What Would You Do To Xanadu? (Or, Can “The Ugliest Damn Building in New Jersey, And Maybe America,” Be Fixed?)

by:  Michael L. Rich

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(Everyone seems to have an opinion about Xanadu, but we want to know what you would do to fix it.  Share your ideas with us in the comments section below.)

The controversy surrounding Xanadu, an unfinished $2 billion mall project in East Rutherford, New Jersey, rages on.  Governor Chris Christie has called the building “an offense to the eyes as you drive up the turnpike.”  The Governor recently went further, proclaiming:  “It’s by far the ugliest damn building in New Jersey, and maybe America.”  Many share the Governor’s view.

Xanadu is a 2.3 million square foot, nearly completed retail and entertainment mall adjacent to the Meadowlands sports complex.   Its walls are made up of multi-colored horizontal rectangles and vertical stripes, including varying shades of blue, green and orange.  It includes an indoor ski slope rising at a pronounced angle above the rest of the structure.  Detractors have pejoratively likened the facade to stacked shipping containers, bar codes or Lego blocks.


Originally, the design contemplated a collection of animated electronic signs and various other décor to surround the building.  Whether that will even be built is uncertain.  Although $2 billion reportedly has been spent on the project, more is needed to finish it.  Financing difficulties forced two prior developers to withdraw.  The state wants another developer to take over the project and incorporate a face-lift.

An April 8, 2011 article in the New York Times, "Fix Xanadu? The Problem May Be Where To Begin," discusses the project, including having five experts weigh in on how this ill-fated building might be fixed.  The suggested cures widely range.  One expert noted: “With Xanadu, I think the only solution, other than dynamite, is lots of lights and signage.  The thing is vulgar by any standard, so maybe the only solution is to make it more vulgar – more lights than Times Square, or the Las Vegas strip.”  Other suggested finding ways to hide the building or “to marry  it into the surrounding natural ecosystem, like a green roof.”  An architect, Guy Grier, suggested that any redesign could make a more serious statement about what we should be incorporating in buildings today from an energy and environment perspective, such as having the exterior be solar, “potentially clad in photovoltaic panels.”  He noted that a new developer might make some of the exterior transparent, “re-skinning it to expose more of what’s going on inside the building,” likening to the approach being taken in renovating the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

The article is worth reading, and a constructive start for ideas on how to rectify what more than one has called “unspeakably ugly.”  Let us know your ideas for a “fix” by leaving your ideas in the comments section to this post.

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