The Hearst Corporation
commissioned Sir Norman Foster, the Pritzker Prize-winning English
architect, to design a 42-story office tower to rise above its
low-rise building occupying the west blockfront on Eighth Avenue
between 56th and 57th Streets, an Art Deco-style structure originally
designed by Joseph Urban in yellow stone with theatrical sculptures.
Randolph Hearst was not only a major publisher but a fledging
real estate developer with major ambitions. At one point, he hoped
to locate the Metropolitan Opera to the far reaches of West 57th
Street at a time when the Rockefellers were trying to lure it
what would become Rockefeller Center. He acquired the west blockfront
of Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets and planned a major
Art Deco tower designed by Joseph Urban. There was talk of a new Hudson River Bridge
at 59th Street, talk that never came to fruition, but Hearst's
interest in the area continued and he wanted to redevelop the
Columbus Circle area as an entertainment complex. The Hearst Building
at 959 Eighth Avenue was originally known as the International
Magazine Building. Its architect, Urban, came from Vienna and
had designed the Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, the
New School for Social Research on West 12th Street and some sets
for plays and movies starring Marion Davies, Mr. Hearst's mistress.
The pylons extended almost two stories above
the low-rise base and began on pedestrals on the third floor.
The tops of the pylons had large vase/finials and the bases had
large sculptural figures.
The truncated Urban building, which was built in 1928 and landmarked in
1988, has always been something of an anachronism.
Its yellow stone is something of a surprising departure from the
traditional use of limestone in major buildings. Perhaps more
importantly, the building seemed too important for its site, which
for a long time was not one of the most desirable or elegant in
the city as Eighth Avenue was best known for its tenements with
porno stores for most of the latter half of the 10th Century and
57th Street's elegance began to run out of steam as it approached
Eighth Avenue. Actually, 57th Street's elegance did cross Eighth
Avenue to some mid-block buildings on the north side and the very
impressive through-block apartment complex known as the Parc Vendome
on the south side at Ninth Avenue.
What destroyed its ambience was the terrible
Sheffield, a 50-story apartment tower of dark brown brick that
was typical of a lot of construction of the late 1960s and the
1970s, the nadir of architecture in New York City. The Sheffield,
which has hundreds of small apartments, did have a paddle-tennis
court of the roof as well as a health club and many of its apartments
had very impressive views, but the building had no redeeming aesthetics,
was completely out of context with its surroundings and was ugly.
In 2005, it was acquired for conversion to condominiums by a group
led by Kent Swig, who had recenty been assembling a very, very
distinguished collection of important buildings in the Financial
The blight of the Sheffield
was somewhat alleviated about a generation ago by the erection
of the light-green-metal-clad Central Park Place Tower on the
northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 57th Street, which affords
spectacular views through very large bay windows of Central Park
over the mid-rise, gray-brick tower of the very bland and unattractive
New York Coliseum that sadly dominated Columbus Circle at the
southwest corner of Central Park. Central Park Tower was designed
by William Zeckendorf Jr., then the city's most important pioneer
of development whose projects such as World-Wide Plaza, Zeckendorf
Towers at Union Square, and the Columbia at 96th Street and Broadway
subsequently led to the significant improvement of their then
less than chic neighborhoods. Central Park Tower, which was designed
by Davis Brody & Associates, is one of the city's best post-war
residential towers with a fine, rugged form and a superb rooftop
enclosure that would be much more admired if its facade were much
High hopes for something
architecturally important or at least interesting on the New York
Coliseum site were bogged down by civic groups screaming about
shadows in Central Park. While no one was looking, Donald Trump
got Philip Johnson to design a very snappy and very glossy and
very good bronze-reflective glass, piered facade for the former
Gulf & Western Building on the north side of Columbus Circle,
a very dreary office tower. Mr. Trump divided his new project
into a fancy hotel and fancy condominiums and would subsequently
take great pleasure in posting a large sign near the top of the
building on its western facade to inform residents of the just
completed Time-Warner Center that his building had better, unobstructed
views of the park.
The Time-Warner Center's
final design by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
is impressive, but not great (see The
City Review article). With its very expensive apartments,
a Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the headquarters of Time-Warner, a
four-story curved up-end retail atrium anchored by a great Whole
Foods store in the basement and with a jazz facility for the nearby
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Time-Warner Center
was reduced in height somewhat by community critics but was still
tall enough to be very influential for the area.
The controversial redevelopment
of the New York Coliseum site gave hope that this important quadrant
of midtown might improve, but the real influence gave from the
south, from the remarkable renaissance of Times Square and the
Theater District and Zeckendorf's formidable World Wide Plaza
full block development on a former site of Madison Square Garden.
