Search results for "Eero Saarinen"

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New York City’s iconic Four Seasons Restaurant inside the Seagram Building is at the center of a renovation dispute
Four_Seasons_restaurant Traditionalists went into a tailspin over proposed modifications to the landmark Four Seasons Restaurant, a gastronomic and architectural emblem of New York City housed in the historic Seagram Building. The high-ceilinged enclave, clad with French walnut walls, plays daily host to high society a big business in Midtown Manhattan. The eatery garnered landmark status in 1989 for the building’s architectural prowess. Nevertheless, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) cautions that this designation does not shield the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, Florence Knoll banquettes, Eero Saarinen cocktail tables, and table settings by L. Garth Huxtable. Building owner and noted art collector Aby Rosen of RFR Holdings recently filed plans to make changes to the restaurant, reportedly without consulting owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. While the LPC approved the proposed new carpeting without qualm, they balked at a removal of the cracked-glass and bronze partitions separating the dining area and bar. Originally installed by legendary architect Philip Johnson, who designed the space with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1959, the partitions would be replaced by movable ivy planters to open up the space. Selldorf Architects is also considering nixing the large walnut panels separating the square-shaped 60-foot-by-60-foot Pool Room from the dining room on the mezzanine. These will be replaced with five panels, the outer two of which would be operable for reconfiguration of the space. According to Rosen, this would improve the flow between the mezzanine and the Pool Room without the upper tier framing the space. “This landmark is elevated to a level where any kind of intervention would not be living with preservation,” objected LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. Conservationists bristled last year when Rosen entertained an eviction of the Le Tricorne Picasso tapestry hanging inside the restaurant in order to facilitate reparations to the wall behind it, where a “potentially serious steam leak” from the two-story kitchen had purportedly crippled the structure. The preservation commission retorted that removal of the tapestry would cause it to “crack like a potato chip.” A New York State judge issued an injunction prohibiting Seagram from removing the painting, but Rosen, a real estate developer and avid collector of post-war art, is in conservationists’ crossfire again for daring to alter a landmark. “These are features that are integral to the sense of space. Not just decorative but have architectural meaning and value,” said Commissioner Diana Chapin. Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose family owned Seagram, claimed that RFR’s proposal displays “utter contempt” for the icon. RFR representative Sheldon Werdiger maintains that the changes are restorative rather than invasive. “We’re not making changes as much as we’re restoring. Our local press is trying to make it into a controversial situation,” he told Arch Record.
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An Academic Odyssey In Cambridge
Courtesy MIT Press

A Second Modernism. MIT, Architecture, and the ‘Techno-Social’ Moment
Arindam Dutta, editor
MIT Press
$65.00

MIT’s long history of pressing for change in architecture includes being the first to offer an architecture degree in the U.S. and the first to award an architectural degree to a woman (Sophia Hayden Bennett in 1890). Less well known to many practitioners and academics today is the School’s longstanding engagement with the knotty intersections of modern society, technology, research, and architecture. The essays in A Second Modernism address precisely these issues between 1945–1981, reaching back to the transformation of the Department of Architecture into the School of Architecture in 1932, and forward to the founding of the Center for Real Estate Development in the 1990s. From shaping an architectural history and theory graduate program, to Gyorgy Kepes’ research on cognitive and perceptual technologies, to research on prefabricated housing, MIT marked numerous paths for other architecture schools to follow.

There is not room in this review to do justice to all the fine chapters in A Second Modernism, nor to ask all the questions I would like to about its production. For example, who chose pale grey and pale black sans-serif fonts on high gloss paper for such a book? Where was the copy editor, especially for Arindam Dutta’s introduction? Why do some footnotes appear several pages before or after that of the passage being footnoted? Why no bibliography? This is not up to MIT Press’s usually high standards. Could this be because the book was edited, designed, and produced under the MIT Department of Architecture’s in-house imprint, SA+P Press, and is only being distributed by MIT Press? It would appear so, judging from the credits on the copyright page. Book design is a profession in itself, not a hobby to be toyed with; architects would do well to remember this. And this is not to mention the book’s 3.1 pounds, which hardly eases reading. While it is difficult not to be discouraged by some of its mechanics, the book in its substance has much to offer.

The tale of Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel (1949-55) in many respects encapsulates the University’s ambitions in the post-World War II world. In the wake of that slaughter, as Reinhold Martin demonstrates in his fine study, students and faculty alike grasped for some way to resist scientific and technological determinism in part by shifting emphases toward a more holistic program, emblematically embodied in Earo Saarinen’s Chapel. For Martin, the debates surrounding the chapel exemplify a greater complexity than found in the regnant simplistic binary oppositions (modern/traditional, abstract/symbolic). As he so elegantly writes, “the university rediscovers its human ‘soul’…[and] exchanges the ‘myth’ of reason for the reasonable production of myth, in a theological humanism… no longer in need of its dialectical, secular counterpart.”

Under the leadership of an extraordinarily enlightened President, James Killian—would there be some like he today!—the School of Architecture’s underlying ambition was thus twofold: on the one hand, to develop a body of research in architecture engaged with new technologies and materials, and on the other, to fold architecture back into humanistic disciplines in part through the reintroduction of history to the curriculum. Today many have forgotten that Walter Gropius, of Bauhaus fame, eliminated all books on architectural history from the Harvard Library—along with the subject from the curriculum itself—and most other American schools of architecture duly followed suit. The focus instead was meant to be on technology, on problem solving, on being “modern,” for which history, in the views of believers, was useless.

MIT’s leaders, though managing the top institution with a scientific and technological portfolio in the United States, took a very different approach, especially in the wake of World War II and the deployment of nuclear warheads sufficient to destroy the globe. MIT resisted the exclusively applied science thrust common elsewhere in part by its commitment to a broad humanistic undergraduate program. In architecture, this led to what remains the country’s premier program in architectural history, a tale related in John Harwood’s thoughtful chapter. Three broad research themes marked these years, one having to do with humanistic studies, another with architecture and urban planning, and a third to the interface between developments in science and technology and the first two. Harwood’s exemplary analysis reminds us through whom, and how, momentous changes led to the country’s most prominent and successful graduate program in architectural history and theory. Stanford Anderson’s first-person, richly documented account of the effort to bring architects, planners, and historians together in a common enterprise during the turbulent 1960s, CASE (Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment), reveals the early histories and interactions of a handful of men later to become among the most prominent in the field. It also holds numerous surprises for the current generation: Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves once (briefly) betrayed interest in housing for marginalized populations. Who knew?

