Carter B. Horsley
since the completion of
Frank O. Gehry's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
in 1997, the world has been clamoring for shiny metal buildings
with sinuous curves.
while afterwards, the
museum planned a similar, large, spectacular structure by Gehry
along the FDR Drive south of the South Street Seaport, but
it could not raise the funds.
also lost out in a design
competition for a new tower for The New York Times on the West
Side but eventually was commissioned by Barry Diller to build
a modest office building on West Street in Chelsea for his IAC
company. That very attractive project reflected the nautical heritage
of the Hudson River with its sail-like shape, but the fašade
was glass, not metal.
Forest City Ratner
commissioned Gehry to design two metallic projects in New York
City: a very tall, mixed-use tower near City Hall at 8 Beekman
Street and an enormous but lower project in the Atlantic Yards
section of Brooklyn.
Beekman tower, which will
contain a school and about 900 rental apartments, will be taller
than the Woolworth Building on the other side of City Hall Park
but its greater claim to fame will probably be that its entire
fašade above the school will be stainless steel and that
it is likely to out-dazzle the Chrysler Building, the city's most
famous and romantic stainless-steel pinnacle.
Beekman project's reflections
are greatly enhanced by the fact that its facades ripple with
subtle, seemingly random curves.
fiscal crisis, however,
got Gehry recently kicked off the Atlantic Yards project as the
developer hoped to save $200 million with a less expensive and
non-stainless-steel design by lesser-known architects. The surprise
decision smacked of bait-and-switch but Gehry's design was not
as fine as his metal designs at Bilbao, Beekman Street or the
impressive Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Beekman Tower, of course,
is not the city's first or most famous metal skyscraper, on honor
held by the 1931 Chrysler Building, designed by William Van Alen
with its great glittering tiaras of stainless steel that have
dazzled the world since its spire erupted from within the building
same time, the Empire
State Building, designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon,was being
completed and it may have lost the beauty contest to the Chrysler
Building but its tall and fine stainless steel wings that point
towards the heavens are sometimes overlooked because of all the
light that emanates from the top of the building.
Gehry's stainless square
footage may easily exceed the Chrysler's, its convoluted form
is still not a match for the very imaginative top of the Chrysler
and its great illuminated triangular windows.
the wide acclaim for
both the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, metal pretty much
vanished from the city's architectural vocabulary for a generation
in part because of the Depression and World War II.
major office buildings
were clad in metal in the 1950s, but the popularity of the glass-clad
Lever House won the day and it metal would not reappear until
the 1970s and then only rarely until recently when several new
projects have once again embraced it.
of course, did not invent
metal buildings. Tubular metal structures known as Quonset Huts
proliferated across the country during World War II.
Quonset hut is a lightweight,
prefabricated structure of corrugated galvanized steel having
a semicircular cross section. Its design was based on the Nissen
hut developed by the British during World War I and it was named
in 1941 after the site of their first manufacture, Quonset Point,
at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville,
a village in the town of North Kingstown, Rhode Island.
nation's first major post-war
"metal" tower was the Alcoa Building that was erected
in Pittsburgh in 1953, a 30-story tower designed by Harrison &
Abramovitz as a showpiece for the use of aluminum in buildings.
aluminum reduced the building's
weight and the architects would seventeen years later design the
U.S. Steel Tower, a 841-foot-high, 64-story office building that
was notable famous for its triangular shape with indented corners
and for being the first to use liquid-fireproofed columns. U.S.
Steel deliberately placed the massive steel columns on the exterior
of the building to showcase a new [in 1970] product called Cor-ten
steel. Cor-ten resists the corrosive effects of rain, snow, ice,
fog, and other meteorological conditions by forming a coating
of dark brown oxidation over the metal. (The material, however,
caused a discoloration of surrounding city sidewalks and other
dark, steel-clad tower
can be found at 1 Liberty Plaza at the intersection of Broadway,
and Liberty, Church and Cortlandt Streets. The 1974 tower was
designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and was described by
Norval White and Elliot Willensky in their fourth edition of "The
A. I. A. Guide to New York City as "a gloomy, articular,
cadaverous extravaganza of steel.")
success of the Alcoa Building
in Pittsburgh was quickly followed by several major "metal"
office towers in midtown Manhattan.
