By Carter B. Horsley
In the midst of the craze for Post Modern designs,
highlighted by its open-pediment, high-boy design for a new headquarters
for A. T. & T. on Madison Avenue at 56th Street, the architectural
firm of Johnson/Burgee put part of a huge mansard roof atop this
76-unit cooperative apartment building.
The part was merely the front façade
and the "false-front" design, which can be easily seen
from the north or south, was widely criticized.
"High-rise pretentiousness with an openly
ersatz mansard roof whose true nature is apparent to any who care
to look. An architectural conceit raised to new heights,"
remarked Elliot Willensky and Norval White in their book, "The
A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Third Edition," (Harcourt,
Brace Jovanovich, 1988).
Slanting buttresses support the tall screen
roof element and while the avenue façade is entirely limestone
the other sides of the building are covered in buff brick.
Despite its notoriety over the "billboard"
roof design, however, the building is impressive at street level
with a very handsome entrance and partitioning with rounded courses
of the façade to complement the courses and cornice line
of its supremely elegant neighbor to the south, 998 Fifth Avenue
designed by McKim, Mead & White.
"But the dark gray bay windows and their
connecting metal spandrels form strong vertical elements that
totally negate these horizontal strips. And the 'honest,' or tongue-in-cheek,
gesture of stopping the moldings short of the sides of the building
may be amusing for those in the know, but their use just seems
unresolved. It does not help that the moldings look like sliced-off
Tootsie Rolls," remarked architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable
in her book, "Architecture Anyone?" (The University
of California Press, 1985).
"The entrance, however, has the elegant
Johnson touch. Designed originally as a Sullivanesque arch - a
feature that was abandoned - it has turned out to be the least
'reminiscent' feature and the best part of the building,"
The mansard-roof element was obviously intended
to mirror the real mansard roof of its low-rise mansion neighbor
just to the north, the former Benjamin N. Duke residence designed
by Welch, Smith & Provot. Also to its credit is the extensive
use of limestone on the avenue frontage, something that many other
"luxury" high-rises opted not to do.
The division of the avenue frontage into four
bays of windows, wide at the ends and narrow in the center, reflects
a preoccupation with fenestration patterns by Philip Johnson and
John Burgee, the design architects for this project by Peter Kalikow.
The strong verticality of the window patterns, however, does not
work contextually with its neighbors. Philip Birnbaum & Assocs.
were the associated architects.
Completed in 1979, this mid-block building
between 81st and 82nd Streets is directly across from the Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
It has a canopied entrance flanked by two large
landscaped beds and very attractive hanging lanterns.