Month: June 2014

Dr. William Thornton’s Octagon House and TAC’s AIA Headquarters

AIA-Octagon 12 AIA-Octagon 5 AIA-Octagon 14One and half blocks southwest of the White House stands the Octagon designed by Thornton and completed in 1800, for John Tayloe, whom President Washington talked into building an estate in Washington,DC, no doubt to encourage the city’s growth.  The American Institute of Architects moved in about 100 years later.  And about sixty years later it demolished the Octagon’s stable  behind the house and built a new headquarters designed by Walter Gropius’s firm The Architects Collaborative.  TAC took over the project when the original architect walked away from the project after suffering artistic disagreements with the reviewing agencies.

(C) Bill Lebovich,all rights reserved,2014


The German Embassy’s masterful modern architecture

_CCH0007 _CCH0002The German Embassy is finishing a renovation of its Chancery Building, north of Georgetown.  Designed by the prominent German architect Egon Eierman,the fifty year old building (1964)  is a striking stepped, yet discrete building that fits well into its residential neighborhood.  Eierman’s colleague, O.M. Ungers’s Ambassador’s residence, which is adjacent and perpendicular — with a respectful distance in between — to the Chancery,opened thirty years (1994) after the Chancery and is equally striking but could not be more different, making a bold, yet austere statement.  (c)Bill Lebovich,all rights reserved, 2014.

Early Modern Architecture in New York City

UN Buildings 10UN Buildings 4_DxOVP UN Buildings 6 UN Buildings 9 UN Buildings 10 UN Buildings 15In the late 1940s with construction completed in the early 1950s, the United Nations core buildings are cutting edge modernism predating Lever Brothers Building and Seagrams Building.  But these two buildings get much more play in the architectural history books than the United Nations.  Maybe it is because the UN Buildings were the result of a contentious international collaboration.  Wallace Harrison  was the chief of design, and his firm Harrison and Abramovitz did one of the later buildings.  But LeCorbusieur and Neimeyer are generally credited as designers of the major building, the slab office building.  Yet the other architects apparently wanted to limit LeCorbu’s influence and visibility.  A more interesting designer than Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps LeCorbu had too much ego and brilliance and the others wanted to knock him a peg.  And Neimeyer was seen as too much a follower of LeCorbu.

Regardless, the slab and the assembly hall with curved top are a highly successful symbol of the New York skyline and of the UN.  It was edgy when built and it remains edgy.

Two New York City architectural masterpieces

LeverBros(DXO) Lever Bros. (SOM)8Seagramstower Seagrams BuildingTwo of the most important modern buildings stand  nearly opposite each other; the Lever Brothers Building at 390 Park Ave. and the Seagrams Building at 375.  The Lever Brothers Building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and is slighter earlier (1952,completion) and Mies van der Rohe’s Seagrams is dated 1958.  The later is probably the better known and more highly regarded.  Mies violated the continuous facade line along the east side of Park Ave by setting his building much farther back and raised on a plinth.  Combined with the bronze and gold tones of the glass and metal and squarish plan, the building was and remains a dramatic  vision.  But the Lever Brothers is more innovative as it broke with the tradition of buildings covering the entire footprint of the site.  Instead, Bunshaft lifted on columns a two story massing that covered the site.  The rest of the building is limited to a rectangular skyscraper with its narrow side facing the Avenue. But importantly, the smaller Lever Brothers facade is more attractively proportioned and more pleasing it the eye in comparison with the repetitiveness and heaviness of the decorative vertical I-beams and tall horizontal panels.  Bunshaft created a building of human scale;  van der Rohe apparently did not share that concern. (c)Bill Lebovich, all rights reserved,2014