Dermot Bannon’s New York: He thinks he owns the place

TV Review: The architect's trip to New York seems to go straight to his head

Dermot Bannon
 

Apart from the fact that they are not owned by Dermot Bannon, that they are not all based in New York, and that, as mostly unoccupied dwellings, they barely count as homes, Dermot Bannon’s New York Homes (RTE One, Sunday, 9.30pm) is a programme titled with insight and pith. Or at least, as much insight and pith as the rest of the show provides.

“I genuinely feel like the luckiest guy in the world,” says Bannon, the luckiest guy in the world, an architect who flies business class to New York to spend some days browsing astronomically unaffordable real estate with no conspicuous signs of advance preparation. “I feel like a five-year-old kid and it’s Christmas morning,” he says, as New York is his present.

The camera, which never tires of showing you his delighted face – indeed, prefers it to the architecture – just wants you to be happy for him. Bannon has come to marvel at the addresses, and we are invited to marvel at Bannon. This doesn’t mean that you see New York through his eyes, and certainly not through his expertise, but that you scamper along after him as he extemporises depthless tributes.

“For me, it’s the Bono of architecture,” he beams at the Herzog & de Meuron-designed 56 Leonard Street, that sky-blue glass Jenga-game of a skyscraper in Tribeca. “No,” he reconsiders, “they’re better than that.” Steady on.

Inside, after a soaring elevator ride, it all quickly goes to his head. “You feel like a god up here,” he notes of its three-sided views across Manhattan, and, thus empowered, he rolls the $17.75m asking price around in his mouth, as though considering it.

That delirium also colours the poetry of his praise: “It’s tactile, it’s organic, but yet it’s brutal and structured and it has every bit of rigour and order that a really proper, grown-up piece of architecture needs.” Really, Dermot? Would you go so far as to call it a building of contrasts?

Of an old New Jersey farmhouse encased in a cold hangar, Bannon concludes, ‘When you’re in that house, that quirkiness turns to true meaning’
Of an old New Jersey farmhouse encased in a cold hangar, Bannon concludes, ‘When you’re in that house, that quirkiness turns to true meaning’

But Bannon’s architectural insta-pabulum is the most fascinating thing in the show’s bloated hour. Of one eccentric building, an old New Jersey farmhouse encased in a cold hangar, he concludes, “When you’re in that house, that quirkiness turns to true meaning.” Bannon might have had a go at saying what that true meaning could be, but when he glides past Zaha Hadid’s sensational, swerving last apartment building, overlooking New York’s wonderful Highline park, without identifying it or the architect, you don’t get the sense of every bit of rigour and order that a really proper, grown-up piece of architectural programme-making needs.

Instead, the briefest consideration of the World Trade Center Memorial aside, this is a piece about indulgence, about vertiginous aspiration. So director Barry Egan piles on cute out-takes, such as Bannon burning his porridge or brushing against the Columbus Day parade. But here that quirkiness never turns to true meaning.

Finally, Bannon retreats to a marvellously tacky 23,000-feet mansion in the Hamptons, which, typically, he cannot bring himself to criticise (“Parking my architect’s head and being a five-year old kid . . . ”) Why would he? He thinks he owns the place.

“To own my own house in the Hamptons for 15 minutes feels amazing,” he reports from the pool. Dammit, man. How much did this set you back?

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