Indeed, in recent years, several attactive new apartment towers
have sprouted on Eighth Avenue north of Arquitectonica's strange
multi-colored, multi-angled hotel on the northeast corner of the
avenue and 42nd Street, an appropriate "book-end" to
the Hearst Building in midtown on Eighth Avenue.
Sir Norman Foster ranks
up there with Frank O. Gehry (see The City
Review article) and Santiago Calatrava (see The
City Review article) as the most famous and successful architects
of their time. He is not the world's only high-tech architect,
but certainly the most successful and prolific.
The Hearst organization
deserves great credit for commissioning Lord Foster, since great
architecture was in evidence around the globe but New York City
was a backwater without representative works of the many great
Lord Foster subsequently
has gotten a couple of more important New York commissions from
Aby Rosen, the owner of the Seagram Building and Lever House.
Lord Foster's project portfolio
is immense and varied and includes many of the best buildings
of the last generation, and a few that have a rather odd geometry.
His solution for the Hearst
organization falls in the oddball category.
The tower is highlighted
by its fine stainless-steel diamond pattern and notched corners
that give its form a dramatic and crystalline shape that has nothing
to do with any other building, or neighborhood in the city.
The tower, however, ends
abruptly and is not svelte. If it had been 8 to 16 stories taller,
its proportions would be finer and its squared-off top not so
much at odds with the facades.
In recent years, New York
City has become too obsessive about the notion of "contextual"
architecture that wants everything to be nice and compatible with
its neighborhood. Many of the city's most important architectural
gems could never have been built if they had been forced to be
"contextual," a concept that might make sense on a sidestreet
in Queens but not in Manhattan.
When one is "adding-on"
to an existing building, however, context assumes a greater importance
(see The City Review article on Paul Byard's
excellent book, "The Architecture of Additions").
"Add-ons" are fairly uncommon, if one forgets about
the "roof-top additions" for small and medium-size residential
buildings that occupy much of the time of the city's Landmarks
Preservation Commission. New York City has had its share of very
controversial "add-on" plans involving Grand Central
Terminal and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Lord Foster's solution at
the Hearst Building is quite good. He preserved the entire facade
of the low-rise base, but gutted it and filled with space with
a good size atrium highlighted by a three-story-high stepped and
slanted waterfall with angled escalators.
The main entrance on Eighth
Avenue is impressive as the waterfall and escalators pick up the
angled dynamic of the tower's facade and are very elegant.
On the outside, Lord Foster's
new tower makes a good transition with the base over which it
almost appears to float. To remark that the stainless-steel-and-glass
tower overwhelms and dominates the base is obvious. Perhaps if
the tower were an sandstone notched obelisk, the context might
be improved, but we have no objection at all with stainless steel
buildings. Many museum curators believe that restorations should
be clearly delineated and not covered up, a purist approach that
has lots of merit. In architecture, a clean-break is often better
than a half-hearted compromise. Each project, of course, is different
and there is not necessarily only one excellent solution to such
The Urban building was not the only high-rise casualty of the
Depression in New York: the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
had planned a mammoth tower at 11 Madison Avenue facing on Madison
Square Park just to the north of its great 50-story campanile-like
headquarters and stopped construction after erecting its very
impressive scalloped limestone base that is occupies a full block
and is today a very large office building as is.
The tower at 7 World Trade Center that was demolished in the September
11, 2001 terrorist attacks was erected over a power plant that
was designed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
to support a skyscraper.
The Port Authority also designed the northern end of its bus terminal
on the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street to support
a skyscraper and is actively marketing the site now.
The selection of Foster for the Hearst site was a coup for Hearst
and the city as he is one of the world's most important and famous
"high-tech" architects and it reinforces the recent
trend in the city to import some famous architectural "names":
Renzo Piano, the architect of the Georges Pompidou Center (Beaubourg)
in Paris, for example, was chosen by The New York Times
to design a new headquarters skyscraper on Eighth Avenue at 40th
Street (see The City Review article)
and also to design an expansion of The Morgan Library on Madison
Avenue between 35th and 36th Streets; LVMH commissioned Christian
Portzamparc to design an angled tower on 57th Street between Fifth
and Madison Avenues; and the Austrian Government commissioned
the very interesting, narrow and angled mid-block tower on 53rd
Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. All of these projects
are significant departures from the routinely bland box forms
that have typefied most new commercial construction in the city
with very rare exceptions in the post-World War II-era and led
to New York City being considered a backwater of modern architecture
in recent decades.