For several decades, the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies set the terms of the urban planning agenda not only in the United States but also arguably around the globe. The new city of Ciudad Guayana in Venezuela (1961–68) assured the center’s prominence, not only for the vastness of the enterprise but also for its many failures. To be sure, the city’s population today exceeds 700,000, but the ambitious goal of diversity eluded planners, whose schemes ended up producing cities at once more class segregated and less pedestrian friendly than other Latin American cities. The chapters by Eric Mumford and M. Ijlal Muzaffar detail the high hopes and good intentions of planning from above on behalf of a population unwilling to live as planners demanded. The U.S. and Venezuelan planners’ hopes for the deployment of what was then high-technology computer analyses, foundered on the realities of life for populations they did not understand. The same applied to the then-rampant so-called “urban renewal” programs. Tim Vreeland summarized many architects’ views when he remarked in 1966, “Urban renewal is to planning what remodeling is to architecture.” Ultimately MIT withdrew from the Joint Center, which evolved into a Harvard Center for housing studies.

Beneath specific program failures lay a more profound one, that of the culture of the expert. Many of the participants in the Joint Center shifted toward supporting self-built housing and away from top-down planning, but the culture of the expert is a difficult beast to kill. It persists in virtually every planning and architecture program in the U.S., and not only among professional schools of planning and architecture. The short life of Robert Goodman’s advocacy approach to urban and architectural planning at MIT (1966–1972) effectively signaled institutional resistance to a bottom-up approach. How could it be otherwise when architecture and its discourses rested in the hands of leaders such as Charles Moore, whose 1966 comment: “With the architect’s assumption of responsibility for the whole environment…” tellingly illustrates the typical arrogant response to the profession’s increasingly marginalized status? Felicity Scott’s brilliant essay on urban systems perhaps best summarizes the transformations in architecture during those fateful years. Architecture’s longstanding imperative to give material form to normative social mandates, she writes, shifted to architectural research that operates “in the service of advancing modes of global governability and their micro-techniques of power… in which decision making has been ceded to technologies of control and management… geared toward eradicating conflict.”

As Mark Jarzombek so effectively illustrates in his nuanced study of MIT professor emeritus Maurice Smith, other potential responses loomed. In the hyper-rationalist environment of Bauhausian training, Smith stood out as a vigorous and thoughtful opponent of over-designed, over-determined buildings. Why, he asked, were architecture students producing Bauhaus- and Kepes-inspired objects (‘architectonic assignments’) out of paper, when there were real materials to work with and real problems to confront? Indeed, one should ask the same question of undergraduate programs today, where, unfortunately, the same approach dominates. Smith’s teaching and especially his projects erected with found materials in an additive, at times whimsical fashion can be understood as Frank Gehry (pre-Gehry) with a theoretical basis founded in an invigorating curiosity, one that resisted Gehry’s easy accommodation with capitalism’s most destructive features. In some sense the Center for Real Estate Development marks the trajectory of a graduate program from one that initially sought federal funding to develop low and medium cost housing as well as some measure of control over developments in science and technology, to one that became an arm of capitalist development and land use schemes, a trajectory at best disquieting. Ending as they do just prior to the advent of the center, the essays skirt this thorny issue.

It would be altogether too simple to dismiss much of the history recounted in these pages as that of a group of privileged white males toying with questions of how to make the world (or education, or buildings, or cities, or politics, etc.) for other people. It was indeed that, even if often with the best of intentions, for at times the pages of this book fairly throb with testosterone, with meetings, drinks, male bonhomie, duels, and whatever else Caucasian males do when they assemble to refashion a world (made by earlier white males) to reflect their new interests. It is some consolation that women wrote eight of the twenty-three chapters here—although not much. Though the architectural academy has reluctantly opened its doors to women and other marginalized groups, it has yet to accept challenges from them. As a Harvard professor once told a newly hired professor, she was chosen over others in part because he and his colleagues saw her as “collegial”—that is, she would embrace her colleagues’ ethos and not rock the boat. At MIT, the agenda did not include battling for diversity, no more than was the case elsewhere, but as A Second Modernism illustrates, during the Cold War years the University’s School of Architecture and Planning took up many other challenges, and did so in compelling ways. I can think of no other school in the country to have thwarted the inertia so typical of such programs in such varied fashion. Documenting this odyssey merits most of the 930 pages.

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MoMA’s Midtown Monotony
Paul Gunther

Mission accomplished: The mid-town brownstone block where Alfred Barr and his fellow Modernist pioneers placed their Museum of Modern Art as America’s definitive destination for the Euro-centric discovery, interpretation, and advocacy of the Western world’s most progressive and putatively inevitable artistic trajectory will soon complete its path to final, filled-in form.

It began officially when the townhouse leased from John D. Rockefeller in 1932 was demolished for the first purpose-built International style MoMA headquarters by Goodwin and Stone, standing in breathtaking contrast to the 19th century context of residential masonry facades on the surrounding lots. It was precisely this bold juxtaposition that told the dynamic story best. And with it, the Museum set in motion its enduring dual role as both museum and real estate developer.

Manhattan’s mid-blocks as placeholders of lower density and contrasting styles in a joyful discordance of design history and shifting accommodation of existing fabric to contemporary needs is headed towards extinction, excepting designated landmarks sandwiched amid the leapfrogging glass curtain walls scraping at a disappearing sky. This unfolds despite Section 81-00 in the “General Purposes” section of New York’s Zoning Code (as approved and enforced by the City Planning Commission) calling for “the historic pattern of relatively low building bulk in mid-block locations, compared to avenue frontages.” Such good intentions yield to overriding development interests amid what seems yet another ceaseless real estate boom; landmark designation holds as the sole buffer to demolition, and the street wall uniformity following it, and is labeled therefore as an impediment to change. “Amber” (as in “fixed”) is just another word for nothing else to lose.

 
 

Somehow it seems fitting that with the exception of a few narrow mid-blocks, as between Madison to Park, where two midcentury Avenue-fronted lots accommodated new towers touching in the middle as of right, Barr’s bold 53rd Street launch pad signals the final victory of Modernism’s 80-year old call for what was back then a radical paradigm of new form.

MoMA president Glenn Lowry as much as said so back on April 10, 2013, when first announcing the plan to demolish Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s 12-year old American Folk Art Museum: “The building’s design does not fit our plans because the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the building…” This is official modernism writ large as proscribed four generations beforehand and apparently non-negotiable across time. When contemporary classicists appeal for comparable design deference, they are generally labeled reactionary.

The block is now maxed out and done. It is not easy to demolish 50+ story buildings. To refurbish or redefine interiors like downtown’s residential conversions of old corporate towers is possible, even likely, but by and large the formal exterior envelope is now sealed excepting perhaps some occasional decorative refreshment (as usually regretted eventually when styles shift and the original integrity seems right after all).

This final transformation is made official at two sites: one nearing completion, the other finally set to start with the financing in place. The Folk Art Museum demolition is under way, starting with facade removal for placement in storage as a trace of a lost landmark, like the eagles from the parapet of the old Penn Station pulled from a New Jersey landfill years after its destruction.