& Abramovitz designed
the Socony-Mobil Building occupying a full city block at 150 West
42nd Street in 1956. It was notable for its dark blue base and
its setback stainless steel tower.
sparkling, shiny, stainless-steel-clad
office tower remains one of the city's most impressive full-block
the largest office building
development in the city since Rockefeller Center and its location
across 42nd Street from the great Chrysler Building and across
Lexington Avenue from the impressive Chanin Building solidly reinforced
the Grand Central office district as a major new force in the
it set no new records
for heights, its monumental bulk was very impressive as was the
tenant after which the building was named. Socony-Mobil had been
located in Lower Manhattan and was one of major investments of
the Rockefeller Family. The commitment to East Midtown did not
go unnoticed and would soon be followed by a very significant
shift in new commercial construction from downtown to midtown,
highlighted by the development a few years afterwards of the Lever
House and Seagram House, both on Park Avenue in the 50's and both
instant icons of world-class International Modernism that would
set new high standards for a new generation of towers and put
enormous pressure on Lower Manhattan to retain its executives
who generally had to endure an extra commute from midtown to downtown
to older and less exciting properties.
neighbors, the Chrysler
and Chanin Buildings, the Socony-Mobil office tower offered its
workers weather-protected underground passageways to subways and
Grand Central's commuter trains as well as it many restaurants
and stores, tennis courts and the meeting facilities in its connected
Biltmore, Commodore and Roosevelt hotels.
addition, the new building
offered enormous floor plans to accommodate the latest technology
of under floor wiring and for its executives it offered a skyscraper
luncheon club, The 45th floor Pinnacle Club, far larger that the
Chrysler's Cloud Club and more modern than the 60 East Club half
way up on the 27th floor of the Lincoln Building to the West on
the other side of Park Avenue. It was clear that oil interests
were becoming ever more important powerful.
Socony-Mobil Building was
built on land leased form the Goelet estate. Francis Goelet emigrated
from Amsterdam to the colony of New York in 1676 and his descendants
Peter Goelet (1800-1879) and Robert Goelet (1809-1879) amassed
vast fortunes in banking and real estate and were founders of
the Chemical Bank. In 1838 they began acquiring lots on the 42nd
Street block where Pottier & Stymus, furniture designers who
operated an "integrated factory" facing Lexington Avenue,
from the end of the Civil War to 1918.
Robert Goelet (1880-1966)
the family increased its holdings on the block, purchasing six
lots near the corner of Third Avenue and 41st Street during the
1940s. This acquisition, according to the landmark designation
report, was made with the expectation that the end of elevated
rail service in Manhattan was near. With the closing of the Second
Avenue line in 1942, the Goelets correctly anticipated that the
Third Avenue el would follow and as the Socony Mobil Building approached
completion in 1956, service ended and the iron structure was demolished.
designation report said
that "as early as 1942, the Goelet estate began to contemplate
redevelopment of the site," adding that "John B. Peterkin,
an architect specializing in apartment houses and civic structures,
was hired as a consultant."
the report continued, "were relatively free of ornament and
he often worked in a stripped Classical or streamlined Moderne
style. His Manhattan commissions included: 53 Park Place (1922,
in association with Cross & Cross); 1016 Fifth Avenue (1927,
part of the Metropolitan Museum Historic District); the Airlines
Building (1939-40, demolished), across from Grand Central Terminal
on 42nd Street, the East Side Airlines Terminal (1950-51, demolished),
located on First Avenue, close to the Midtown Tunnel; and the
New York Coliseum (1953-54), in association with Leon & Lionel
plan called for
a three-story base with a 30-story tower with a large roof garden
on the setback. The plan however failed to attract "blue-ribbon"
tenants with long-term leases.
landmark designation report
maintained that the "driving force behind the Socony-Mobil
Building was Peter B. Ruffin, vice president of the Galbreath
Corporation....Ruffin recalled: 'There is was, a solid mass of
bootblack stands, fruit stands, hat-repair joints, and third-rate
restaurants...the land belonged to the Robert Walton Goelet estate,
and I learned that the estate did not want to sell, did want the
property improved, but didn't want to be exploited by real estate
operators....After months of discussion with the estate, Galbreath
and I decided to put the building up ourselves.' To accomplish
this, Ruffin needed a new design, major tenants, and financing.
Harrison & Abramovitz, possibly the city's best-known
firm, was invited to collaborate with Peterkin in 1952....in July,
1953, executives of the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company signed a letter
of intent to lease more than half the structure. With this agreement
and several others in hand, the Equitable Life Assurance Society
and National City Bank agreed to loan Galbreath and Ruffin $37.5
million toward construction."
