Tag Archives: International Style

767 Third Avenue

767 Third Avenue represents the personality of developer Melvyn Kaufman more than it stands for an architect or style of architecture.

FxFowle Architects designed a beautiful building, to be sure. Subtle brick detailing outlines the ribbon windows; corners are sinuously rounded; the whole tower is raised on pilotis, revealing a lobby sheathed in oak-framed glass (instead of metal or stone). The more playful details are on E 48th Street, in the courtyard behind the building. A three-story chessboard adorns the wall of 212 E 48th Street; huge steel footprints are welded to the sidewalk utility grates; a stage coach and a 1929 Ford truck are parked in the plaza.

The New York Times’ obituary for Melvyn Kaufman noted, “Though he was not an architect, his buildings were generally acknowledged to have sprung as much from his own vision as from the architect of record’s — a vision Mr. Kaufman realized with the aid of designers like Pamela Waters and Rudolph de Harak.”

The Times continued, “Mr. Kaufman had a lifelong fascination with office buildings as public spaces with which tenants and passers-by could engage. If one was going to erect a leviathan, his design philosophy seemed to go, at least make it leviathan with levity.

“He deplored lobbies, the sine qua non of office buildings since the dawn of recorded history. ‘Marble and travertine mausoleums are bad for the living and terrific for the dead,’ Mr. Kaufman told The Times in 1971.”

Kaufman seemed fond of this stretch of Third Avenue: He built other office buildings at 711, 747, and 777.

767 Third Avenue Vital Statistics
767 Third Avenue Recommended Reading

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Seagram Building

After half a century, the elegant, glowing bronze Seagram Building on Park Avenue remains a landmark in several realms: New York City, structural engineering, architectural style, corporate identity, personal achievement and more.

New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission bestowed landmark status on October 3, 1989, recognizing the structure as an architectural treasure. In terms of structural engineering, the steel-and-concrete dual framing system was the first of its kind for a tall building, and the first tall building to use high-strength bolts (instead of rivets). The architectural style – International Style – had become the mode for new office buildings. (Though New York’s first curtain wall structure following Mies van der Rohe’s principles – Lever House – stood across the street.) To achieve the purity of the design, Seagram president Samuel Bronfman purchased enough land to create a large plaza (avoiding the typical wedding cake setbacks of other tall buildings) and budgeted for a lavish bronze and glass curtain wall. The 38-story tower is Mies van der Rohe’s only New York project – but it is considered his finest.

The Seagram Building’s bronze glow is achieved through tinted glass, backed by ceiling light panels all around. Mies even dictated three-position (fully open, half open, fully closed) window blinds with slats fixed at 45 degrees, to ensure a uniform appearance. As Mies would say, “God is in the details.”

The building’s owners change the plaza sculptures periodically, and provide occasional concerts.

Seagram Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 375 Park Avenue between E 52nd and E 53rd Streets
  • Year completed: 1958
  • Architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, design architects with Kahn & Jacobs, associate architects
  • Floors: 38
  • Style: International
  • New York City Landmark: 1989
  • National Register of Historic Places: 2006
Seagram Building Suggested Reading

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Lever House

Lever House (1952) was New York’s first curtain wall skyscraper, beginning Park Avenue’s switch from masonry to glass buildings. The 24-story green glass tower gave impetus to the International Style of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. What’s more, it led the owner to switch careers, from sales back to architecture! Lever Brothers president Charles Luckman quit the company before Lever House was completed, moved to California and his first love, architecture. (He had trained for architecture at the University of Illinois, but was sidetracked to sales during the Great Depression.)

Though Luckman was involved in Lever House’s design, the architect of record was Gordon Bunshaft of famed Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

Lever House avoided the typical “wedding cake” skyscraper design by occupying less than 25 percent of its lot (an exception to the 1916 zoning law that dictated stepped setbacks to permit sunlight to reach the street). Lever House’s success was widely copied by other tower and plaza designs (notably Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece Seagram Building, diagonally across the street!).

Most of the Lever House ground floor is open plaza; the glass-enclosed portion includes an art gallery open to the public.

Along with the steel and glass curtain walls came another timely innovation: a window-washing gondola mounted on a rooftop track!

While the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission gave Lever House Landmark status November 9, 1982, the building’s original steel and glass facade had deteriorated. In 1998 Unilever sold the building; the new owners replaced the crumbling steel and glass with an aluminum and glass curtain wall – completed in 2001 and again designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

Lever House Vital Statistics
  • Location: 390 Park Avenue between E 53rd and E 54th Streets
  • Year completed: 1952
  • Architect: Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owens & Merrill
  • Floors: 24
  • Style: International
  • New York City Landmark: 1982
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1983
Lever House Suggested Reading

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United Nations

The fledgling United Nations took great pains to demonstrate international cooperation (and independence) in the design of its headquarters. But by some accounts, the world’s architectural elite were as combative as a room full of generals.

As New York Magazine summed it up:

“The pragmatic New Yorker Wallace K. Harrison found himself placating squabbling visionaries. Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, in particular, fought over the shape, number, and orientation of the buildings, whether the glass curtain wall should include a sun-shading grid of stone, and — most ferociously — who got credit for what. Le Corbusier complained to his mother of the ‘apparent kidnapping of [his] U.N. project by USA gangster Harrison.'”

The result was a landmark that influenced skyscraper architecture throughout New York – and worldwide.

I’m fascinated by the buildings’ changing personalities, depending on your vantage point and the time of day.

It’s a minor miracle that the United Nations has managed to accommodate its membership over the years. In 1947 the U.N. had 57 members, and building plans allowed for growth to 70 members. In 1964, expansion allowed for 126 members. The assembly was expanded again in 1980, and the U.N. now has 193 members. The U.N. is in the last months of renovating its headquarters. The six-year program (to be completed in 2014) removed asbestos, rewired, added sprinklers and fire alarm systems, even replaced the famous glass walls. Fortunately (for traditionalists), the world body chose to preserve the buildings’ appearance. It’s a massive project: The original construction cost $65 million; the renovation will cost $1.8 billion.

United Nations Vital Statistics
United Nations Recommended Reading

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1407 Broadway

1407 Broadway “is the dashingly inventive 1407 Broadway, from 38th to 39th Streets, built in 1950. Strip windows punctuate this intelligent, angular structure, and the green brick and rich red window framing make it an oasis in the near desert of early postwar architecture,” Christopher Gray wrote in The New York Times.

The building’s International style design is certainly a bright, colorful contrast with the Garment District’s 1930s loft buildings in Renaissance or Romanesque Revival style. 1407 Broadway also stands out because the tower is aligned with the Manhattan street grid, instead of with Broadway. The Plaza in front of 1411 Broadway (on the block north of 1407) makes the view from uptown particularly striking.

Though some have tried to get NYC Landmark status for 1407 Broadway, that hasn’t happened, yet.

1407 Broadway Vital Statistics
1407 Broadway Recommended Reading

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