1271 Avenue of the Americas

(Between 50th and 51st Streets)

Developer: The Rockefeller Center Development Corporation

Architect: Harrison, Abramovitz & Harris

Erected: 1958

Time-Life Building

By Carter B. Horsley

The first building in the expansion of Rockefeller Center to the west side of the Avenue of the Americas, the 1.4-million sq. ft. Time-Life Building, shown at the left, is historically important for the West Side of Manhattan, but not architecturally.

It is, however, the best building Wallace Harrison, Nelson Rockefeller's favorite architect, did on the avenue as his later designs of the Exxon, McGraw-Hill and Celanese Buildings are anemic monsters that are a mockery of the center's great architectural traditions, of which Harrison was a key player as a young member of the architectural team.

The 48-story building's exterior is not terrible: the green glass here is dark and rich; the top mechanical floor treatment is particularly well handled, the widely spaced, tapered, vertical limestone piers are strong and the proportions are good. But nothing on the outside is memorable including the "L" shaped plaza with its Copacabana rippling mosaic street treatment, which is incongruous since the perfunctory fountain facing the avenue is rectilinear, nor the plaza's large, blue metal sculpture, "Cubed Curve," by William Crovello, which was originally commissioned by the Association for a Better New York and installed in 1972.

Time-Life's moved into this building from its former location in one of the center's original buildings, now occupied by Time Warner.

The Time-Life lobby, shown below, however, is very fine. The Copacabana street pattern, allegedly inspired by the avenue's designation as belonging to the Americas, is continued inside where it plays very well against the rippling shimmer and magnificent modernity of the brushed stainless steel paneling of the elevator banks, perhaps the most attractive in the city. A large Mondrianesque painting, by Fritz Glamer, is energetically attractive if not inspired. The lobby also has a painting by Joseph Albers.

Lobby of Time-Life building

One wishes the entire building was clad with the satiny steel panels.

The building, which is connected to Rockefeller Center's vast underground concourse, was able to have large column-free floors, 28,000-sq. ft., then the largest, because of its exterior columns.

On the top floor of the 8-story base of the building on the north side of the site, Gio Ponti designed reception, dining and lounge areas in a geometrically interesting rooftop pavilion.

A large and attractive restaurant called La Fonda del Sol, flamboyantly designed by Alexander Girard, opened in the building in 1961 but closed in 1971 for conversion to a bank branch. On the 48th floor, a private dining facility known as the Hemisphere Club was created that converted at night to a public restaurant known as the Tower Suite that operated successfully for several years.

If the plaza were redone well, this building, which was once described by an architectural magazine as "upper-middle-class," would garner considerably more respect. Its strong verticality, no doubt, was highly influential in the subsequent development of the three major Rockefeller Center towers south of it that are, unfortunately, very weak in comparison.

Because the Exxon, McGraw-Hill and former Celanese towers are more set back from the avenue, this tower still has considerable visibility from the south, but the Paine Webber building just to the north obscures its visibility from the north.

In 2002, the north retail space along the avenue was being changed into a CNN television studio.

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review