Tag Archives: postmodern

Decoration and Design Building

The crossroads of the interior design world, Decoration and Design Building claims more than 120 showrooms in its 17 floors. The white brick structure was completed in 1966, and designed by David & Earl Levy.

The building’s “L” shape shows a profile from every angle, clearly demonstrating New York City’s zoning law: Steeper setbacks facing wide Third Avenue, a more pronounced slope along the narrower streets. The E 58th Street side, in particular, shows artful symmetry. Ribbon windows wrap around all corners. The base of the building is an arcade of display windows.

Decoration and Design Building’s Third Avenue lobby continues the showcase theme: It’s a series of display cases under a low white barrel vault ceiling, what the owners call a “showhall.”

Decoration and Design Building Vital Statistics
  • Location: 979 Third Avenue between E 58th and E 59th Streets
  • Year completed: 1966
  • Architect: David & Earl Levy
  • Floors: 17
  • Style: Modernism
Decoration and Design Building Suggested Reading

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Worldwide Plaza

Worldwide Plaza is the whole-block development of William Zeckendorf, Jr. that helped reshape the Clinton neighborhood in 1989. (Not everyone agreed that that was a good thing, but there you go.)

Formerly the site of Madison Square Garden, the development includes One Worldwide Plaza, a 50-story office tower on Eighth Avenue; Two Worldwide Plaza, a 38-story condominium apartment tower located mid-block; and Three Worldwide Plaza (aka The Residences at Worldwide Plaza), a seven-story condominium complex on Ninth Avenue. (The Residences also include ground-floor retail spaces.) A plaza separates the two towers, and an off-Broadway theater is built under the plaza.

The office tower was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; the residential units were designed by Frank Williams. The copper-and-glass crown on One Worldwide Plaza is known as “David’s Diamond,” after SOM architect David Childs.

Destined for landmark status, Worldwide Plaza is not loved by all. The “AIA Guide to New York City” sniffs, “Heavy-handed, the office tower aspires to the serene solidity of Rockefeller Center, but lacks that center’s graceful slenderness, setbacks and elegant understated urban space: Rockefeller Plaza and its skating rink.”

Worldwide Plaza was important enough for PBS to film a four-part documentary, “Reach For The Sky” and companion book “Skyscraper: The Making of a Building.” (Links to both, below.)

One Worldwide Plaza Vital Statistics
  • Location: Eighth Avenue between W 49th and W 50th Streets
  • Year completed: 1989
  • Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • Floors: 50
  • Style: Postmodern
Two Worldwide Plaza Vital Statistics
  • Location: Between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, block-through W 49th to W 50th Street
  • Year completed: 1989
  • Architect: Frank Williams
  • Floors: 38
  • Style: Postmodern
Three Worldwide Plaza Vital Statistics
  • Location: Ninth Avenue between W 49th and W 50th Streets
  • Year completed: 1989
  • Architect: Frank Williams
  • Floors: 7
Worldwide Plaza Suggested Reading

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International Plaza

International Plaza (aka 750 Lexington Avenue) brings striking colors and shapes to upper midtown Manhattan – though not without a puzzle or two.

The 30-story office tower was designed by Helmut Jahn and completed in 1988. The conical-stepped crown – visible only from a distance – is the structure’s most distinctive feature; it caps a cobalt blue glass cylinder buttressed by glass and granite wings above a 13-floor granite and glass base. From certain angles the tower reminds one of a satellite with its solar arrays unfurled. The glass and steel of the building’s granite base are tinted blue-green; along Lexington Avenue, the street-level stores have two-floor bowed display windows. The base is set back generously along East 59th and East 60th Streets and Lexington Avenue – not quite the plaza that the building’s name claims, but more than twice the average sidewalk width for the neighborhood.

Two puzzles erupt from International Plaza’s side facades. The main entrance on East 59th Street is under a boxy three-story portico that doesn’t seem to fit. And on the East 60th Street side, a four-story grey box juts out into the sidewalk, with no apparent purpose. Further, the box is pierced by windows and doors of another era, as though torn from the face of a brownstone. A memorial to a former occupant of the site?