 

That nearing completion is the Enrique Norten TEN Arqitectos 46-story flagship Baccarrat Hotels and Resorts replacing as it did Aymar Embury II’s restrained classically-tinged yet modernist 1955 limestone-clad Donnell Library Center. The new library, housed at street level and subterranean as is so often the trade off on such zoning deals, is reduced in size from 97,000 square feet to just 28,000, including space-consuming “bleacher steps” eerily reminiscent of Koolhaus’s Soho Prada. Just when public library usage surges to unprecedented demand, Norten’s clients have set aside one third the total size for this oddity and future users can only hope that these bleacher steps have some sort of relevance to intended function as opposed to a spot for noisy and noisome crowd congregation.

The city sold the old five-story Donnell for a measly $39 million, which is about one half the price of the new luxury hotel/condo’s penthouse sale price alone. While it is unfair to yet judge the design result on its own merit, its role in “completing” the block’s south side facade is fact. It fills it in with the side street facade of Caron and Lundin’s 1957 666 Fifth Avenue to the east; to the west is Kevin Roche’s 1986 red granite–clad pharaonic Post Modern EF Hutton Building and the fabled CBS Black Rock tower of Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll, completed in 1965 and daring to veer from high Miesian orthodoxy with emphasis on unbroken, order-free vertical columns instead of a glass curtain wall.

Meanwhile, the urban infill at its block-wide maximum on the northern street wall is the last piece, namely the MOMA-hatched real estate deal leading to what will open in 2018 as Jean Nouvel’s Tower Verre. It will be an 82-story luxury residential tower rising to 1,050 feet after the City Planning Commission knocked off a submitted 200 feet more despite ambiguous authority to do so as back then (prior to approval of the 57th Street mother lode of needle towers) it was deemed unseemly to equal the height of the Empire State building envelop and even eclipse that of the Chrysler. Times change, values change when it comes to the sky and the impact on infrastructure and existing communities alike. Three street level floors designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will again expand MoMA’s gallery and programming space, including easy, transparent access into the Sculpture Garden with the rest of the tower reserved for the world’s wealthiest, who will thus sadly most likely never actually reside there.

So except for MOMA’s sequential architectural iterations and the abutting St. Thomas Episcopal Church the inn is full.

This glimpse of midtown’s now inevitable future began in part in the 1970s, when the Museum set out successfully to secure zoning permission for the revenue-generating and facility expanding mid-block tower on land it owned by drawing on the air rights of the Philip Johnson-designed Sculpture Garden. This seminal exception to the planning tenet mixing the density of Avenue vs. side streets that characterized midtown’s archetypal form and function set a precedent. It was granted the variance despite vociferous objection from local neighborhood and civic organizations alike, presciently knowing that that act alone spelled the end to the Manhattan plan as evolved. Excepting landmarks and designated historic districts, all midblock lots would be replaced eventually by a seamless continuity of the Avenue street fronts in what would be finally a colossal uniform cube of street wall verticality.

That path-breaking commission went to Cesar Pelli Associates, who delivered the 52-story Museum Tower at 15 West 53rd Street in 1984, along with a coat checking friendly atrium, expanded restaurant and gift stores, and new gallery spaces of still conventional scale.

The Pelli commission led a generation later to another major overhaul and expansion, this time built largely with capital contributions and the taxpayers of New York City. The demolition of all remaining 53rd Street brownstones and the Dorset Hotel behind it on 54th Street heralded Yoshiro Taniguchi/Kohn Pederson Fox’s 2004 six-story David and Peggy Rockefeller Building, eight-story Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, and tucked in 16-story Museum Office Building, all framing a refurbished Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Following its completion was the sale of the remaining empty lots to the Hines Corporation for $125 million and then, finally, the purchase of the imperiled Folk Art Museum lot, completing the Tower Verre footprint.

The initial variance became the rule and today it’s inexorable as this finished block offers surest sign. Visit and see the future of zoning in Manhattan, and likely soon beyond.

To announce the end of history in this way in any social, economic, or cultural context is a fool’s errand as best demonstrated by what is now a fairy tale prophecy of political scientist Francis Fukuyama in his utopian, post-perestroika 1992 book, The End of History and The Last Man.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human governance.

So much for that prediction, as shown with such brutality in the last weeks of global unrest deconstructing what seemed irrevocable. It turns out there is no end of change whether progressive or regressive and that history keeps unfolding in a constant, tautological, and occasionally violent way.

Just as such, wishful thinking and its inherent delusion fade, it is equally foolish in the fullness of time to declare a place and its architecture or other hands of man to be complete. Change is constant whether going forward or other times back; user needs, expectations, and capabilities adapt, including the ample supply of cheap financing, which underpins much of our present bounty.

At the same time, however, are there limits to growth? It is a question of particular currency in the absence of any commensurate will or allocation of resources to expand the public networks of transportation, communications, and essential services that any increased density demands. The failure to do so imperils the social contract on which all else relies.

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Archtober Building of the Day #7: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK
Archtober Building of the Day #7 Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Terminal 4, John F. Kennedy International Airport Slade Architecture in collaboration with the Virgin Atlantic in-house Design Team “The memory of having a really appalling cup of coffee served to you by someone who woke up on the wrong side of the bed can really ruin your experience,” said Jeremy Brown. Service is the obsession of the senior design manager of Virgin Atlantic Customer Experience, who was leading the Archtober tour of the new Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at New York's JFK Airport. Virgin and Slade Architecture have spared no expense and left no detail unattended to in the pursuit of creating a memorable experience. Virgin’s clubhouses all intend to reflect their locations, so Slade focused on a mid-century notion of “Uptown” Manhattan. Far from Harlem, Slade was thinking of Mad Men–era opulence, and layered, inviting open spaces, with the Eero Saarinen TWA terminal visible across the tarmac. The entrance is totally white, with only subtle variances in texture. Brown said he didn’t want to use “a sledgehammer of red to cover everything.” The “Upper Class” passengers, for whom the lounge is intended, are accustomed to subtly. The only red is the uniform of the Virgin “colleague”—their word for employee—at the front desk. Framed by the entrance, the clubhouse’s central seating area beckons alluringly. Hayes Slade explained that, from the very first, experiencing the clubhouse must be intuitive. Working from the uptown metaphor, the clubhouse is organized around a “central park” space anchored by the bar, around which, Brown admitted, the experience of the clubhouse tends to revolve. The unusual but cozy furniture, by Situ Studios, is meant to evoke the landscape of the park, “comfortable but not what you’d have at home,” said Slade. A semi-transparent wall of walnut fins screens the space, their irregular heights meant to evoke the skyline around the park. Leaving the central park space, there are various sitting and dining areas, some intended for conversation and others for solitude and work. There is even a spa, complete with a massage table and showers. High-quality materials like solid wood, leather, and wool are used throughout—materials that, Brown said, affluent passenger would be used to living with. Slade and Virgin agree that details matter. James Slade said the intention was for “perception to engage the occupant.” The traveler who has a longer stay will notice details like custom-made Empire State and Chrysler Building wallpaper in the dining room, a hotdog cart and apple wallpaper in one private nook, and Park Avenue blueprints in the bathroom. The experience is meant to be flawless, avoiding even one bad cup of coffee. “Service, and the memorable experience you can have in a beautiful place,” should be the only take-away, Brown explained. Today's tour will be at 3:00p.m. at the recently-opened National September 11 Memorial Museum by Davis Brody Bond. Tyler J. Kelley is a freelance journalist living in New York City. He also teaches printmaking at Parsons The New School for Design. Find more of his writing at the-jetty.com
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The Worthy Client
Fonds Phyllis Lambert (right), Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal.
Courtesy United Press International

