Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Samsung Vs. LG Corporate Design: An Energizer Versus an Eyesore

A rendering of the LG building, with the Palisades Parkway at right.
The rivalry between the South Korean tech giants Samsung and LG isn’t just played out over sales of smartphones and curved television screens. Both companies are building new American headquarters, Samsung in north San Jose, Calif.; LG in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. And on this score, the contest isn’t close. Buildings are corporate symbols and advertisements, after all. Samsung comes across as a good citizen here; LG as a lousy neighbor.
Samsung’s 1.1-million-square-foot North American offices, designed by NBBJ and to be finished next year, include a boxy, sleek glass behemoth that vaguely harks back to office parks of the 1970s. It’s divided into three horizontal bands, like a layer cake, each with landscaped decks on top. The continuous bands can seem like a square riff on Norman Foster’s doughnut-shaped headquarters for Apple, both with big, curving atriums; here, the concept is based on traditional Korean courtyard architecture.
The building links to the city’s light-rail system and fits into San Jose’s street grid. It’s eco-friendly, with de rigueur green roof and green walls, and urban-minded, by Silicon Valley standards, with public gardens, plazas and a cafe near a parking  garage that is partly camouflaged behind solar panels
A rendering of the proposed Samsung building in San Jose, Calif.
LG’s new $300 million, 490,000-square-foot headquarters would rise 143 feet high on a site next to the Palisades, which have been designated a National Natural Landmark. That’s several stories above the tree line. The site had been zoned to prohibit anything over 35 feet high, a provision that protects the view, but the company, a hefty local taxpayer, won a variance. LG points out that its project is on private land, a quarter-mile from the cliffs; that it earned approvals from Englewood Cliffs, Bergen County and the State of New Jersey; and that other taller buildings, off to the side, are visible from across the Hudson (as if that made any difference).
On Tuesday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, joined a growing chorus of justified protests against this egregious project.
“After more than a century of both New York and New Jersey working to preserve the unparalleled natural beauty of the Palisades,” the senator said in a news release, “one company should not be permitted to sweep in and taint that iconic landscape, particularly when an alternative building plan exists.”
Mr. Schumer’s remarks followed a request by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, who asked an appeals court in New Jersey to stop construction. Nearly a dozen conservation groups have filed briefs with the court, as have four New Jersey mayors representing towns near the Palisades and Englewood Cliffs. It was their “public trust” to protect the view, the mayors said.
Last week Rose Harvey, New York State’s parks commissioner, pleaded directly with the company to reconsider. Four former New Jersey governors have signed a separate letter, pointing out how “the Palisades have remained a landscape of unbroken, natural beauty in a heavily developed metropolitan area” for more than a century, and suggesting a different design.
But LG won’t budge. It could build a lower building on its 27-acre site with a wider footprint that wouldn’t intrude above the trees. “A redesign of the building will severely delay the economic and community benefits the new building will bring to the region,” it responds on its website. “New Jersey needs jobs now.” So the company line is the usual developer claptrap, exploiting the employment card.
HOK is the architectural firm. Its design includes an 85,000-square-foot solar array, 700 new trees and a landscaped parking lot. Imagine your neighbors explaining away the ear-busting stereo that blasts 24 hours a day by boasting that it’s made from recycled parts.
Views are notoriously hard to protect. They cross jurisdictions. New York City looks onto the Palisades. Englewood Cliffs wants the LG building.
Americans might wish to think harder about views and how to keep them. Maybe the marketplace can help in this case. The LG project will turn off countless customers by despoiling a cherished landmark. It will be a constant reminder on the skyline to shop Samsung. You’d think the company’s bosses wouldn’t want to look bad, compared with their rival.
The project in San Jose is thoughtful.
LG’s is a public shame.
Michael Kimmelman | NYTimes

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