It is often assumed that architecture is all about form and function, whereas visual art is inspired by more subjective notions of truth, beauty and the sublime. Buildings provide shelter while visual art nurtures our inner lives, but occasionally iconic structures like the Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower inspire reverie no less than da Vinci's Mona Lisa or Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Italian proto-surrealist Giorgio De Chirico fused architecture and dreams in his paintings of plazas with mysterious towers, and architects later returned the favor with our own de Chirico-inspired Piazza d'Italia on Poydras Street. Yet, the recent social media celebrity status attained by our most famous abandoned skyscraper, the Plaza Tower, seems startling. How did that happen? And should we be surprised?
The Tower Fantasy Instagram project has been shrouded in secrecy since it premiered last March. Its anonymous creator said in a June interview with Pelican Bomb (www.pelicanbomb.com) that he became intrigued by it last Mardi Gras while using its prominent visibility to orient himself amid the chaos. He came to feel that its disregard for architectural norms enabled it to appeal directly to the imagination, so now it appears in digital collages with King Kong, or covered in cats' claw vines or attacked by flying saucers. That struck a chord because I always thought it looked like a conning tower for lost UFOs, or maybe a scene from from the old Dick Tracy comic strip. It is not the Eiffel Tower, but neither is it a normal office building.
In an interview long ago, its Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect, the late Leonard Spangenberg, told me the building originally was planned as a modest 12-story office building. Its enthusiastic developer, the late Sam Recile, kept adding more and more floors and fantastical amenities like a glass-doomed rooftop ballroom (pictured). Spangenberg seemed baffled by the way it suddenly morphed into the then-tallest building in Louisiana. Its trajectory as a retro-futurist tower topped by a glass dome was cut short when Recile went bankrupt, somewhere around the 44th floor.