Building Seagram
Phyllis Lambert
Yale University Press
$65.00

In her prologue for Building Seagram Phyllis Lambert begins with a question: “How could Philip Johnson ever have dreamed of being the partner of Mies van der Rohe? Why would my father [Samuel Bronfman, CEO of the Seagram Company] have placed me, without managerial or professional experience, in the position of selecting the architect for the Seagram building? And why would he have agreed to my appointment as director of planning for the building?”

In the years that followed the completion of Seagram, Lambert was to become a distinguished architectural historian, an effective preservationist, and a leading philanthropist. In 1963 she earned a degree from the School of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, on the campus designed and built by Mies. By then, however, Mies no longer taught there, but his influence prevailed. Later, after achieving a license to practice, she was to become architect and planner for other family related projects. In the summer of 1954, however, her credentials were understandably few. Only 27-years old, a 1948 graduate of Vassar, and recently divorced from a French banker after a 5-year marriage, she was living in Paris, working as a sculptor.

In June of that year she received from her father a sketch by Pereira & Luckman, an architecture and planning firm in Los Angeles. It was an image depicting the basic design theme for Seagram on the site finally chosen—Park Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd opposite the Racquet and Tennis Club and Lever House. With the hapless desire to please his daughter, Bronfman described the design as “Renaissance Modernized” recalling the visit they had once made together to the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. “I found it horrifying,” Lambert writes.

She promptly sent an eight-page closely typed letter with marginal notes in her own hand to “Dearest Daddy,” in the hope of making him aware of his folly and begging him to abandon the Luckman plan. It is a remarkable document, a facsimile of which is reproduced in full in an appendix of her book. A noteworthy paragraph lectures her eminent parent on the ethics of building. “You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society. You have a great responsibility and your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.” As the story goes, her letter by itself left him unmoved. He responded with a telephone call suggesting that she come home to choose the marble for the ground floor of the Luckman building that, in spite of her, he soon intended to construct. Her mother, believing that “Daddy” simply wanted her to come home from Paris, suggested he invite her to New York to possibly be of some real help. Lambert, however, explains, “It was the fire and conviction with which I wrote of the importance of the role of architecture in society and my belief that my father really wanted a great building that must ultimately have engaged his attention at a moment when the business-as-usual procedures that Seagram executives and professionals were applying to the project could hardly have galvanized him.”

Lambert believed herself to be living in an era when “the greatest contemporary architects, who were equal to those of the Renaissance were still alive.” She soon chose to come to New York to begin a comprehensive search to find the right genius for Seagram. Lou R. Crandall, president of George A. Fuller Company, the construction firm that had been chosen by Bronfman to build the yet to be fully designed skyscraper, had the intelligence to intervene in Lambert’s behalf. He persuaded her father that his daughter’s knowledge of architecture made her the ideal leader for this effort. He joined her and Philip Johnson in a six-week period during which the three visited the offices and significant completed work of Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, I.M. Pei, Paul Rudolph, Eero Saarinen, SOM, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Minoru Yamasaki, among others. Johnson, known for the Glass House and Brick Guest House on his estate in New Canaan, was about to leave his post as curator of architecture at MoMA to develop his practice, and as it turned out had been spending his time well with Lambert and Crandall.

Their criterion was first aesthetic, then pragmatic. To be chosen was a creative and inventive architect whose strengths Lambert would come to understand and approve, if she hadn’t already. Ideally there would be a built urban skyscraper or two in his portfolio. Nevertheless, although manifestly successful, he must not be overburdened by major projects at the moment. Mies met every measure including a very important one—he shared Lambert’s conception of the ethics of building and the meaning of form. She quotes him, “Form is not the aim of our work, but only the result,” and adds that in 1922 he stated, “We should develop the new forms from the very nature of the new problems.”

Crandall, without whom Lambert might never have prevailed, favored Mies because working with him would be “do-able.” It was widely known that Le Corbusier, though the boldest vanguard choice, would be anything but. Lambert writes,” When Mies met my father at his apartment in New York (the conversation was facilitated by the presence of my mother and Philip Johnson, who both spoke German), they took each other’s measure with genuine respect.” After the selection of Mies, Crandall was highly influential in the formation of the Seagram design and construction team. It was he who suggested that Johnson and Mies become associated on the project. Mies then offered Johnson a partnership for the work in gratitude for the more than 25 years that the younger architect and curator had critically supported his architecture. On December 1, 1954, five months after her famous letter to “Daddy,” Crandall named Lambert director of planning. Design began, the site was cleared, and construction promptly followed. The official designation of the Seagram building as complete occurred on September 29, 1959.

Lambert’s 306-page book is a straightforward account of what it was like to hold the power of client during the years of building Seagram, but it is ever so much more than that. The new skyscraper had become a great financial success. The company occupied 128,387 square feet of the space and the rest was filled with tenants paying among the highest office rents in New York City. Because Seagram no longer dominated the distillery industry, and there were other incentives, by 1976 her brother, Edgar M. Bronfman, who succeeded his father as CEO, began to consider selling the building (the senior Bronfman had died in 1971). In February 1980 the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America bought it. As the major tenant Seagram could and did establish controls over the building’s future architectural life. Thus began Lambert’s long and successful battle to get the tower, the plaza, and the Four Seasons Restaurant established as a New York City landmark in 1989.

In the book’s epilogue “Changing Hands” Lambert gives an unflinching account of the end of her family’s connection to Seagram. Edgar Bronfman had been selling the family’s liquor businesses to competitors, thereby enabling him to buy media and entertainment companies. These investments were failing. By 2002 Seagram no longer existed as a business because all its assets were gone, which was followed by its departure from the splendid building Mies created 43 years before. Yet, thanks to Lambert’s intensive efforts it is safely landmarked and remains an unforgettable presence in the city. But sadly, Seagram doesn’t live there anymore, except in Lambert’s honest and comprehensive book.

