|An act from O, Las Vegas, 1998 (source)||One Church Street, Designed by Douglas Orr, New Haven, Connecticut, 1961 (Photo by Author)|
Cirque du Soleil’s production,O, at Bellagio’s Strip-front resort features the impossible: water instantly alternates between solid and liquid states. This amazing scientific advance allows the show’s acrobats the ability to defy conventional assumptions about states of matter* and perform breathtaking feats. A sequence may feature actors skipping across a frozen pond, transitioning theatergoers’ focus to a team of acrobatic divers plunging into the aqueous abyss. Sometimes these contradictory sequences occur simultaneously! As the show progresses, sets rise from the murky depths, transitioning from placid stage to messy swampland hovel. Water is simultaneously solid and liquid; waves of vapor roll across the audience.
Out front, in Bellagio’s eight acre Strip-front lake, water gasses to Frank Sinatra on a schedule, delighting millions of passerby with watery magic.** Geysers explode, rocketing columns of water thirty stories. Pressure spent, the lake turns moody as watery lariats dance in perfect time to show tunes of yesteryear. Water is wholly conquered—flipped between states or scrambled together, on a whim, for spectacle and entertainment.
This all takes place in the middle of the desert.
*Handling Specialty—a private company based in Grimsby, Ontario—supplied a turn-key-solution aquatic stage featuring a 1,000,000 lb custom underwater stage measuring 3,650 sq ft which ranges 19.5 ft vertically. The set is actually four separate platforms, controlled from an underwater command center.
**L.A. based Wet Design is responsible for the fountain, comprised of 1,200 nozzles, a distributed sound-system, and 4,500+ lights. Wet invented and patented The Oarsmen for the Bellagio project. A self-contained robotic nozzle with a 360° range, it pumps water directly from the lake. In addition to 200 Oarsmen, Wet utilized two types of Shooters, (vertical jets powered by compressed air). The Mini Shooter (there are 798 at Bellagio) sends a 125 ft blast into the air while the Super Shooter (there are 192) reaches 245 ft.
One of the notable buildings from New Haven’s mid-century program of urban renewal is Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s 1969 Knights of Columbus Headquarters. The clearly-organized tower—its form dominated by four massive brick-clad concrete cylinders containing the stairs and toilets, between which span perfectly-square glass and steel office plates—is a strong, brooding, and almost medieval presence on the skyline. Like a number of Roche and Dinkeloo’s remarkable projects from this period, the Knights of Columbus Headquarters is an exemplar of structural and organizational clarity, and arguably ranks among the best towers of its time.
The same could hardly be said for One Church Street, the comparatively dumpy neighbor across the street. Designed by Douglas Orr—now little-remembered but once a prominent local architect and president of the American Institute of Architects—One Church Street was completed in 1961 as the headquarters of the First New Haven National Bank. It initially seems simple enough: a squat eight-story, vaguely Miesian (or perhaps more accurately SOMian) glass and steel box with an exposed service core to one side. However, something is strange. The service core, clad entirely in limestone, is utterly massive relative to the building’s size, soaring more than four full stories beyond the highest occupied floor. The core appears a tower unto itself, especially when seen on the skyline. Its monumentality coupled with its muteness forces one to imagine what on earth could possibly be within.
Of course it is a service core, and like all service cores it holds the stairs, elevators, shafts, and toilets necessary to allow the rest of the building to function. Nevertheless, Orr’s decision to monumentalize the core far beyond functional necessity imparts the building with a powerful grandeur, solemnity, and mystery. Perhaps this is a symptom of Orr’s non-Modernist background (see his excellent Robert A. Taft Memorial, for example). Perhaps it is the influence of Paul Rudolph, who collaborated with Orr on an earlier, unbuilt version of the First New Haven National Bank. Regardless, while an admittedly mediocre building, One Church Street and its mysterious core continue to capture my imagination and interest, unlike the logical, legible, and ‘better’ tower across the street which—in keeping with Modernist and Functionalist honesty—yielded its secrets so long ago.