Harrison & Abramovitz
had worked with Galbreath in designing 525 Penn Place (now Three
Mellon Bank Center), a 51-one story office building in Pittsburgh,
and in 1959-61 they would design the 41-story Continental Can
Company building for the company at 633 Third Avenue between 40th
and 41st Streets.
four-story base of the
42-story building is clad with dark blue carrara structural glass
that is opaque and framed by stainless steel moldings that project
slightly forward. "Sleek, dark, and somewhat reflective,
this choice of color helps distinguish the building from its neighbors,
many of which are clad with light-colored brick or terra cotta....At
the center of the 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue facades are
the primary entrances. Each is marked by a shallow eyebrow curve
arch. It is likely that these dramatic elements were designed
by Harrison and they recall his life-long interest in abstract
painting and sculpture forms, a tendency which he explored in
such iconic World's Fair pavilions as the Trylon & Perisphere
(1939, demolished) and the Hall of Science (1964). The two entrances
fit squarely into this pattern, juxtaposing a dramatic sweeping
form against the rectilinear elevations of the lower floors....
and stainless steel. These materials had distinct advantages"
ease of installation and thinness - a characteristic that increased
the interior dimensions of each floor&.While aluminum was
briefly considered for the elevation so the Socony-Mobil Building,
stainless steel was chosen due to Galbreath's ties to the steel
industry....Considerably more expensive than other materials,
the steel manufacturers agreed to match the price of aluminum
and 'write off the cost of any price differential as the cost
of promoting steel.' Above the fourth story, the elevations are
covered with 20-age type 302 stainless steel - a surface area
of more than ten acres and weighting about 750,000 pounds. Developed
between 1903 and 1912 in England and Germany, stainless steel
was typically used for non-structural purposes in situations where
there is a high potential for corrosion. Among various architects
to pioneer the use of this material was William Van Alen, designing
of the neighboring Chrysler Building, completed in 1930....It
was reported than more than 100 panel patterns and shapes were
considered before the final selection was made....From the outset,
it was understood that the decision to press decorative patterns
into the panels might generate controversy. It was, consequently,
explained in functional terms; the reliefs stiffen the panels,
diminish reflections, and create a surface in which 'dirt and
grime can be readily washed away by rain.' Lewis Mumford, architecture
critic for the New Yorker, viewed it less favorably. He called
the design a 'disaster' and said that the elevations looked as
if they were 'coming down with measles.'"
by John D. Rockfeller
in 1882, for more than sixty years the firm had been based in
lower Manhattan at 26 Broadway (1920-28), a designated New York
City landmark). Originally called the Standard Oil Company of
New York, it merged with the Vacuum Oil Company in 1931 and was
known as the Socony Vacuum Company. Vacuum was dropped from the
name in 1955 and Mobil Oil was added, a product trademark it held
since 1920....The Rockefeller family used business connections
to attract a roster of international tenants and major corporations,
most notably Standard Oil of New Jersey, which moved from 26 Broadway
to 30 Rockefeller Plaza (now the General Electric Building ) in
1933. Socony's decision to follow its sister company to midtown
was viewed as an extremely positive development. Announced at
a time when many corporations were considering moves to the suburbs,
the project bolstered midtown's standing as a viable alternative
to the financial district.
the Socony-Mobil Company
changed its name to the Mobil Oil Corporation and until the company
relocated in 1990 to Virginia, the building was called the Mobil
Building. The Hiro Real Estate Company, which is owned by the
Honzawa family, acquired the building in 1987 for $240 million.
Tishman Realty &
Construction Co., Inc., opened their 39-story office building
designed by Carson & Lundin at 666 Fifth Avenue and wrapped
in embossed aluminum.
might have been more
effective for despite a patterned treatment of the aluminum facade
panels, the effect is more dull than glittery. At Christmas time,
however, the building hangs up some brightly colored lighted stars
on its facade that add some gaiety and from its completion the
building sported its street number in big red lights above the
top floor, which happened to house for decades its "Top of
the Sixes" restaurant and bar, which offered very nice views,
one of the very few public places with high-level vistas in the
city. The facility is now private, however, and in 2002 the building
replaced the large red "666" at the top of the building
before the city changed
its zoning to encourage open plazas or enclosed public spaces
such as atria or gallerias, this building innovatively opened
up its ground floor spaces with high regard for the public and
visitors. While the facade experiment was less successful, the
building has aged well and is an inoffensive, modern background
building that originally had an abundance of respect for weary
pedestrians. Here was a great lobby in need of a great building.
not unusual for a building's
lobby to be completely different stylistically from its facade,
but this one made one want to cry out to experiment with its aesthetic
in a new building, hopefully somewhere in the city.