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Deborah Berke, SHoP, Tod Williams Billie Tsien to compete for new Cummins’ Indianapolis headquarters
Engine manufacturer Cummins Corporation announced plans for a new regional headquarters in Indianapolis Monday, but the Columbus, Indiana–based Fortune 500 company won’t look to local design talent to lead the project. Instead, three of the country's leading names—all based in New York City—will compete for the project. Three New York–based design firms will compete to build the new headquarters, which will be on the site of the former Market Square Arena in downtown Indianapolis: Deborah Berke PartnersSHoP Architects, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Cummins hasn’t released any design specifications for the $30 million building, but the company has a history of pursuing striking architecture. Its foundation arm has contributed to the creation and preservation of iconic modernist structures in Columbus, Indiana, including the Miller House, which was designed collaboratively by Eero Saarinen, Dan Kiley, and Alexander Girard. Market Square Arena was demolished in 2001, but only recently have developers begun to fill in the vacant land. Cummins is expected to select a winning design this September.
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Critical Condition
Courtesy The New York Review of Books

Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume II
Martin Filler
The New York Review of Books, $30

This is the second anthology of essays about the lives and careers of distinguished architects who have practiced in the last 150 years by architectural historian and critic Martin Filler for The New York Review of Books (NYRB). The earlier collection, published by NYRB in 2007, established the form and purpose that Volume II follows. This book deals with a different set of makers, but included once again are Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Renzo Piano.

Filler deftly places his subjects in the aesthetic, theoretical, historic, and political life of their time, as well as in his. He pays attention to significant architectural events—the celebrated opening of a new and noteworthy building, a collection of new books with an architectural and urban theme, a well-staged exhibition of the work of emerging talents, the death of a master at the age of 105. Volume II opens with Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White who practiced during the half century between the Civil War and World War I. Among the others are Oscar Niemeyer, Edward Durrell Stone, Eero Saarinen, R. Buckminster Fuller, and Rem Koolhaas. The last essays are devoted to architects relatively new to the scene.

The New York–based husband-and-wife team Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed the Barnes Foundation Gallery in Philadelphia (2004–2012). This commission came to them by means of an international design competition that solicited portfolios from about 30 firms. There were six finalists: Tadao Ando; Thom Mayne of Morphosis; Rafael Moneo; Diller, Scofidio + Renfro; Kengo Kuma; and the winners—Williams and Tsien. Filler notes that this pair belong to the second generation of high profile pioneering couples that were preceded by Alison and Peter Simpson in Great Britain and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in the U.S. His description of the Barnes favors its every aspect while revealing his own mastery of the art of critical praise. He writes, “It must now be included among the tiny handful of intimately scaled museums in which great art and equally great architecture and landscape coalesce into that rare experience wherein these three complimentary mediums enhance the best qualities of one another to maximum benefit. Such institutions include, for example, Jorgen Bo and Vilhelm Wohlert’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art of 1958–1966 outside Copenhagen, Louis Khan’s Kimbell Art Museum of 1966–1972 in Fort Worth, and Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center of 1999–2003 in Dallas.”

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are the principals of the Tokyo-based firm SANAA. Sejima was a protégé of Toyo Ito, winner of the 2013 Pritzker Prize, and worked with him before she founded the partnership with Nishizawa who in addition has a separate practice of his own. They are best known in the United States for two exceptional museum commissions: the Glass Pavilion (2002–2006) at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio and the New Museum (2003–2007) on New York City’s Bowery. Given that they are pioneers in the new generation of Minimalists, Filler takes care to distinguish them from those gone before. The Minimalist master Mies, early and late, whenever he could, built with costly materials, meticulously joined, finished, and detailed. He did so, Filler believes, to compensate for the restrictions of the style itself.

The two small museums consist for the most part of simple, rectangular, flat-roofed forms. The walls have no tilts; surfaces do not undulate, and are without multi-faceted geometric patterns. Most interiors are painted white. The one-story Glass Pavilion is partially enclosed by stretches of mullion-free clear glass. The street facade of the seven-story New Museum is veneered with an outer skin of perforated light grey metal. Filler notes “the remarkable breadth of expression [SANAA] is able to wrest from the restricted Minimalist palette.”

In 1979 Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio established their office in New York City. In 2004 they made Charles Renfro a full partner. In the early years of their association the two were best known as theoreticians and educators in the recondite world of their Cooper Union colleague John Hejduk. They designed exhibitions, miscellaneous installations, and objects, but built little. In 1999 they were awarded a McArthur Foundation grant. This was followed by one of the first significant structures they actually made happen, the Blur Building (2000–2002) on Lake Neuchatel for the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02. What Filler calls an “aqueous caprice,” it consisted of a wraparound cloud of mist more than 300 feet wide, nearly 200 feet deep, and 66 feet high. Water, pumped up from the lake, became a fine spray from 31,500 high-precision, high-pressure water jets attached to a lightweight metal framework placed upon an ovoid platform at some distance from land. The so-called pavilion was big enough to hold as many as four hundred visitors at one time. They crossed from the shore by way of two separate long gangways and were given waterproof ponchos upon arrival. This immense free-form blob of seemingly weightless water made possible by computer technology but never before or since used in such a manner, was the hit of the fair. Filler writes that the making of such a place “has fascinated visionaries for centuries, especially writers in Islamic Spain, who during the Middle Ages fantasized about fountains with liquid domes that one could enter. That evanescent dream was finally brought to dazzling life in this triumph of the architectural imagination.”

New York City’s High Line renovation began in 2004 after a successful five-year public fight to save the defunct early 20th-century railroad cargo viaduct by giving it a viable new use. Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, and landscape architects Field Operations with the Dutch plant specialist Piet Oudolf, designed the linear park that sits atop it. Filler writes, “Seldom in modern city planning has a single work of urban design brought together and synthesized so many current concerns, including historic preservation, adaptive reuse of obsolete infrastructure, green urbanism, and private sector funding and stewardship of public amenities.”

The firm’s architectural and urban transformation of New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (2003–2012) is extensively described and interpreted by Filler. Surprisingly he ends the Diller, Scofidio + Renfro essay by noting, “There was well-founded dismay among their admirers when in 2013 they accepted the Museum of Modern Art’s controversial commission to replace Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s former American Folk Art Museum building (1987–2001) contrary to a long-standing ethical tradition among high-style architects not to abet the destruction of living colleagues’ work.” It makes a good story, yet the possible existence or effectiveness of such high-minded rectitude anywhere in today’s world of architecture will seem unlikely to readers of a book so revelatory as Filler’s about the hard-nosed realities of successful practice.

When Israeli-American Michael Arad won the competition to design the National September 11 Memorial (2003–2011) at Ground Zero, he was an obscure 34-year-old working as an architect for neighborhood police stations in the design department of the New York City Housing Authority. The Memorial was completed when he was 42. Maya Lin was a leading and appropriate member of the jury that selected his preliminary design from a field of 5,201 entries. She herself was 21 and a student of architecture at Yale when she won the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1981–1982). It was completed when she was 23.

