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Cornices Extend Buildings to the Heavens


Metropolitan Club cornice

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.

159 East 70th Street

159 East 70th Street

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 fashion.

Cornice at Verona

Cornice at Verona apartment building on Madison Avenue

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 Associates.


This article appeared in the December 20, 2007 edition of The New York Sun without the picture of 159 East 70th Street


See the poem "Cornice" by Carter B. Horsley


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