Famous names, of course, do not guarantee great buildings and
developers have generally shied away from them because of concern
that their perceived flamboyant egos might result in costlier
structures and also because local architects are more likely to
be familiar with the city's very arcane and complex zoning and
It should be noted that the city's own stable of architects includes
many of the world's most famous architects such as Skidmore, Owings
& Merrill, Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, among others, as well
as many other firms that have produced extremely good work such
as Kohn Pedersen Fox, Fox & Fowle and Emery Roth & Sons.
Foster has picked up three major new commissions in New York following
his work on the Hearst project: Larry Silverstein has chosen him
for one of the office towers to rise at Ground Zero and Aby Rosen
has chosen him for a tall mixed-use tower on Lexington Avenue
behind the Seagram Building (see The City
Review article) and for a redevelopment of the west blockfront
on Madison Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets.
The selection of Foster
by Hearst probably was based in large part on his experience in
high-rise buildings and historic structures, most notably the
Reichstag in Berlin and the Great Court at the British Museum.
Foster and Partners was
one of 14 non-German practices invited to enter the competition
to rebuild the Reichstag in 1992 and it won the completion in
1993 and work on the project began in 1995 after Christo's famous
"Wrapped Reichstag" project was finished.
Foster's firm provides the
following commentary about this famous project:
"The building's transformation
is rooted in four issues: the Bundestag's significance as a democratic
forum, a commitment to public accessibility, a sensitivity to
history, and a rigorous environmental agenda.
"As found, the Reichstag
was mutilated by war and insensitive rebuilding; surviving nineteenth-century
interiors were concealed beneath a plasterboard lining. Peeling
away these layers revealed striking imprints of the past, including
graffiti left by Soviet soldiers. These scars are preserved and
historical layers articulated; the Reichstag has become a 'living
museum' of German history.
takes clues from the old Reichstag; for example, the original
piano nobile and courtyards have been reinstated. In other respects
it is a complete departure, opening up the interior to light and
views. Within its masonry shell it is transparent, its activities
on view. Public and politicians enter together through the reopened
formal entrance. The public realm continues on the roof in the
terrace restaurant and the cupola - a new Berlin landmark - where
helical ramps lead to an observation platform, allowing the people
to ascend above the heads of their political representatives.
"The building's energy
strategy is radical. It uses renewable bio-fuel - vegetable oil
- which, burned in a cogenerator to produce electricity, is far
cleaner than fossil fuels. The result is a 94 per cent reduction
in carbon dioxide emissions. Surplus heat is stored as hot water
in an aquifer, 300 metres below ground; the water can be pumped
up to heat the building or to drive an absorption cooling plant
to produce chilled water; that too can be similarly stored below
ground. The Reichstag's modest energy requirements allow it to
perform as a power station for the new government quarter.
"The Reichstag's cupola
is also crucial to its lighting and ventilation strategies. At
its core a 'light sculptor' reflects horizon light into the chamber;
a moveable sun shield blocks solar gain and glare. As night falls,
this process is reversed. The cupola becomes a beacon, signalling
the strength and vigour of the German democratic process."
The Reichstag project was
completed in 1999 to wide acclaim for its sensational space within
At the British Museum, Foster
again created a spectacular roof-top public space by enclosing
in glass the building's dome.
Foster attracted attention
in 1971 when he was able to deliver a permanent office building
to IBM in Cosham, at the cost and within the time-frame of temporary
quarters. In 1975, Foster's modernist solution for an office structure
in Ipswich, England for Willis Faber & Dumas brought the first
international attention to his work. The three-story, glass-clad
building followed irregular street patterns, reflecting its surroundings
by day, but becoming transparent at night. Within two years, he
confirmed his ability to bring innovation in both materials and
design to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University
of East Anglia, Norwich.
Foster first gained fame
for his Sainsbury Center, a huge, hangar-like, high-tech museum
of contemporary art in England that was erected in the 1970s.
Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury
donated their art collection to the University of East Anglia
with an endowment for a new building for the visual arts. Foster's
solution was a clear-span structure that was glazed at both ends
and had its services within the double layer of the walls and
roof and the walls and roof used three different and interchangeable
cladding panels and were also lined with motorized louvres to
modulate light. The building was completed in 1978 and was widely
acclaimed for its clean-cut and high-tech aesthetics.
