A few years ago, the City of New York mandated that all buildings of a certain age and of stone construction be entirely repointed. Manually, the process involves cutting each stone in a building’s facade out of its mortar setting, repositioning it, and securing it. By the time the project is complete, every stone has been touched. By continuous degrees, the building has been taken apart and put back together, with little perceptible change.
The purpose of repointing is actually to repair or strengthen the mortar joints between stones, or bricks, which wear down, crack and crumble over time, and not the stones themselves. But the term ‘repoint’ lends itself to a different concept in my imagination: I picture building blocks rotating in place, like cubical beads on a 21-story abacus, so that a new side of every stone faces out. Imagine a time-lapse video of a building being repointed, fresh stone faces appearing row by row, as though a curtain were being drawn aside.
That’s one thing about architectural restoration and building projects—their large scales and lengthy timetables aren’t often conducive to the big reveal. Take the new New Museum, which came out to society on Friday. It graced the pages of nearly every print publication, but the big moment was a bit of a letdown. The museum’s new doors wouldn’t open until Saturday, December 1st, so the publicity was weighed down by hesitation, sort of like hosting a party over the weekend when your birthday falls on a Wednesday.
On top of that, the building’s appearance came as no surprise to anyone who has wandered by the construction site since the project was commissioned in 2002. There was no curtain to draw back, no veil to whip off before a gasping audience. However, there is a time-lapse video of the ongoing construction on The New Museum’s website (note the :20-:30 second mark when the white tarps hung across the work area hint at the finished look).
Architecture as art is multi-faceted in a maddening way. Whenever I try to turn it over in my head, I fall on the same conclusion: I think of it as sculpture slash ongoing installation slash performance piece. Like a vessel, life goes on inside while a traditional masonry building (a building that looks like a building) is repointed. The New Museum, that tottering chainmail edifice on the Bowery, will begin to turn the spotlight over to guests in its galleries. Inside, change will be continuous, deliberate, anticipated, sensational. Patrons will push through the doors to see what’s behind the industrial mesh curtain.