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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Skyscraper City The International-Style Skyscraper
Lever House
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The International-Style Skyscraper
Lever House
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Lever House—which was designed by Gordon Bunshaft, a partner in the firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and completed in 1952 on Park Avenue—really establishes the idea of European modernism as appropriate for corporate buildings in America. It was built on Park Avenue, which was a street that was being redeveloped from a street of traditional red-brick and limestone apartment buildings and institutional buildings into a commercial street of great office buildings. In order to appreciate just how dramatic Lever House was, you have to look at an old view of it. Here is this spectacular glass building with its clear glass and its blue glass panels that set at a right angle to the street. It does not hug the street wall; it is set at an angle to the street and set up on stilts so that it sort of floats over the street. And there it is on a street of traditional brick buildings. So it is very difficult to imagine today just how dramatic this floating-glass, modern building must have been on this street of brick and limestone buildings. It is as if Lever House were moved today to Park Avenue and Seventy-fourth Street in the midst of all of those luxury apartment buildings, because that is what Park Avenue south of Fifty-ninth Street looked like in the 1920s through to the early 1950s. So Lever House not only was a new kind of architecture, but was placed in a traditional environment, which made it an even more dramatic structure in New York.


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