Oculus - Fall 2011 - (Page 35)

57-Year Watch Because the second fl oor stops short of the street walls, cantilevering off interior columns, it appears to fl oat within a single loſt y space. White marble cladding on the columns inside the space almost dematerializes them when seen from the street against the luminous ceilings. Surprisingly, SOM was not entirely responsible for this iconic interior, as it was for subsequent Manhattan branch banks. Since the fi rm didn’t have an interiors division in the early 1950s, the elegantly severe furnishings were done in collaboration with Eleanor Le Maire, a distinguished interior designer who’d worked with Manufacturers Trust. In 1997, the building received exterior land- A 1954 Ezra Stoller’s iconic 1954 portrait of Manufacturers Trust. branch bank noted for its iconic transparent design is now the subject of heated preservation controversy BY JOHN MORRIS DIXON, FAIA T he Modern ideal of a transparent building envelope was never more vividly realized than in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s branch bank at Fiſt h Avenue and 43rd Street – originally Manufacturers Trust, later Manufacturers Hanover, and until last year, Chase. Ada Louise Huxtable recently characterized it as “a structure where exterior and interior were conceived as one thing, unifi ed and inseparable, to be seen and understood as a continuous visual, spatial and aesthetic experience.” T e current owners, Vornado Realty Trust, are now reconfi guring the building to accommodate two retail stores facing Fiſt h Avenue. Gordon Bunshaſt ’s original design refl ects a specifi c set of circumstances. T e bank needed more public interior than the square footage of the site, hence the two banking fl oors. T e structure’s transparency met the bank’s desire for an “inviting look” that appeared progressive and would appeal to a broad range of customers. Such a transparent glass cage would not have worked just anywhere. A site that faced north and east, largely in the shadow of taller structures, eliminated the need for blinds or tinted glass. Suffi cient interior light intensity to sustain the transparency was provided by continuous luminous ceilings, an innovation that was just being perfected in the early 1950s. Interior Motives: Activity & Growth mark designation, applying only to the envelope. Although the building’s banking fl oors were clearly visible from the street, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) didn’t designate the interior until February 2011, aſt er the last banking occupant leſt and the current owners sought retail tenants. For the proposed new occupancy, the LPC approved alterations to both interior (dividing the space in two, among other changes) and exterior (mainly two new entries cut into the Fiſt h Avenue front). While the proposal would restore key elements of the interior to their original appearance, it would do so by re-creating them aſt er the gutting that has already taken place. In July, the advocacy group Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation fi led a lawsuit charging that Vornado Realty Trust and the LPC disregarded an obligation to protect the interior. Ironically, SOM is the owner’s architect for the current architectural alterations, exterior and interior. Moreover, one of the bank’s 1950s requirements was that the public interiors be adaptable to retail use. But a space so plainly designed as one whole volume would be seriously compromised by being divided in two. T is issue of Oculus will go to press before the preservation drama plays out. But it’s clear that – whatever happens – this landmark is assured a place in the history of Modern architecture. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He wrote the Midtown Manhattan portion of the original 1967 AIA Guide to New York City. In recent years he has written for Architectural Record, Architecture, Architect, and other publications. Dixon received AIANY’s 2011 Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award for Excellence in Journalism. Fall 2011 Oculus 35 ©Ezra Stoller / ESTO http://www.naylornetwork.com/arc-nxt

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2011

First Words
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: The New Office Space
Small Spaces, Transforming Results
Redesigned Practice
The Lure of Pop-ups
A Giant, Hardly Sleeping: Pro Bono Sector
In Print
57-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Fall 2011

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