ever day like the glass bottles that they used to create a stained glass windows.”



A fire broke out in the building in early October 2006 and the department of Buildings of New York city seized the building claiming that it was an unsafe structure. This meant evicting Arthur (75 years old at the time) and Cynthia (65 years old at the time) from their home of 30 years. A couple of days later police arrived, cordoned off Downing Street and had battering rams ready to strike down the door. When Arthur defied the vacate order by staying in the building, he was arrested. The police also arrested Cynthia. The Woods were not given an opportunity to challenge these claims and were denied access to accommodation in a shelter as they owned a property. Buildings inspectors issued numerous building code violations and as a result of this they were forced to sleep with their pets in a VW van near the building.



The Woods did everything they could to raise awareness of the issue. In order to try and save the building they removed the top structure and parts that may have violated any codes. Wood took out more than $1 million in loans to fund the demolition and rebuild the structure but it wasn’t enough for the Dept of Buildings who blocked additional work on the building. In early 2007 it was announced that Arthur Wood had partnered with a local real estate developer Shahn Andersen to renovate Broken Angel. The plan was to build a new addition to its side and to convert the building to residential condominiums and artist spaces.


Unfortunately things didn’t work out and plans to renovate it under the direction of Shahn Anderson were never completed. Facing foreclosure from Madison Realty Bank and with Cynthia battling cancer, the Woods attempted to fight the foreclosure and get their house back. After a 2 year struggle, Arthur put the remainder of what was once the 108-foot Broken Angel building up for sale. Now all that remains of a once truly individual building are the red brick walls and four floors of boarded-up windows.


All photos: Christopher Wood

3 comments:

nursemyra said...

What an amazing and sad story

christopher wood said...

Kickstarter Broken Angel Squared For this project artists can purchase 1 square inch (or more) and create any design they choose on it. Purchases of multiple squares come with exciting rewards. The square inches will be sent to Broken Angel and grouped together to create what we aim to be the world’s largest collaborative art piece. The first 1000 squares are going to be displayed on the front of the building. Proceeds from the project will go to archive and preserve this art along with Arthur Wood’s existing art work and the building Broken Angel. It is Arthur and Chris’s intention to turn Broken Angel in to a museum that would permanently house this original collaborative artistic creation. Submitters of squares can be anonymous or can choose to have their contact information available to the viewing public.  I am attaching a link to the project. I hope you can take a minute to view it and share our vision. 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/12051237/broken-angel-squared

christopher wood said...

Kickstarter Broken Angel Squared For this project artists can purchase 1 square inch (or more) and create any design they choose on it. Purchases of multiple squares come with exciting rewards. The square inches will be sent to Broken Angel and grouped together to create what we aim to be the world’s largest collaborative art piece. The first 1000 squares are going to be displayed on the front of the building. Proceeds from the project will go to archive and preserve this art along with Arthur Wood’s existing art work and the building Broken Angel. It is Arthur and Chris’s intention to turn Broken Angel in to a museum that would permanently house this original collaborative artistic creation. Submitters of squares can be anonymous or can choose to have their contact information available to the viewing public.  I am attaching a link to the project. I hope you can take a minute to view it and share our vision. 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/12051237/broken-angel-squared

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