In the unfolding of any design movement, there are outliers who are seen as too far from the mainstream, too quirky to be celebrated by peers and historians. Over many decades of abundant architectural accomplishment, Albert C. Ledner was one of those. But he recently had the good fortune of winning widespread admiration in the months before his death on November 13 at the age of 93. Born in the Bronx in 1924, Ledner arrived in New Orleans at the age of nine months and left it only for short periods thereafter. His studies at Tulane were interrupted by his World War II service as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. While stationed in Arizona he made a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's winter work place, Taliesin West, an event that, in his words, "had such a great bearing on my life." After the war, he finished his degree program at Tulane and spent some time with Wright at his base at Taliesin East in Wisconsin. By 1951, Ledner had started his own practice back in New Orleans, dedicated not to the Bauhaus-based Modernism largely dominating U.S. architecture of the time, but to the more adventurous variety associated with Wright. And unlike many Wright disciples, Ledner was able to escape the intimidating shadow of the master's creations to explore his own related design inspirations. Over a career that extended throughout his final years, Ledner created some 40 houses in the New Orleans area, not only designing them but directing their construction. He was thus a pioneer in the "design-build" process, led by the architect, not the builder, that has only recently been applauded in the architectural community. By proceeding this way, he was able to seize opportunities for unusual structural systems, distinctive uses of materials, and refinement of details without the tedious negotiations and cost premiums for innovation imposed by the traditional design-bid-build sequence. Ledner's relatively unfettered design approach led him to construct spaces of unconventional configuration and detail. In one house, he affixed some 1,200 amber glass ashtrays to the exterior, in part because the owners were heavy smokers (considered okay in the 1960s), but mainly because he admired the ashtrays' circle-in-a-square configuration. In another of his houses, he based his design on the owner's collection of traditional windows salvaged from the convents for which they were designed—assembling their curved-top shapes both right side–up and upside-down to striking effect. Ledner's youthful leap into structures of larger scale grew out of his first commission for the National Maritime Union for its meeting hall in New Orleans, a circular volume topped by a roof of radial, pleat-like forms. Pleased with this functional and visually iconic 1955 structure, the union commissioned him to design its buildings in the port cities of Mobile, Alabama; Baltimore, Houston, and Galveston, Texas. The most ambitious of these Maritime Union projects were the three structures he designed in Manhattan: the Joseph Curran Building in the West Village area, completed in 1964, containing its hiring hall, offices, and training facilities. Two residence halls for union members were completed later in the mid-1960s on two adjoining sites in Chelsea. All three eye-catching buildings have now been successfully and sensitively adapted for new uses. The sculptural six-story hiring hall and training structure, now under city landmark protection, is now the O'Toole Building, an emergency room and medical center. The residential structures, widely recognized for the circular windows that dot their tall facades, gracefully house the Maritime and Dream hotels. In recent years, Ledner's daughter Catherine produced a documentary on his life and work that featured a number of key buildings and much of his own charming commentary. She found an able and dedicated collaborator in Roy Beeson, her cousin on her mother's side. The film was shown in New Orleans last summer and at a September gathering co-hosted by the Modern architecture advocacy group DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State and AIA New York. For its showing at New York's Architecture and Design Film Festival in early November, Ledner himself attended and spoke, less than a week before his death. It is good to know that he was at last able to enjoy these heart-warming celebrations of his achievements. John Morris Dixon is a board member of DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State.
Posts tagged with "Albert Ledner":
Blue Crow Media, a publishing group that publishes architectural guides for cities worldwide, just released a map glorifying concrete structures across New York City—titled, appropriately, Concrete New York. Among the structures highlighted by the map, many will be familiar to AN's readers. Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK airport, currently being renovated into a 505-room hotel, is listed, as is the Marcel Breuer–designed granite and concrete monolith now home to the Met Breuer. Perhaps less visited is Breuer's Begrisch Hall on the Bronx Community College campus or I.M. Pei's Silver Towers at NYU. Concrete infrastructure also gets its due: the Cleft Ridge Span at Prospect Park (completed in 1872) is featured as well as the more recent Dattner Architects and WXY Studio-designed Spring Street Salt Shed (completed in 2015). In Greenwich Village, New Yorkers will recognize New Orleans architect Albert Ledner's Curran/O'Toole Building, unmistakable with its double cantilevered, scallop-edged facade, formerly serving as St. Vincent's Hospital (a landmark institution for victims of the HIV/AIDS crisis). The guide also points out historic works by Paul Rudolph, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durell Stone, and many others. The map was edited by Allison Meier, a Brooklyn-based writer. The next guide will look at the use of concrete in Tokyo, and will be available next month. Previous maps by Blue Crow Media have examined modernism in Berlin and Belgrade, art deco in London, and constructivism in Moscow, although Brutalism remains their favorite topic to date, with maps on the subject for Boston, London, Paris, Sydney, and Washington, D.C.
On our way to the grand opening of the extended High Line last week, we couldn't help but notice the lights were on at the Dream Downtown, hotelier Vikram Chatwal's newest luxury outpost. While the soft-opening was reserved for Chatwal friends and family, the official opening later this month is sure to draw out the denizens of New York nightlife. Inside the lobby, a glass-bottomed pool diffuses light from the building's interior courtyard, accessed through a lushly-planted sliver at the back of the lobby. In the courtyard, a teak-heavy lounge opens up onto the pool deck complete with its own white sand beach, where Vikram himself was lounging on a plush chaise. On the roof, a still-under-wraps venue--with what the Dream is touting as one of Manhattan's finest views--is sure to be popular. Among the amenities that will open later this year is Romera New York, which is expected to offer a 12-course prix fixe for $245. The hotel will feature 316 rooms, but some are still being finished up. Originally designed by Albert Ledner in 1966--the same architect as the neighboring Maritime Hotel and the nearby O'Toole Building--and last used as a homeless shelter, Handel Architects has reclad the round-windowed building in stainless steel, earning the structure the nickname of "The Cheesegrater."