Message - Lever House vs. Tennis and Racquet Club

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 17, 2002 at 13:56:41:

In Reply to:  Re: WTC, Basic Planning Issues posted by Kevin Matthews on September 17, 2002 at 12:45:57:

As observed recently, Lever House was far more effective when it alone broke the masonry wall of Park Avenue, standing alone as a jewel-like glass object. This was modernism as contrarian revisionism--novel and refreshing.

What happened when Park Avenue became a Modern neighborhood, with many stand-alone glassy objects? Clearly, something of the prototype's appeal was lost. Seagram House (really a better building, in my view) was likewise part of the change. We gained, but we also lost.

I think that most urban designers would agree that Park Avenue was better, as an avenue, when more like a Parisian boulevard, lined with unbroken walls of space-shaping buildings. When it became a row of distinctive objects, it became less coherent as a place. The individual objects took precedence over the communal urban form. It became more of a Modern zoo of architectural speciments.

This is not to say that Lever House was bad, in itself--I was, in fact, an early admirer. But in retrospect, when we compare it with its neighbor, the Tennis and Racquet Club by McKim, Mead, and Whitek we may ask which seems to be the better urban prototype. As you may suspect, from my urban-design point of view, the older work is more satisfactory.

Again, this is not a matter of style. It's more a matter of intention--whether to assert to autonomy of the architectural object or to honor the communal avenue.

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