By Carter B. Horsley
Architects have long pondered
how best to signify that their building has stopped its penetration
into the heavens and perhaps the most popular means they have
employed is the cornice, a protruding element that overhangs the
building's façade. This element is usually not too tall
so as not to seem ungainly and not too deep so as not to appear
too dangerous, or cast too large a shadow.
The cornice, like most architectural
elements, comes in a variety of shapes and designs, but most are
quite detailed and complex and often are the most decorative element
of a building's exterior as they can be seen from near and far.
Many are very elegant and impressive
such as that found atop the Metropolitan Club on the northeast
corner of Fifth Avenue at 60th Street, or atop the Verona apartment
building designed by William E. Mowbray in 1908 at 32 East 64th
Street, shown above, but some are quite minimal.
While cornices proliferate
in pre-war residential architecture, they are much rarer in "modern"
buildings, although Annabelle Selldorf's design for the building
under construction at 200 Eleventh Avenue, best known for the
"garage" rooms in many of the apartments, sports an
interesting, curved cornice interpretation, and the center of
the top of the façade at the A Building at 425 East 13th
Street, designed by Cetra/Ruddy and now nearing completion, has
a perforated overhang that is another cornice variation.
Perhaps the most interesting
"modern" cornice is atop the Carnegie Hall Tower at
152 West 57th Street that was erected in 1990 and designed by
Cesar Pelli & Associates. Instead of a projecting decorative
cap, Pelli has protruded spokes on three of the tower's top facades
that clutch at the proverbial passing clouds and passionate dreams
wafting up from the concert hall in an aggressive but minimalist
Another interesting and quite
bold "modern" cornice consisting of three large overlapping
red metal bands can be found at the Scholastic Books building
at 557 Broadway built in 2001 and designed by Aldo Rossi and Gensler