Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Developer: Mitsui Fudosan and London & New York Estates
By Carter B. Horsley
This 25-story office building
is a stunning example of how a new structure can harmoniously
relate to Fifth Avenue's rich traditions while asserting itself
in a modern context.
The design by Raul de Armas,
then of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, uses pre-cast concrete
technology to create the effect of limestone. This technology
is a big cost-saver, but has been perfected enough to be quite
attractive in its own right.
The building's facades are lively,
but not fussy and their patterns impart a great sense of solidity,
elegance and strength, typical of the avenue's many pre-World
War II commercial buildings. In addition, its pitched roof, shown
at the right, echoes those of nearby buildings in the Bryant Park
The building's knockout punches
are its exposed steel trusses in the center of the tower with
their circular design in front of gently curved window facades.
It is high-tech structuralism reminiscent of some early cast-iron
designs, if not the curves of the old and sorely missed Bishop's
Crook lampposts, or Ernest Flagg's Scribner's Bookstore a few
blocks north. Neither derivative nor jarring, the trusses are
intriguing and ornamental on a larger-than-normal scale.
The base of the building's
rounded corner, moreover, recalls the soft lines of 689 Fifth
Avenue, another of the avenue's jewels. This building is one of
the best arguments in favor of light colored facades versus bronzed
behemoths like Olympic Tower.
The detailing of the street-level
entrance and storefronts is especially crisp and strong with bold
black accents and a large curved canopy.
Unlike the banal sliver building at
489 Fifth Avenue, one block north, shown partially at the left
in the picture at the right, whose bright white banding calls
attention to its uninspired design by Kahn & Jacobs, 461 Fifth
Avenue raises the avenue's design standards and carries forward
the progressive architectural character of the Bryant Park enclave.
This skyscraper is an intriguing
and innovative attempt to merge High Tech, Modernism and Post-Modernism
while also being very sensitive to context on a critical site.
What if the large, curved corner
windows of the base had been used, on a smaller scale, in the
What if the impressive trusses
of the tower had been used also in the base?
What if the fine curved flair
of the corner marquee had been somehow repeated on the roofline
as a neo-Art Nouveau cornice?
What if the tower's trusses
were removed to more clearly show the curved center windows?
Such questions were probably
pondered by the developers and the architects and it is quite
remarkable that they decided to incorporate all these elements
and did so quite successfully. The finished melange of elements
does send many messages and perhaps stop short of being a masterpiece
but by New York standards of the time it was quite daring and
is a fine foil for the also unusual Republic National Bank building
by Eli Attia (see The
City Review article)
cattycorner on the Avenue.