Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lower Manhattan architectural contrasts, redux.

In my almost daily walks across the Brooklyn Bridge and back I've found time to admire the examples of various architectural styles represented among the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan (see this earlier post). In the photo above, taken from the Bridge, the American International Building casts its shadow on One Chase Manhattan Plaza. American International, designed by the architectural firm Clinton & Russell, Holton & George, was completed in 1932 for the petroleum and utilities conglomerate Cities Service, and was later sold to the now-distressed insurance giant AIG. It is a fine example of the art deco skyscraper style that came to dominate the New York City skyline (other well known examples being the Chrysler, Empire State, and General Electric buildings in midtown Manhattan) during the 1920s and 30s. There are some very good photos of details of the building here.

One Chase was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Bunshaft and SOM were influential in making the international style of architecture dominant in post World War Two New York office building design. One Chase was completed in 1961 to serve as the headquarters of Chase Manhattan Bank, now merged into JPMorgan Chase. When I first settled in New York in the early 1970s, the law firm with which I was associated had its offices in One Chase. From a distance, the building has a light, almost lace-like appearance. I found, however, when I first approached it, that the huge load-bearing exterior columns on the north and south facades give it a massive, almost forbidding aspect.

Other buildings prominent in this photo are 60 Wall Street, the building with a truncated pyramidal roof immediately to the left of the American International Building, and 180 Maiden Lane, the building sheathed in green-tinted glass immediately to the left of 60 Wall. These buildings, both completed in the 1980s, exemplify very different architectural styles. 60 Wall is in the style sometimes called "postmodern", which reacted to the austerity of the international style by incorporating decorative elements evocative of neoclassicism or art deco. 80 Maiden Lane is in what could be said to be a direct offshoot of the international style, in which the rectangular box form was forsaken in favor of structures with walls meeting at acute or obtuse angles, and beveled edges, giving the impression, as one commentator put it years ago, of buildings produced by machine tools.