Filler concludes: “The nature of architectural practice has changed enormously in recent decades, yet it remains as much as it always has been in its wild unpredictability. The fates that befall even the most inspired master builders can be so capricious and cruel that one cannot predict whether Arad’s youthful masterwork will be seen in due course as his lift-off point or apogee. But just as the test of time has already proved the validity of Maya Lin’s insights into the wellsprings of mourning in the modern age, Michael Arad’s profound variations and expansions on her themes have in turn ratified him as one of the signal place-makers of our time.”

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The Alley Revisited
The brutalist theater is one of the finest of its era.
Ezra Stoller / Esto

The Ulrich Franzen–designed 1968 Alley Theatre in Houston is among the great performance spaces of its era, standing beside such fine company as Eero Saarinen’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York City, Harry Weese’s Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and Welton Becket’s Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. It is also the only one of these landmarks that has not undergone a major renovation to bring it up to contemporary standards—until now. Local firm Studio RED Architects is currently preparing to overhaul the Brutalist, poured-in-place concrete structure. The plan involves a redesign of the lobby and main theater, the addition of a fly loft and below-stage trap system, and an upgrade of the building’s mechanicals.

 
The new fly loft will be clad in zinc panels designed to match the building’s concrete shell.
Courtesy Studio RED
 

The most significant aspect of the project is the redesign of the 824-seat Hubbard Stage, the larger of the Alley’s two theaters (the smaller, the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage, was refurbished following its inundation during tropical storm Allison in 2001, which included the addition of flood gates to the building’s “mouse hole” drive-through). To get inspiration, the architects and the theater’s managing director, Dean Gladden, visited the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. “That meant we wanted to build a stage that had a fly loft, but also a deep thrust into a typical Greek amphitheater seating diagram,” said Pete Ed Garrett, partner-in-charge of the project at Studio RED. “Vivian Beaumont has a full stage, full trap rooms, so there’s complete 3D flexibility.”

   
 

Studio RED’s design also rearranges the seating diagram. “The existing theater had a really steep seating rake,” said Garrett. “Everybody from the 5th row to the last row was looking down hill. They weren’t seeing the facial expressions of the actors. They were seeing the tops of their foreheads.” The architects are demolishing the existing stage, building the new one five feet higher, and inserting a new seating bowl on top of the existing one to flatten the sightlines. Those changes, in addition to the removal of some cubic footage to improve acoustics, and added wheel chair accessibility, will reduce the number of seats to 777.

The only sign of the renovation on the exterior, besides a planned cleaning of the smog-blackened concrete, is the 45-foot-high fly loft, which rises above the building’s castle-like turrets. This steel framed structure is being clad in a zinc panel that mimics the existing building’s coloration. The long faces of the rectangular volume also bow out, mimicking the curved profiles of Franzen’s design. While not an exact replica of the existing building’s materiality and form, the gesture does recognize its status as a local monument. “The building is not on the historical record, but it is a landmark,” said Garrett. “If you keep a building 40 years in Houston it’s historical. I’ve torn down buildings that were some of my first projects.”

