Carter B. Horsley
York City does not have many curved buildings.
most famous one, of course, is the upside-down spiral of Frank
Lloyd Wrights Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue between
88th and 89th Streets. It was completed in 1959.
it was immediately recognized as a major landmark of modern architecture,
it did not inspire many imitators over the next several decades,
but in the last few years curves are once again being murmured
about in the architectural vocabulary of the city.
The year after the Guggenheim opened, the Parker Crescent apartment
building at 225 East 36th Street was completed with a large concave
façade confronting cars as they exited from the Queens-Midtown
Tunnel but the buildings avenue and side-street facades were not
curved. It was designed by H. I. Feldman for the Jack Parker
citys next foray into rounded architecture was by Paul Rudolph
at Tracey Towers, an apartment complex consisting of 41- and 38-story
towers at 20 and 40 West Mosholu Parkway at Jerome Avenue in the
Bronx. It was completed in 1974 and built by Frederick D.
De Matteis. It was described as perhaps New York's ultimate
example of futuristic design by Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins
and David Fishman in their book, New York 1960, Architecture and
Urbanism Between The Second World War and the Bicentennial.
The authors noted that the developer suggested the configuration
of twin round towers, an idea presumably inspired by Bertrand
Goldberg's Marina City (1964) in Chicago.
Spitzer built two of the most prominent examples in midtown. In
1964, he erected 200 Central Park South, which last year replaced
its balconies for a glossier look on its curved north and east
facades. It was designed by Wechlser & Schimenti.
Mr. Spitzer and Peter L. Malkin built the Corinthian in 1987,
the 54-story apartment tower on the full-block bounded by Second
and First Avenues and 38th and 39th Streets. It was designed
by Der Scutt and Michael Schimenti and is highly visible because
it is set in a large plaza and is just to the north of the entrance
to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
Its rounded balconies gave the tower the appearance
of a bundle of cylinders, a scheme that was also employed by Harold
Sussman of Horace Ginsbern & Associates in 1972 at Lincoln
Plaza Tower at 44 East 62nd Street. The striated concrete
Ginsbern tower is nicely proportioned but is tucked away in the
the Performing Arts District whereas the Corinthian is much larger
and more complex and more visible.
The citys most beautiful curved building is
the 42-story office tower at 17 State Street that Melvyn and Robert
Kaufman of the William Kaufman Organization erected in 1988.
Designed by Richard Roth Jr. of Emery Roth & Sons, it is the
citys most stunning reflective glass tower as well as it most
graceful curved building. Fronting on Battery Park, it overlooks
the citys harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
new tower at Battery Park city now nearing completion, the Visionaire
at 70 Little West Street, has a beautiful and large, gently curved
west façade, best seen from New Jersey, although it otherwise
conforms to the traditional rectilinear forms of the landfill
development. It is being developed by the Albanese Organization
and has been designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, the firm that designed
the cylindrical and conical Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, at
one time the worlds tallest building project.
One Beacon Court, which was completed in 2006, Cesar Pelli, snuck
a large, circular residential entrance and driveway in the middle
of the very tall and large and elegant, mixed-use development
on the block bounded by Lexington and Third Avenues and 58th and
59th Streets. The curved opening flares outward and has a narrow
opening punched into the projects façade along 59th Street
and a larger, full opening on 58th Street.
Related Companies actually took heart from their experiment with
one, small, rounded corner and had Costas Kondylis design a very
broad curve for its Monterey apartment building nearby in 1994
on the northwest corner at Third Avenue and 96th Street. The
Monterey has a very broad sweeping curve at its corner that
recalls the great curved prewar apartment buildings that face
one another at 116th Street and Riverside Drive.
Monterey, however, has a very pronounced horizontal banding on
its facade that emphasizes its curve as well as a cylindrical
rooftop watertank enclosure whereas the two fine pre-war buildings
on 116th Street have lots of fine architectural detailing that
minimizes their curved facades. The Monterey's massive bulk
is somewhat minimized by the fact that its central section is
slightly recessed from its side facades on 96th Street and Third
Avenue and also by the fact that it has a very large and attractive
mid-block garden on 96th Street that makes the tower free-standing
and therefore more immune from charges of non-contextualism.
less flamboyant and proportionally more pleasing curved corner
can be found at Le Mondrian at 250 East 54th Street on the southeast
corner at Second Avenue. This very colorful and handsome,
43-story building was erected as Le Grand Palais by Charles Benenson
in 1992 and designed by Fox & Fowle but its name was changed
a couple of years later when its initial marketing as a cooperative
curve at the Mondrian is discrete.
the Guggenheim, Tracey Towers and the Corinthian can be described
as bold and original plans, the citys inventory paled in comparison
with futuristic designs in Europe and Japan by such architects
as Rem Koolhaas and Shin Takematsu.
winning design in a 1999 competition sponsored by the Canadian
Centre for Architecture for what to do with the MTA rail yards
in Midtown West was a megastructure design with many curves by
Peter Eisenman and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The plan
was not pursued but last year the MTA got five proposals from
development teams for the yards and will soon select a winner.
Most of the submitted proposals were rectilinear structures
but S.O. M. and Steven Holl included some curvilinear buildings
in their plans for Brookfield Properties and Extell Development,
apparently could not shake itself of the curve and commissioned
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, a firm well known for its crisp
rectilinearity in the mold of Le Corbusier to design a residential
tower just across from Cooper Union at the northern end of Lafayette
building, known initially as One Astor Place but officially 445
Lafayette Street, is a 26-story tower clad in blue glass with
an undulating mid-section that is very reminiscent of the countrys
greatest curved building, the 70-story Lake Point Tower in Chicago
that was designed in 1968 by Schipporeit and Heinrich Associates.