Noguchi, the country's
greatest modern sculptor, created three important elements here:
the elevator bank ceilings and floors and the planted waterfall
screen in the open lobby.
design element of
the ceilings and the waterfall screen are sinuously cut thin railings,
all different, that are used to create a rippling wave effect.
(The lobby ceiling effect was clumsily copied on a larger scale
at 222 Broadway.)
ceiling railings are white-painted
metal while the waterfall screen railings are stainless steel.
elevator bank floors are
covered with irregularly cut marble pavers, mostly white, some
black and others red. The effect is Mondrianesque.
effects presaged Deconstructivism
by a couple of decades.
was also important because of its unusual layout and its wonderful
large slabs of slate covering the floor. The Fifth Avenue frontage
had two broad, unobstructed alleys, shown below, that penetrated
deep into the building all the way back to the waterfall and the
entrance to the elevator bank areas where the alleys were met
by a through-block alley or galleria between 52nd and 53rd Streets.
In the middle of the Fifth Avenue frontage, between the two alleys,
was a rounded glass retail area that for many years was very handsomely
occupied by Alitalia. The retail spaces on the north and south
sides of Alitalia had large clear store windows so that the alleys
were well lit and did not suffer from blank wells.
building replaced nine
buildings and part of the site was once occupied by a mansion
designed in 1882 by Richard Morris Hunt for William K. Vanderbilt
that was torn down in 1927 for a commercial building and another
mansion designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1905 for Mrs.
K. Vanderbilt Jr.
however, the southern
avenue retail frontage of this building was taken over by the
National Basketball Association and the northern retail section
was being converted for use by Brooks Bros., the famous Madison
Avenue clothing store. The renovations were substantial and at
complete odds with the building.
before, the retail
spaces were neatly contained beneath the building, the new stores
were flamboyant and large. The basketball store's facade is rather
amusing with a design of nets and basketballs, but a unified vision
of architecture has given way here, once again, to eye-level design.
the owners of the
building decided upon another major change and installed a new
retail store, Hickey Freeman, at its avenue entrance, which was
then closed. The base of building briefly had mirrored angled
element in 2000 and 2001 but was removed in early 2002.
the building was acquired
by Kushner Cos., which is based in Florham Park, N.J., for a record
$1.8 billion, then the highest price ever paid for an office building.
Two years later, the building's occupancy rate had dropped percent
and lost its biggest tenant, Citigroup Inc., according to an Bloomberg
Brooks Brothers decided
to close its store that occupied the northern third of the building's
great book, "New
York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World
War and the Bicentennial," Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins
and David Fishman provided the following commentary about Emery
Roth's design for 99 Park Avenue:
Emery Roth &
Sons drew plans for the National Distillers Building (1954), at
99 Park Avenue, a twenty-six-story, 445,000-square-foot building
on the east blockfront between Thirty-ninth and Fortieth streets.
The new building filled several long-vacant lots, including one
on the northeast corner of Thirty-ninth Street that during the
Depression had served as the temporary site of two exhibition
houses: a Georgian-style house designed by Roger Bullard and Clifford
Wendehack and an all-steel house designed by William Van Alen.
The National Distillers Building also replaced several
rowhouses, including one at 93 Park Avenue, occupied by the Navy
Club, and one at 99 Park Avenue, on the southeast corner of Fortieth
Street, which had been occupied by the Nurses' Club. The Roths'
design marked a significant achievement in technology: the
curtain wall, comprising 1,800 two-story-high panels, was the
first in the city; and it was erected in six-and-a-half working
days, a remarkable feat compared with the eight weeks or more
that a conventional masonry fašade would have required.
Although masonry was originally specified, the decision to switch
to aluminum was made after plans were begun. The change was triggered
by executives of Tishman Realty & Construction Company, the
building's developers, who had been impressed with the fašade
of the Aluminum Company of America's Pittsburgh headquarters,
designed by Harrison & Abramovitz (1953). Though the Roths'
window wall was ingeniously designed, it was not particularly
handsome. A four-faceted pattern was introduced on each panel
to provide strength and reduce glare. Lewis Mumford found some
value in the 'effective contrasts of light and shade' that resulted
from the curtain wall's faceted surface, but he cautioned against
overuse of the material: 'A whole avenue of aluminum walls would
be dismal, and as grime overlaid the surface, it might likewise
become dingy, too.' Although Mumford felt that the 'dour' quality
of unwashed metal might suit the grimy industrial atmosphere of
Pittsburgh, he noted that 'in New York, which has hitherto lifted
a bright, almost feminine face to the sky, this material can be
welcomed only as an occasional note of contrast."