In 1999, Foster was awarded the Pritzker Architecture
Prize and the citation noted that "Sir
Norman has produced a collection of buildings and products noted
for their clarity, invention, and sheer artistic virtuosity. His
work ranges in scale from the modest, but exquisite new addition
of the Sackler Galleries to the existing galleries of the Royal
Academy of Arts in London, and the serenely simple limestone addition
to the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Nebraska to a pair of grand
mega-projects, both in Hong Kong, the world's largest air terminal,
and the much-acclaimed Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. Proof of his ability to produce
remarkable solutions for diverse programs in urban settings is
his sensitive placement and design of the Carré d'Art,
a cultural center next to a revered Roman temple, dating from
500 BC, in the heart of Nîmes, France. Such a juxtaposition
of contemporary and ancient architecture has rarely been achieved
so successfully. His transformation of more recent historic icons
the Reichstag in Berlin and the new Great Court of the
British Museum are brilliant redesign-renovations."
Foster first major skyscraper design in New York City was for
the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue at 75th Street.
An Italian development team, SGI/Sogene, had asked him, Derek Walker, a
planner of the new town in England known as Milton Keynes, and
engineer Frank Newby to put together a plan for an expansion of
the museum. Deyan Sudjic wrote about the plan in the July 1979
edition of Building Design.
Foster was involved in late
1970's design for mixed-use tower expansion of the Whitney Museum
of American Art and this is one of the versions of that project.
Another version had a more "solid" tower comprised of
large black metal panels with different geometric cutouts and
the panels were interchangeable and the tower's top was a crystalline
jewel box, one of the great high-tech skyscraper designs of the
20th Century and certainly the best expansion design ever put
forward for the Whitney Museum. According to some accounts, this
was Foster's first skyscraper design.
According to a February 8, 1980 article in
Building Design From Building Design, the plan was presented by
a "consortium of architects including Derek Walker, Norman
Foster, and Frank Newby." The design was published in the
1989 "Norman Foster Buildings and Projects Vol. 3, 1978-1985."
On a much larger and international
scale, in 1979, he received the commission for the Hongkong and
Shanghai Banking Corporation's headquarters, for which he designed
a tower 47 stories above a ground floor plaza. This tower was
the world's most high-tech architecture project since Beaubourg,
the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Its aesthetic appears more attuned
to air-craft carriers than urban towers but its fame catapulted
Foster to the highest ranks of his profession.
A less complex and more
attractive skyscraper design was Foster's 53-story Commerzbank
Tower in Frankfurt, which became Europe's tallest building when
it was completed in 1997. The building has a full-height atrium
and four-story gardens are set at different levels on each of
the tower's three sides.
Foster's designs vary wildly and are not always
sleek or svelte.
Foster's Swiss Re tower at 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London, for
example, is a 40-story phallic symbol, at least at first glance.
Its form, however, is not arbitrary. The architecture firm,'s
provides the following rationale:
"The tower has a circular
plan that widens as it rises from the ground and then tapers towards
its apex. This form responds to the specific demands of the small
site. The building appears less bulky than a conventional rectangular
block of equivalent floor area; the slimming of the buildings
profile at its base reduces reflections, improves transparency
and increases daylight penetration at ground level. Mid-height,
the floor-plates offer larger areas of office accommodation; the
tapering apex of the tower minimises the extent of reflected sky.
"The aerodynamic form
encourages wind to flow around its face, minimising wind loads
on the structure and cladding, enabling the use of a more efficient
structure. Wind is not deflected to ground level as it
is with rectilinear buildings helping to maintain pedestrian
comfort and safety at the base of the building. Wind tunnel tests
have shown that the building will improve wind conditions in the
vicinity. Natural air movement around the building generates substantial
pressure differences across its face, which can be used to facilitate
natural ventilation within the building."
Being green does not preclude
pleasure and the top of the buiding has dining and events facilities
for the buildings occupants and their guests and beneath
the glazed dome a restaurant offers spectacular westerly views
and its mezzanine has a full 360-degree panorama over the city
and beyond. The building was completed in 2004.
Foster does not have a "signature" style and is one
of the wilder experimenters in form. Santiago Calatrava has greater
flair and elegance in his highly sculptural engineering feats,
and several Japanese architects such as Shin Takematsu and Arato
Isozaki have more poetry generally in their projects, but Foster
is noted for his vigorous and often eccentric designs that at
first glance may appear ungainly but that are usually very exciting
His design for the Hearst tower certainly falls into the eccentric
and ungainly class, but it is certain to become a midtown marvel
and will greatly reinforce the quite incredible shift of "power"
in midtown from the East Side to the West Side.