As it turns out, that is what remains of 134 E 60th Street, a townhouse whose last tenant refused to move. The stubborn holdout died in the 1990s, but the townhouse remains. (Untapped Cities blog).

Chicago-based Helmut Jahn designed five other distinctive buildings in New York – three of which were completed in 1987: 425 Lexington Avenue (31 floors, across E43rd Street from the Chrysler building); CitySpire Center (75 floors); Park Avenue Tower (36 floors); America Apartments (37 floors). The fifth (and most recent – 1989) structure is the 12-story Metropolitan Transportation Authority building in downtown Brooklyn.

International Plaza Vital Statistics
  • Location: 750 Lexington Avenue between E 59th and E 60th Streets
  • Year completed: 1988
  • Architect: Helmut Jahn
  • Floors: 30
  • Style: Postmodern
International Plaza Suggested Reading

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Park Avenue Tower

Located just two blocks north of New York’s landmark Lever House, Park Avenue Tower is intriguing faceted architecture, with so many angled planes it would seem more at home in the Diamond District. It might also be more at home on Park Avenue proper instead of up the block – a point that The New York Times made in its commentary.

Blue tinted glass and gray granite are the predominant colors on upper floors; rose-colored granite and glass spandrels predominate on the seven-story base. The E 55th Street entrance has a small plaza, the E 56th Street entrance is almost flush with the property line. The primary tenant – Paul Hastings – has its own entry on the downtown side.

The 36-story building was designed by Helmut Jahn (Murphy/Jahn) and completed in 1987. The Chicago-based architect designed five other distinctive buildings in New York – three of which were completed in 1987: 425 Lexington Avenue (31 floors, across E 43rd Street from the Chrysler building); CitySpire Center (75 floors); International Plaza (30 floors); The America apartments (37 floors). The fifth (and most recent – 1989) structure is the 12-story Metropolitan Transportation Authority building in downtown Brooklyn.

Park Avenue Tower Vital Statistics
  • Location: 65 E 55th Street between Madison and Park Avenues
  • Year Completed: 1987
  • Architect: Helmut Jahn
  • Floors: 36
  • Style: Postmodern
Park Avenue Tower Suggested Reading

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The Epic

The Epic is controversial for its height and glass curtain wall construction amid a neighborhood of predominantly 1900s low-rise masonry. But its innovative design is the answer to many prayers: The 59-floor tower contains a friary, a lodge for cancer patients, a garage, and 459 apartments – including 92 reserved for low-income tenants. The friars and the American Cancer Society own their portions of the building, and the friars also have part-ownership of the apartments, which provides the church with regular income. To top it all, the building is certified “green.”

The Epic dwarfs its next-door-neighbor, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. But that’s OK with the church – in fact, the tower was their idea.

The existing friary needed expensive repairs; the church opted to replace rather than repair the building. The friars bought adjoining land and invited developers to come up with plans. The winning proposal seemed to have something for everyone. NewYork.Construction.com has an excellent feature describing the project’s challenges and solutions.

In its website, architects FXFOWLE explains: “As the design architects, FXFOWLE have elegantly resolved varying programs and identities for The Epic, a residential tower. The project uses the air rights of the St. Francis of Assisi Friary to create a mixed-use tower, with an extension of offices, a chapel, a library, and housing for the Friars at the base. The building also includes a new headquarters for the American Cancer Society and the Hope Lodge treatment center and hospice. The four story façade on 32nd Street incorporates an expansive glass and shadow box curtain wall to give the Society its own strong identity. Above the base, the tower consists of 460 units of luxury housing. The varying façade layers respond to the program elements on the interior, rationalizing the irregular footprint with a gradation from a solid inner armature to a perforated colonnade and a transparent, flared outer layer. A terrace, with an open brick colonnade that frames the iconic Manhattan views, creates a unique amenity for the building’s residents.”