Avenue is not as bad
as the authors suggest and in 1954, Emery Roth & Sons designed
the 22-story office building at 465 Park Avenue at 57th Street
with a curtain wall of glass windows and patterned aluminum spandrels,
a smaller and less inspired building.
authors were considerably
more impressed, understandably, about the former Pepsi-Cola Building
at 500 Park Avenue:
under the old zoning
but in effect a base without a tower, Skidmore, Owings &
Pepsi-Cola Building (1956-60), at 500 Park Avenue, was ambiguous
in its urbanism but quite distinguished in its aesthetics. Located
at the southwest corner of Fifty-ninth Street, it replaced the
building designed by Napoleon Le Brun that had served as the
of the Board of Education between 1893 and 1940. Though its base-mass
was similar to that of typical prewar buildings, the eleven-story,
120,000-square-foot structure with a curtain wall of matte-finished
aluminum and glass was detailed to appear as tower-like as possible,
set off from its immediate neighbors by an L-shaped,
recessed service core that formed shadowy notches. The
curtain wall was notable for its elegance: with alternating horizontal
bands of glass and metal that seemed to be pinned in place by
thin vertical mullions, it was pure and crisply detailed, the
quintessential essay in reductionism. The curtain wall was also
technically innovative, with half-inch-thick, nine-by-thirteen-foot
polished-plate-glass windows, the largest planes then available,
set within a silver-anodized aluminum frame to create a powerful
impression of transparency and weightlessness."
Seagram Building's use
of bronze spandrels and topaz-colored windows quickly became one
of the world's most imitated skyscraper models when it opened
in 1959. Originally, Samuel Bronfman of Joseph E. Seagram &
Company commissioned Pereira & Luckman to design the tower
in large part because Charles Luckman's role in the design of
Lever House across the avenue. When Bronfman's daughter, Phyllis
Lambert, however, saw the design she protested vehemently to her
father that he should use a different architect and he put her
in charge and with advice from Philip Johnson she selected Mies
van der Rohe.
Emery Roth & Sons
designed the medium size office building at 77 Water Street for
the William Kaufman Organization as a cool palette for that firm's
wild urbanity. Its metal panels were minimal but neat compared
to the ill-proportioned white steel horizontal girders of I. M.
Pei's 1973 Wall Street Plaza at 88 Pine Street.
course, the city's most
celebrated metal building project was the twin-towers of the 1972-7
World Trade Center whose design architect was by Minoru Yamasaki.
The stainless-steel mullions protruded significantly on the fašade
where they were very closely spaced, limited vistas from within
but presented shiny, if not blinding, reflections in certain light
a major new skyscraper with silvery aluminum panels occupying
a full block at 601 Lexington Avenue designed by Hugh Stubbins
of Cambridge, Mass. The slant-roofed tower was known as Citicorp
Center was notable for being raised on stilts to make room on
the site for a new St. Peter's Lutheran Church as well as entrances
to the subway and the project's retail atrium.
Roche John Dinkeloo attempted
a chunkier stainless steel top several years ago at 750 Seventh
Avenue but its awkward shape and proportions don't measure up
to world class shine.
Stephen B. Jacobs
Group designed two small apartment buildings that employed metal
panels, Chatham 44 on the southeast corner of 44th Street and
Tenth Avenue, which had silver-colored panels, and 17-unit The
Copper Building at 215 Avenue B at 13th Street, which had
has designed and
developed with Peter Moore Associates a "copper" building
at 385 West 12th Street that will have residential condominium
units including four townhomes and copper fašade.
was founded in 2002 by
Jon Kully and Mick Walsdorf has also designed the handsome filigree
fašade for the mid-block apartment building at 441 East
the bolder new metal
designs can be found at the 11-story residential condominium building
at 245 Tenth Avenue adjacent to the High Line Park in Chelsea.
building has distinctive
facades of randomly stamped stainless steel panels with a faceted
diamond pattern and tinted, fritted and clear glass and the basic
plan of the building is of two rectangles that are perpendicular
to one another but share a small part of an edge of each.
building's unusual window
patterns are somewhat like a crossword puzzle and the panelized
system of semi-reflective stainless steel are designed to appear
like the graduated shades of gray within glades, conjuring, according
to Della Valle Bernheimer, the project's architects, abstract
images of steam clouds from locomotives that used to run on the
Holdings, whose other
projects in the city include 50 Pine Street and 124 West 24th
Street, is the developer of the 21-unit project.
architectural form of 245
Tenth Avenue, however, is further complicated by the fact that
the building bulges outward at a slight angle near its base.