Oculus - Fall 2012 - (Page 41)
A pioneering example
of Modernism in New York is the 1931 New School for Social Research building by Joseph Urban
B Y J O H N M O R R I S DI XO N , FA IA
ounded in 1919, the innovative New School for Social Research spent its early years in adapted townhouses. When ready to erect a structure of its own, the institution wanted advanced architecture in line with its avant-garde program. So its 1931 home on West 12th Street became, arguably, the first example of Modernism in Manhattan. “Arguably” because The New School is often classified as Art Moderne, that dawn-of-Modernism mode born in 1920s Paris. The first edition of the AIA Guide to New York City (1967) indicates that The New School is an example of Modernism, but the latest edition (2010) calls it “Art Deco/Art Moderne.” This stylistic indecision is somewhat explained in the 1987 compendium New York 1930, by Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, Gregory F. Gilmartin, and Thomas Mellins. They quote Philip Johnson, FAIA, then pursuing his initial career as critic and curator, writing that the building rated “critical comparison with modern architecture in Europe,” but “closer inspection suggests...the illusion of a building in the International Style rather than a building resulting from a genuine application of new principles.” The New School’s commitment to even the “illusion” of Modernism relates to its forward-focused mission: “to create a new model of higher education for adults” where men and women “could learn from and exchange ideas freely with scholars and artists representing a wide range of intellectual, aesthetic, and political orientations.” The choice of Joseph Urban as the architect was an unlikely one. Urban, who had started his career among the Viennese Secessionists, became well known in Europe for stage design. Arriving in the U.S. in 1911 as the artistic director of the Boston Opera, he grew famous as the designer of spectacular productions for clients such as the Metropolitan Opera and the Ziegfeld Follies. When, in the mid-1920s, he began to get substantial architectural commissions, he took a distinctly theatrical approach to them. Among his exuberantly ornamented works were the 1926 Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, the 1927 Ziegfeld Theater (demolished in 1966), and the 1928 Hearst publishing headquarters, now the podium for Foster + Partners’ 2005 office tower. Urban obviously had to take a more sober approach to The New School design, and he did, up to a point. The eight-story façade is striking mainly for its severity, with its bands of ribbon windows alternating with spandrels striped in buff and black brick. But its principal interior space, the auditorium, displays Urban’s more dramatic, Expressionist bent. It reiterates the novel egg-shaped concept he’d used in the Ziegfeld Theater and an unbuilt proposal for the Met. The acoustical drawbacks of this shape were dealt with by perforating much of the suspended ceiling. The 1992 restoration of this remarkable room (now the Tishman Auditorium) by Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen returned it to Urban’s distinctive redand-white palette, which had long been whited out. Returned to its original appearance, the room was designated an interior landmark in 1997. (The exterior has been integral to the Greenwich Village Historic District since 1967.) In 1997 the school’s tradition of advanced design was enhanced by the Vera List Courtyard, a collaboration among Mitchell/Giurgola Architects,
©Courtesy The New School
©Courtesy The New School
(top) Vintage view of Joseph Urban’s building for the New School for Social Research. (bottom) Tishman Auditorium following a 1992 restoration by Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen.
landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, and sculptor Martin Puryear. Now a university with several divisions at several sites, including Parsons The New School for Design, the institution maintains its architectural distinction through innovative design, preservation, and continued educational use.
John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He continues to write for a number of publications, and he received AIANY’s 2011 Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award for Excellence in Journalism.
Fall 2012 Oculus 41
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2012
Letter from the President: The Future: Here and Now
Of Ladybugs and Learning
Manhattanville Shuffl e: A no-real-community-here might just become one
Opener: The New Learning Landscape
Oh, the Places We’ll Go!
One Firm, Two Schools of Thought
Schools Made to Order
Expanding Architecture Beyond Form and Function
New Kids on the Boards
Real Solutions at Harlem’s Edge
The Future of Architecture Since 1889
Aalto and America
The Mythic Modern: Architectural Expeditions into the Spirit of Place
Schlepping Through Ambivalence: Essays on an American Architectural Condition
The Harlem Edge | Cultivating Connections 2012 Biennial Ideas Competition
A pioneering example of Modernism in New York is the 1931 New School for Social Research building by Joseph Urban
The Young and the Edgeless
Alphabetical and Categorical Index
Oculus - Fall 2012