The Epic Vital Statistics
  • Location: 125 W 31st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
  • Year completed: 2007
  • Architects: Schuman, Lichtenstein, Clamon & Efron; FXFOWLE Architects
  • Floors: 59
  • Style: Postmodern
The Epic Suggested Reading

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Cassa NY

Cassa NY is a slender white hotel/condominium tower that might remind you of those computer punch cards of the 1960s – rectangular windows appear to have been punched right out of the aluminum skin.

Cassa NY Vital Statistics
  • Location: 70 W 45th Street, just off Sixth Avenue
  • Year completed: 2010
  • Architect: TEN Arquitectos
  • Floors: 43
  • Style: Postmodern
Cassa NY Suggested Reading

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Trump SoHo

After unveiling plans on prime time TV (The Apprentice, June 2006), The Donald’s Trump SoHo lurched from one controversy to another. Having survived the gauntlet, the 46-story mirror-glass box now commands the local skyline – almost daring other developers to match it.

Of course anything that wears the Trump name is a lightning rod for criticism, but Columbia University architecture professor Mitchell Joachim is quoted (Wikipedia) calling Trump SoHo “one of the ugliest buildings in New York.” Architectural Record‘s Michael Sorkin stated, “As urbanism, it’s vandalism.” Sorkin sides with Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and others who sued to block the building, claiming it violated zoning restrictions. Trump prevailed, claiming the building was for transients, not permanent residents.

Work was stopped briefly in December 2006 when the excavation unearthed human remains – graves from beneath the former Spring Street Presbyterian Church. Work stopped again in 2008 when a concrete form collapsed, killing a worker.

The condo/hotel’s developers and interior design firm sued and countersued over payment/performance issues, and some condo buyers claimed that they had been tricked into purchasing units.

The architect, Handel Architects, points out that guests will have fabulous views in all directions. “The intent of the building design is to express the internal, dynamic life of the hotel and its relationship to its urban surroundings. The public theater of the hotel public spaces are revealed through clear glass, while the more private functions are concealed behind translucent glass.”

Preservationists point out that 46-story Trump SoHo is blatantly out of scale with a neighborhood of six- to 15-story buildings.

On the other hand, it does provide an interesting kaleidoscopic effect for sky photos.

Trump SoHo Vital Statistics
Trump SoHo Suggested Reading

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135 East 57th Street

135 East 57th Street breaks the mold by breaking the building line – biting off the sacred corner to create a plaza backed by a concave tower.

Coincidentally, the 31-story tower complements 30-story International Plaza two blocks north – which has similar coloration and was also completed in 1988. The New York Times observed, “…together the buildings engage in a wonderful, even witty, piece of inadvertent dialogue on the cityscape.”

135 East 57th Street Vital Statistics
135 East 57th Street Recommended Reading

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425 Lexington Avenue

425 Lexington Avenue bears the unmistakable earmarks of Helmut Jahn – strong colors, glass and stone, unusual forms. But it would be architecture better received if built anywhere but amidst New York landmarks Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, Chanin Building, etc.

Architectural critics such as Carter Horsley (The City Review) and Norval/White (“AIA Guide to New York City”) pick on the tower’s “squashed” top. Said Horsley: “…the building’s zany top looks Roto-Rooterized, a squished foil to the irrepressible upward thrust of the Chrysler Building just across 43rd Street.” To which Norval/White adds, “…an ugly dwarf next to the venerable reality of the adjacent Chrysler Building.” (I like it, but what do I know?)

But Horsley concludes, “Hopefully, New York developers will continue to let Jahn do his thing until he gets it right for he’s formidable. He is a fine high-tech stylist.”

Murphy/Jahn has similarly styled buildings uptown: International Plaza and Park Avenue Tower. (His other New York designs include CitySpire and the America apartment tower.)

425 Lexington Avenue Vital Statistics
425 Lexington Avenue Recommended Reading

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