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Want to Motor-Bike With Brad Cloepfil? Van Alen Has You Covered
10-van-alen-auction This Wednesday, the Van Alen Institute is throwing their very first Spring Party in New York City. Tickets to the benefit, taking place at the High Line Hotel, are still on sale, with a variety of price points from a standard party ticket to the high roller "Beaux-Arts Benefactor" costing $25,000. Happening alongside the party, Van Alen has partnered with Paddle8 for an auction of architectural experiences, and some of the world's biggest names—from Iwan Baan to Richard Meier to Brad Cloepfil—have volunteered to potentially spend a little bit of their time with you. Swooning at the opportunities abounding in the auction, AN has rounded up ten of our favorite experiences up for auction we'd love to try. Some of the more quirky lots up for bid include rummaging around Rem Koolhaas' basement, Michael Sorkin's whirlwind 20-minute tour of Manhattan, waking up for a 3:00a.m. breakfast with Hans Ulrich Obrist, and a Skype chat with Aaron Betsky. Each of these experiences carries an estimated value of priceless, so get over to Paddle8 (or download the app), and bid away to support the also-priceless Van Alen Institute. Bid early and often, as the auction ends on Friday, May 23. 01-van-alen-auction Philip Johnson Glass House tour with Henry Urbach According to Van Alen:
Channel the puckish spirit of Philip Johnson, for an afternoon at least: Director Henry Urbach invites you and three guests on a private tour of the Philip Johnson Glass House and its 49-acres of beautiful grounds. This National Trust Historic Site was created to be a catalyst for the preservation and interpretation of modern architecture, landscape, and art, and as you explore the house and grounds, Urbach will explain the place's history and evolution.
Bid on the experience here. 08-van-alen-auction Private helicopter ride with Iwan Baan According to Van Alen:
Get a bird's eye-view of an important new building with architectural photographer Iwan Baan, who will take you on a private helicopter ride during one of his upcoming shoots, currently planned for Los Angeles, Paris, New York, or Chicago. Afterwards, join Baan for a private walk-through of the project being photographed; you're likely to be one of the very first visitors.
Bid on the experience here. 09-van-alen-auction Hudson Valley hike with Rafael de Cárdenas According to Van Alen:
Sometimes you need to leave New York City for a little while to remember why you love it so much. Escape city life for a day with architect Rafael de Cárdenas as he takes you to breakfast and then on a hike in New York's Hudson Valley. Discuss architecture and design with de Cárdenas as you explore this beautiful landscape; he may even take you to his favorite secret waterfall.
Bid on the experience here. 07-van-alen-auction Oregon motorbike tour with Brad Cloepfil According to Van Alen:
What could be better than a motorcycle tour of Oregon Wine Country? Going on that tour with architect Brad Cloepfil, whose firm Allied Works is deeply influenced by the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Together you'll sample the area’s finest Pinot Noirs at four distinct wineries, and go on a private tour and tasting at Sokol Blosser Winery's new tasting room, an elegant Allied Works building tucked away in the hills.
Bid on the experience here. 06-van-alen-auction Discover architecture in Rwanda with Sharon Davis According to Van Alen:
What does the future look like for 300 Rwandan women? Full of potential, thanks to the Women's Opportunity Center, designed by architect Sharon Davis. Join her on a private tour of this extraordinary complex that is allowing women to grow their own food, raise their own animals, and use traditional African crafts to earn financial independence and rebuild their lives after war. The series of clustered pavilions is organized in the same way as a traditional Rwandan village, and uses bricks made on site, retained earth walls, and cooling green roofs.
Bid on the experience here.   11-van-alen-auction Milanese dinner at home with Paola Antonelli According to Van Alen:
Ever wonder how a design visionary chooses the objects and furniture that surround her? Find out when MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, who has developed some of the most compelling and trenchant exhibitions of design and its role in every aspect of our culture, invites you and three guests to her apartment for a home-cooked Milanese meal. Discuss everything from culinary traditions and the tools that have grown up around them to the issues and ideas on her radar right now.
Bid on the experience here. 03-van-alen-auction Cocktails and Model Museum tour with Richard Meier According to Van Alen:
How does one of the defining minds of contemporary architecture like his cocktail? You'll find out after Richard Meier himself leads you and two friends on a private tour of the newly-opened Richard Meier Model Museum, where he displays a career-spanning collection of architectural models and an exhibition of his sketches, renderings, photographs, and sculptures. After the tour, the four of you will head to Meier's favorite bar for cocktails and conversation.
Bid on the experience here. 04-van-alen-auction Tour of Eero Saarinen's Bell Labs with Alexander Gorlin According to Van Alen:
The Bell Labs complex in Holmdel, New Jersey, is revered by architects and research scientists alike: The Eero Saarinen-designed complex is famed for its mirrored curtain wall, innovative plan, and role as the site of Nobel Prize-winning research in laser cooling technology. Architect Alexander Gorlin takes you on a private tour of this mid-century hub of technological ingenuity that he is restoring and transforming into a mixed-use town center with housing, retail, and a wellness center for the surrounding community.
Bid on the experience here. 05-van-alen-auction Architecture, art, and food in Seoul with the Kukje Gallery According to Van Alen:
Are you curious about the dynamic and burgeoning Korean art scene? Seoul's Kukje Gallery is at its very heart, and since its founding in 1982 has been one of Asia's leading exhibition centers. The newest gallery space there is K3, a pavilion designed by architects Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu of SO-IL. A Kukje director will give you and three guests a private tour of this striking new space, and afterward, enjoy dinner for four at the renowned Café at Kukje Gallery.
Bid on the experience here. 10-van-alen-auction Preliminary furniture sketch from Freecell Architecture According to Van Alen:
Do you have an idea for amazing piece of furniture, or have a room that needs a custom piece? Take a trip to Freecell Architecture, a Brooklyn-based 3-D installation, design, and furniture studio, where they will work with you to take your rough idea and transform it into a buildable design. Whether that is a desk that folds into seating, a table with glowing electroluminescent surface, pneumatic seating with built-in-technology, or something as-yet undreamt, these skilled designers will create drawings for you that are elegant, precise, and entirely your own.
Bid on the experience here.
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Shields back on Milwaukee Art Museum overhaul, new designs unveiled
[beforeafter]01-milwaukee-art-museum 02-milwaukee-art-museum[/beforeafter]   The Milwaukee Art Museum revamp's previous design and current iteration. (Courtesy HGA Architects & Engineers) The Milwaukee Art Museum’s long-planned expansion and renovation has become somewhat of a saga. Plans for a new addition with an entrance along Lake Michigan were announced in 2012, but hit a snag when HGA Architects and Engineers’ Jim Shields walked off the job in February. In April Urban Milwaukee first broke news that Shields, somewhat of a local design celebrity, had left the project amid quibbling over the design. That spurred conversation around town, with Journal-Sentinel critic Mary Louise Schumacher suggesting the museum consider not building an addition at all. In a surprise twist, Shields returned to the project, having apparently reconciled a dispute over the design direction. The project’s future, however, is still uncertain. As Schumacher pointed out in a column Friday, the new design replaces the 1975 Kahler addition’s eastern face with a glassy atrium. That building originally featured elegantly recessed windows that were later pushed flush with the façade, contributing to the eastern entrance’s deactivation. The museum would eventually close it completely after opening the Santiago Calatrava addition in 2001. The dark zinc or copper patina HGA is considering for the addition’s exterior would recall some of the original design’s drama, while engaging the lakefront with a glassy atrium in a way that Kahler’s building could not. But Schumacher wonders if the museum might be able to accomplish its goals without adding to the mishmash of architectural styles that sparked this continuing saga. Repairs to Eero Saarinen’s adjacent War Memorial building are also part of the plan. The total project will cost at least $25 million. The County of Milwaukee will contribute $10 million toward repairs, and the museum has already raised $14 million. While the architectural legacies of Shields, Kahler, Calatrava and Saarinen are all at stake to varying degrees, not to mention the city’s lakefront urban context, Milwaukeeans have plenty to consider.
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Christopher Mount to Open Architecture and Design Gallery in Los Angeles
Having observed the absence of architecture and design materials from the American art collection scene, curator and scholar Christopher W. Mount decided to fill the gap himself. His eponymous Los Angeles gallery, housed in the Pacific Design Center, opens to the public on Friday, May 23 with A Modern Master: Photographs by Balthazar Korab. A second gallery, open by appointment, will be located on the Upper West Side in New York. “I really thought that this was the time,” said Mount. “I thought, ‘Here is a subject matter that major museums collect, and there hasn’t been somebody who opened a gallery.’” A former curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, Mount more recently had a bumpy ride as guest curator of A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California, part of the Getty Research Institute’s Pacific Standard Time series. He describes his new gallery as “a labor of love” and a natural extension of his museum work. “When people talk about what is it you really like to do, the answer [for me] is to find works, put them on the wall...and educate people on architecture and design. Get people to appreciate it as something that is equal in aesthetic pleasure and beauty to regular fine art,” said Mount. The works his gallery will display—including photography, drawings, and, possibly, architecture models—“is often towards another end, but is often beautiful in and of itself.” As for choosing LA as his headquarters, “I think part of the reason to be based in Los Angeles is...[that] the architecture profession is much less strictly commercial,” said Mount. “Certainly these people are wildly successful, but they tend to be more experimental.” At the same time, his work on A New Sculpturalism left Mount with a sense of how disconnected the New York architecture world is from what is happening in Los Angeles. “The idea is to promote this work, promote the designers and the architects, and hopefully we’ll promote it throughout the world,” he said. After the Korab show, which closes August 29, the Christopher W. Mount Gallery will exhibit photographs by architectural photographer Benny Chan. Mount also plans a show featuring drawings by prominent mid-century car designers, timed to coincide with the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.
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Pamela Jerome
300, 320, and 350 Park Avenue.
Courtesy WASA / Studio A

By the mid 20th century, modernism was expected to respond to the demands of the post-World War II world, resolving commercial and housing needs. Instead, over time, it became synonymous with urban renewal and the loss of the historic urban fabric. Thus, from its earlier celebrated representation of transparency and newness, modernism eventually became berated as visually exhausting, and was ultimately followed by a postmodernist reactionary response. However, with over 50 years separating the present from mid-century modernism, the style is experiencing a renewed appreciation and reevaluation.