Foster has designed a multi-faceted façade for the new
Hearst tower that is likely to become the city's most aggressive
looking skyscraper. It looks like the "bit" for some
giant ore-mining drill.
In a review in the June 9, 2006 edition of
The New York Times, Nicolai Ourousoff notes that Foster's
"cheiseled glass form rises from blunt force" from the
1928 building: "Past and present don't fit seamlessly together
here; they collide with ferocious energy."
"The 46-story tower may be the most muscular
symbol of corporate self-confidence to rise in New York since
the 1960's, when Modernism was in full bloom, and most Americans
embraced technological daring as a sure route to social progress,"
according to Mr. Ourousoff who seems to have overlooked Citicorp
Center (see The City Review article),
the IBM Building (see The City Review article),
and the A. T. & T. building (see The
City Review article). Mr. Ourousoff maintains that the new
Hearst tower "dovetails with another major success, Renzo
Piano's expansion of the Morgan Library, another sign that the
city's energy is reviving," a viewpoint not universally shared
as some critics think that Piano's expansion is bland and disrespective
of the Morgan's rich heritage.
A column by Mr. Ourousoff's
predecessor as architecture critic for The New York Times,
Herbert Muschamp, had forecast that the Hearst tower "will
reveal to disbelieving eyes that architecture is still a possibility
in New York," adding that "The skyline has been waiting
The Millennium Bridge in
London was completed in 2002 and it was developed with sculptor
Anthony Caro and Ove Arup and Partners, engineers. It is the first
new bridge over the Thames in London since Tower Bridge i 1894
and it is Londons only pedestrian bridge.
The bridge links the City
and St Pauls Cathedral to the north with the Globe Theatre
and Tate Modern on Bankside to the south. On its first weekend
in public use, about 100,000 people crossed it the bridge had
to be closed because of its movement due to "synchronised
pedestrian footfall" that was eventually resolved by the
addition of dampers.
Foster's plan for The Greater
London Authority Headquarters, which was completed in 2002, "expresses
the transparency of the democratic process and demonstrates the
potential for a wholly sustainable, virtually non-polluting public
building." It is another example of how Foster discovers
new high-tech forms, in this case, a lop-sided squeegee ball.
as described by the architecture firm, "occupies a prominent
site on the Thames beside Tower Bridge. It houses an Assembly
chamber, committee rooms and public facilities, together with
offices for the Mayor, Assembly members, the Mayor's cabinet and
support staff, providing 18,000 square metres of accommodation
on ten levels.The Assembly chamber faces north across the river
to the Tower of London, its glass enclosure allowing Londoners
to watch the Assembly at work. The public are also invited to
share the building: a flexible space on the top floor - 'London's
Living Room' - can be used for exhibitions or functions, and the
public commands the rooftop, where a terrace offers unparalleled
views across London. At the base is a piazza with a cafe, from
which the riverside can be enjoyed. Lifts and gentle ramps allow
universal access throughout the building.
"The building has been
designed so that it has no front or back in conventional terms.
Its shape is derived from a geometrically modified sphere, developed
using computer modelling techniques. This form achieves optimum
energy performance by minimising the surface area exposed to direct
sunlight. Analysis of sunlight patterns throughout the year produced
a thermal map of the building's surface, which is expressed in
"A range of active
and passive shading devices is employed. To the south the building
leans back so that its floor-plates step inwards to provide shading
for the naturally ventilated offices. The building's cooling systems
utilise cold ground water pumped up via boreholes from the water
table. These energy-saving techniques mean that chillers will
not be needed and for the majority of the year the building will
require no additional heating. Overall, it will use only a quarter
of the energy consumed by a typical air-conditioned office building."
"With faceted corners
that bump in and out, architect Norman Foster's skyscraper shimmies
as it rises, adding welcome panache to the gritty tenement blocks
at Midtown's western edge," observed James S. Russell in
a July 6, 2006 article on the new Hearst tower on Bloomberg News,
adding that "The passerby at Eighth Avenue and 57th Street
may regard the building's diagonal pattern as a cheerful bit of
frippery, but with Foster & Partners, no visual gesture is
gratuitous. That pattern, called a diagrid, echoes an arrangement
of columns and braces behind the facade that reduces the steel
needed by one-fifth, saving Hearst a bundle and conserving energy
in the bargain."
Elevators are placed on the western side of
the tower and the dramatic corners are open offices, a very nice
touch for the workers.
Foster's buildings are tricky in the best sense
of surprise and accomplishment. They may not win beauty contests,
but they invariably have some fine architectural magic and virtuosity.