1 INTERNATIONAL PLAZA
(750 Lexington Avenue at 59th
Architect: Murphy Jahn Associates
Developer: Cohen Brothers Realty
By Carter B. Horsley
With its ringed Sumerian-style cap, angled wings and
bowed storefronts, this 31-story office building is the most interesting
work in New York of Helmut Jahn, one of the world's most experimental
and bold designers. Of course, New York reins in its architects
through its complex and very restrictive zoning regulations so
while this is good New York Jahn it's not great architecture.
But if its whole is not a masterpiece by international
standards, it deserves very high marks for many of its parts.
The crown, for example, is spectacular and
Circular or cylindrical architecture is surprisingly
disappointing and rather rare. The Coliseum in Rome, of course,
is an exception, but its ragged ruins have a romantic appeal far
greater than that city's better preserved Pantheon, which is impressive
in its circular form but less satisfying. A perfectly round form
has no discernible boundaries or accents and represents stability
rather than momentum: it's just less interesting than a form that
ends abruptly or is more complex, at least when considering its
exterior presentation for circular interiors can be comforting
and intimate and quite effective.
John Portman has achieved the most success
with cylindrical forms, especially in his tall, slender hotel
in Atlanta and then with his more complex bundling of cylinders
at Bonaventure Plaza in downtown Los Angeles and Renaissance Plaza
The main curved shaft of Jahn's building
here, above the angled wings, actually is far more refined than
Portman's towers because of the delicate thinness of the mullions
and narrow vertical windows permitting a less jagged curve. If
the wings were removed, the tower here would be most graceful,
although the wonderful roof cap would become too fussy. Jahn's
handling of the wings is effective in that the protruding curve
of the center section energizes the composition frontally. The
wings, however, are too clipped, that is, they need, ideally,
to be unfurled, open out more, which would enhance the overall
composition. Of course, here that would necessitate a far larger
site, which was not possible, or a narrower center shaft, which
would not suit the developer's marketing of space.
building has been set back considerably along Lexington Avenue
providing desperately needed pedestrian space at one of the world's
most crowded intersections. That setback alone would entitle this
project to wide acclaim. Jahn, moreover, has focused a lot of
effort on creating a distinctive retail frontage by using curved
windows, as shown at the right, and doors for the double-height
store spaces and topping each bay with a protruding rectilinear
small window to create a rippling, textured streetfront and putting
to shame the itsy-bitsy sidewalk across the street at Bloomingdale's.
Moreover, the bays are separated by smoothly
curved lozenge rustication of polished dark gray granite that
looks good enough to eat and is the best modem rustication in
Sadly, however, Jahn has trimmed the bays with
pale blue-green metallic banding. In his megalomaniacal search
for individuality and distinction, Jahn has consistently employed
a strange palette of unusual colors that have rarely translated
well into the urban fabric. The upper part of the building is
trimmed with a slightly deeper bluish tone that works better,
in large measure because of the thinness of the mullions. The
base would have been far more effectively had he used black throughout,
which also would have complemented the base of Bloomingdale's.
The building's entrance, shown above, is on
59th Street beneath a boxy canopy that is totally inappropriate
with the rest of the design. Fortunately, it is tucked next to
the adjacent building and is relatively minor and hopefully one
day will be removed or replaced with something better.
The lobby, shown below, however, is wonderful,
repeating the polished granite rustication, this time, correctly,
in black but also the stepped cone top of the building, a very,
very elegant space of great dignity and good, but not overwhelming
size. The building, therefore, gives the city a marvelous new
skyline element and a vastly improved pedestrian ambiance at one
of its most congested and heretofore unattractive intersections,
and demonstrates convincingly if not perfectly that rustication
and bay windows need not be things of the past.
Furthermore, it is bold enough to attempt an
original form with reasonable success and to try to introduce
into the urban palette new colors with somewhat less success.
For a relatively modest-size office building,
by Manhattan standards, that's a pretty positive record.