As an architect leading a preservation practice in New York at WASA/Studio A, I have increasingly become involved in the conservation of 20th-century heritage, including investigation and design of repairs for buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Harrison & Abramovitz, Mies van der Rohe, I.M. Pei, Emery Roth & Sons, and Eero Saarinen. What we have found is that the material most susceptible to change is the single-glazed curtain wall. Although Henry Russell-Hitchock and Philip Johnson coined the term “International Style” with the seminal eponymous exhibit and accompanying publication at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, the “glass box” did not become ubiquitous in our cityscapes until the 1960s. Perhaps the greatest concentrations of mid-century International Style in the world exists in Midtown East, recently spared by the New York City Council from a proposal to up-zone the neighborhood, which would have surely spelt the eventual demolition of these early glass boxes.

 
350 Park Avenue / Manufacturers Hanover Trust.
 

The single-glazed curtain wall was cutting edge in the 1950s and early 1960s, but still very much experimental in nature. Frequent failures include lack of sufficient anchorage (based on compliance with inadequate wind-pressure design requirements per the 1938 NYC Building Code), and air and water leaks. All too often the effort to upgrade thermal performance and resolve leaks has resulted in the complete alteration of the mid-century modernist aesthetic, which only recently has begun to capture the public’s appreciation through popular shows like Mad Men. Witness the case of a series of glass-box buildings along Park Avenue designed by Emery Roth & Sons, described below.

The firm of Emery Roth & Sons produced many of the fine Beaux Arts and art deco apartment buildings so visible along Central Park West. However, by the 1950s and 60s, their prolific glass-box output had literally changed the image of Midtown and the Wall Street District. No matter what their place in the history of architecture—many decry the firm as copycat architects—they are responsible for over 60 buildings in Midtown alone, according to the 2004 results of a Docomomo survey of 200 mid-century modernist buildings in Midtown. And as far as copycats are concerned, the Look Building at 488 Madison Avenue, a modernist design the firm completed in 1949 (albeit, not a glass box), predates the Lever House (1952) and Seagram Building (1958), as well as the UN Secretariat Building (1952). Another criticism has been that their glazed skyscrapers all look very similar. Yet, is anyone complaining that Mies van der Rohe spent years replicating his details—practice, after all, makes perfect, and “less is more”? Should we hold it against Emery Roth & Sons that their buildings from this period are instantly recognizable?

Let me draw your attention to the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Building at 350 Park Avenue. Completed in 1954, the building, with its green reflective glass, compliments the Lever House, located on the adjacent block to the north. Unlike the Lever House, however, it emphasizes verticality with its exposed vertical muntins. The next two blocks to the south along the same side of Park Avenue are occupied by the Mutual of America Building (320 Park Avenue) and the Colgate Palmolive Building (300 Park Avenue). Emery Roth & Sons designed both buildings, the former executed in 1960 and the latter in 1956. These three buildings in a row have very similar massing, with stepped setbacks leading to a central tower. All three buildings were remarkably alike—glass boxes that express their verticality. The Colgate Palmolive Building could even be considered contextual in its respect for the Waldorf Astoria directly across the street, its cream colored spandrels an homage to the limestone art deco masterpiece. Along with the Bankers Trust Building (280 Park Avenue, 1962), and 400 and 410 Park Avenue (1958 and 1959), Emery Roth & Sons helped change the landscape of Park Avenue giving it a consistent appearance, condemned by Lewis Mumford at the time, yet praised by Ada Louise Huxtable.


300 Park Avenue / Colgate Palmolive.
 
 

With the exception of the Lever House and the Seagram Building, none of these buildings are protected. In the name of energy efficiency and the desire for a contemporary look, two of them have been altered beyond recognition. In 1995, the Mutual of America Building was re-clad with a design by Swanke Hayden Connell that is a glazed version of postmodernism, roughly ten years after the style fell out of favor. Although continuing to present a vertical expression, the building is so changed as to bear no resemblance to its original design. In the re-cladding of the Colgate Palmolive building, executed in 2000, an equally dramatic departure from the original aesthetic was achieved. The resulting facade has reversed Emery Roth & Sons’ intention. Horizontality has been emphasized with continuous opaque aluminum spandrels interrupted by strips of horizontal window wall.

Why should we care about one or two less Emery Roth & Sons’ facades considering their relentless output during the same period? The issue becomes one of preservation theory. Is it time for the early glass box to be recognized for what it actually represents—not just a radical change in aesthetics from the historic masonry building, but also a moment in time when the future appeared to be full of innovation and optimism, manifested in the lightness, transparency, and openness of these structures? Does the experimental nature of these buildings, since proven prone to failure, mean that we should abandon our tried-and-true principles as preservationists?

Preservation theory is guided by international and national doctrine, most notably the Venice Charter (1964), Secretary of Interior’s Standards (1977), Burra Charter (1979), Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), and the Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (2011). Whereas the Venice Charter focused on the care by experts of monumental masonry structures in the European tradition, the Burra Charter systematized the use of a values-based approach to cultural heritage, wherein stakeholders are consulted to elicit significance, not just academics. This was followed by the Nara Document, which emphasized that authenticity is not automatically about saving original fabric, but should be viewed and interpreted differently by each culture in its context. Based on the Venice Charter, the Secretary of Interior’s Standards apply many of these considerations to the American reality. Although relatively recent, the Historic Urban Landscape document, adopted by UNESCO during the 36th session of their general conference, is extremely applicable to the case of Park Avenue.

Alfredo Conti, one of the five current international vice presidents of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites, one of the three statutory advisory bodies to the World Heritage Convention), eloquently defines the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) as follows:

…the sensory perception of the urban system and its setting. A system of material components (urban layouts, plot systems, buildings, open spaces, trees and vegetation, urban furniture, etc.) and the relationship among them, which are the result of a process, conditioned by social, economical, political and cultural constraints over time. The [HUL] concept contributes to link tangible and intangible heritage components and to assess and understand the town or urban area as a process, rather than as an object.

Even if we consider Emery Roth & Sons’ mid-century glass boxes as a vernacular backdrop, we must still acknowledge that these buildings embody the politics, events, and social changes that happened during the 20th century. Although not considered iconic, what are the limits of change that we should impose on Emery Roth & Sons’ buildings from this period? Should we be alarmed by potential alterations to their aesthetics, as their non-designated and aging glazed curtain walls come under scrutiny for upgrading?

The 1995 restoration of the Lever House involved the dismantling and reconstruction of its failed single-glazed curtain wall; however, because of the jurisdiction of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), its aesthetic was replicated, albeit in double-glazing. The adjacent buildings of Emery Roth & Sons have been afforded no such protection. While the NY Landmarks Conservancy and Municipal Arts Society, in response to the recent threat posed by the subsequently defeated East Midtown up-zoning proposal, have brought more than a dozen early masonry high-rise structures in the area to the attention of the LPC in the hopes that they will be individually designated, I would argue that we should also consider designating a historic district of the early examples of the International Style along Park Avenue and its vicinity. Only through this type of regulatory framework can we insure that these structures are properly evaluated for their cultural significance prior to proposals for re-cladding, sure to multiply in the near future as their leaky and energy-inefficient facades come under consideration for replacement.