Where the Chicago tower, however, was dark like the Seagram Building
here and had a unified, cruciform design with no setbacks, One
Astor Place rises from a rectilinear base and has a boxy element
near its top. Its curvaceous proportions are also a bit
building, which was completed in 2005, received some scathing
reviews but has since been joined in the vicinity by some other
tall buildings that are giving the Lower East Side a not uninteresting
the Pantheon and the Colosseum bear witness to the popularity
of curves in ancient days, the current renaissance is due to the
enormous popularity of Frank O. Gehrys sinuous design for the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
its sail-like curves, Mr. Gehrys recently completed the I.A.C.
headquarters building for Barry Diller on 18th and West Streets
is the citys most important curved building since the Guggenheim
on Fifth Avenue even though it is relatively modest in size.
is across 19th Street from a taller project now under construction
at 100 Eleventh Avenue that has been designed by Jean Nouvel and
will feature broadly curved south and east facades composed by
a bewildering arrangement of angled windows that will probably
blind most diamond-cutters. The razzle-dazzle of the faceted
façade promises to be greatly more intriguing and assertive
than Gehrys graceful and complex curves at this corner, the new
center of the citys architectural world.
2007, nine of 10 commissioners of the Landmarks Preservation Commission
indicated they did not find a design by Sir Norman Foster for
a 22-story residential addition to the five-story 980 Madison
Avenue opposite the Carlyle Hotel as appropriate.
design for the apartment tower was placed at the north end of
the block-long building between 76th and 77th Street and would
have been a joined bundle of two glass-clad towers of unequal
height and with curved facades occupying only 23 percent of the
of the citys earliest curved structures was the circular west
battery fort at Battery Park was built in 1811 by John McComb
Jr. and Lt. Col. Jonathan Williams. In 1890, C. C. Height
designed the twin circular towers of the New York Cancer Hospital
at 455 Central Park West to which an tall, non-curved, apartment
tower was added in 2000.
The city's most famous curved building, of
course, is Frank Lloyd Wright's great Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
on Fifth Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets, shown at the left.
its avenue frontage takes up an entire block, its impact on the
non-curvilinear street wall of the avenue is minimized and its
own curves emphasized. In the third edition in 1988 of their fine
book, "The A.I.A. Guide to New York City," Elliot Willensky
and Norval White observed that it is "a museum more important
as architecture than for the contents it displays," a statement
that was then too harsh although more valid after the museum commissioned
Frank O. Gehry for its fantastic museum in Bilbao, Spain a decade
it has been controversial, it is one of the world's great architectural
masterpieces, both inside and out.
curved buildings can be disruptive and very much out of context,
but not always. One Kenmore Place is a gray-brick, mid-rise
apartment building that is set back in a small plaza but it is
so much more interesting and attractive than its neighbors that
it is welcome at its location.
even more startling design can be found at 49 White Street in
TriBeCa. It is a synagogue designed in 1967 by William H.
Breger Associates. The building has a simple vertically
undulating marble facade set back considerably from the streetline.
It is almost as "shocking" as the Guggenheim but
it is much much smaller and its location much less prominent.
Curves on corner buildings generally
are quite often successful and nicely "soften" the city's
sharp edges. Rounded corners, however, can appear a little "weak,"
almost as if they are worried about being too confrontation.
The Copley apartment building at 2000 Broadway
on the northeast corner at 68th Street, for example, is attractive
but seems rather mild compared to some of the newer buildings
in the neighborhood. It was designed in 1987 by Davis, Brody
& Associates, one of the city's best residential building
architects and Mr. White and Mr. Willensky liked it a lot: "A
sleek, smooth, modest, understated, rounded tower among the mess
of Broadway. One of the best new buildings on the old Boulevard."
One of the city's greatest facades is that
on the "Lipstick" building at 885 Third Avenue designed
by John Burgee with Philip Johnson in 1986. The building
got the knickname "Lipstick" because its form suggests
an extended telescope and its curves and deep red banding suggested
lipstick. The form is not quite as simply as it looks from
some perspectives as the tower setbacks somewhat to the east as
it rises. The banding here is rigorous and very strong in
part because the telescoping form imparts a dynamic energy augmented
significantly by the thin, almost delicate stainless steel ribbons
that encircle the building. Like its bigger and shinier
neighborhood, Citicorp Center, shown in the background of the
above photograph, the Lipstick building is "raised"
on columns at its base and thus becomes of the more eccentric
towers along this interesting stretch of otherwise rather bland
Third Avenue in midtown.
District has two "flatiron"-style buildings, One Wall
Street Court, which is also known as the Cocoa Exhcange Building,
and the smaller and older Delmonico's.
The great Starrett-Lehigh Building occupies
the full block bounded by 11th and 12th Avenues and 26th and 27th
Streets. The 19-story building was erectged in 1931 on the
former site of the Lehigh Valley Railroad freight termial. It
was designed by Russel G. and Walter M. Cory and Yatsuo Matsui
and is widely regarded as one of the world's most imporant industrial
buildings. In their A.I.A. guide to the city, Mr. White
and Mr. Willensky noted that the building has "about 9 miles
of strip windows, with their brick-banded spandrels, sreaking
and swerving around this block-square" warehouse and described
it as "a landmark of modern architecture." It
is easily to see where Davis, Brody & Associates got its influence
for the Copley, but this building's darker masonry, and higher
visibility make it more exciting particularly because of the protruding
vertical section on its western half that rises up above its roofline
and also interrupts the horizontal banding dramatically with fine
asymmetry and different fenestration, something that Robert Venturi
and Denise Scott Brown might have once described as "complexity."