345 PARK AVENUE
(Between 51st & 52nd Streets)
Developer: Rudin Management
Architect: Emery Roth &
By Carter B. Horsley
What should one build adjacent
to the Acropolis, or the Lincoln Memorial, or the Statue of Liberty,
or the Seagram Building?
Many would consider such questions
Some might raise the specter
of respectful context.
Others might use the opportunity
to try to create an equally powerful monument but perhaps in contrasting
The Rudins, one of the seven
major building families that built much of the city's most important
commercial real estate in the first few decades after World War
11, decided on this full-block, 44-story, 1.8-million sq. ft.
office tower, just to the south of the Seagram Building that had
been completed in 1958.
Cynicism, of course, might
lead one to think that Lewis Rudin, the long-time head of the
Association For a Better New York) and his brother Jack Rudin
had blinders on and forgot all about the Seagram Building.
Melvyn Kaufman, a rival developer,
once asked one of the Rudins why they extended a 5-story wing
from their tower on its northern comer on the avenue rather than
the southern and said he was told that they thought it was more
respectful to the Seagram Building to not compete with its plaza
on the avenue.
One could, of course, argue
that the short wing never should have been built at all as it
interrupts vistas of the Seagram Building from the south as shown
at the right, but at least it is clear that the Rudins acknowledged
the famous bronze skyscraper that they were dwarfing. In retrospect,
the answer was not unreasonable, nor was the decision to not try
to mimic the Seagram's famous facade.
There are foreground and background
buildings. The former are the spectacular glories of the public
art of architecture, marvelous, work-in, or live-in, sculptures
whose commanding presence brooks no competition. The latter are
at best complimentary to one another or foreground buildings and
try to be contextual good neighbors.
345 Park Avenue is neither.
Clearly, its whitish concrete
facade was an attempt to make the Seagram Building stand out,
a decent "background" concept. However, its dark windows
make a very strong fenestration pattern and the very siting of
both makes it aggressive rather than passive as it juts out towards
the avenue, almost gripping it with its paw of a small, aforementioned,
Its facade, furthermore, is
no mere sheer wall but a highly articulated series of protruding
concrete elements that grasp the air like rough sandpaper. Although
not as deeply textured as the former Pan Am Building to the south,
this is not a timid looking behemoth.
The concept of repetitive protruding
facade elements, of course, is not too unusual and was employed
on Morris Lapidus's Summit Hotel on Lexington Avenue and 51st
Street in 1961 and, with considerable finesse, by Emery Roth &
Sons at 1633 Broadway, also at 51st Street.
It should also be noted that
the Rudins had not only to contend with the Seagram Building to
the north, but another venerable landmark, the St. Bartholomew's
Episcopal Church, directly to the south on the avenue. The building,
which is raised a few steps above the avenue, has a long plaza
on its south side facing the church.
(In 1981, the Rudins demonstrated
that they are extremely sensitive to context when they built 560
Lexington Avenue at 50th Street, immediately behind the church
and adjacent to the campanile-like, former GE tower at 570 Lexington
Avenue. The Rudin building remarkably blends with the church and
the former GE building and is a definitive and fine "background"
building. When Howard Ronson, another major developer, proposed
building a new, tall office building with the church's official
approval on part of its garden that would block many of the views
in the Rudins' Lexington Avenue building, the Rudins, not surprisingly,
actively campaigned against it. The proposed tower was never built.)
Such niceties about aesthetics,
however, most often have very little to do in the real office
market. 345 Park Avenue has always been a highly desirable building
for tenants and commanded impressive rents in part because of
its very large floors, in part because of its prime location,
and, in no some way, because it overlooks both the Seagram Building
and the church!
If given a choice between living
in a beautiful apartment building and looking at inferior ones
or living in an inferior one and looking at a great one, not a
few people might actually elect the lesser building!
A 20-foot-long bronze sculpture
by Robert Cook, entitled "Dinoceras," apparently depicting
a striated, skeletal animal, is perched on the building's 51st