August 14th, 2019.
Thoughts of Manhattan conjure all sorts of perceptions and visceral longings for glimpses of interrupted sky, clashing ideologies, and a tendency to feel life is forever set to fast forward. Perhaps the future leanings of this famous pocket of New York City are yielded from the strong, stately history that radiates from the myriad of architectural styles and sensibilities that cram together in a haphazard concentration of modern urbanity.
Very few cities throughout the world can boast such a treasure trove of iconic buildings that represent events of major historical significance, a merging of vastly contrasting architectural styles, and a staggering visual of social and cultural shifts over the past century that literally bear down upon the human inhabitants of the city.
Seagram Building by Mies Van Der Rohe
In 1958, the grandfather of modern architecture, and the last director of the Bauhaus, Mies Van Der Rohe, arrived in New York and established a significant presence of the modern architectural style in Manhattan upon completion of the Seagram Building. Situated on Park Avenue, this was one of the first buildings in New York to externally articulate the structural qualities of a building. Many many more were to follow as the steel and glass facade of the skyscraper, and its recessed public plaza quickly set a precedent in architectural form and civic function that became adopted throughout every major city the world over.
Walter Gropius’ MetLife Building on Park Avenue NYC
The MetLife Building famously holds the title of the building most New Yorkers would like to see demolished.
A little further along Park Avenue is a second nod to the Bauhaus. Completed in 1963 and designed by Walter Gropius, The MetLife Building is famously recognised as the building New Yorkers would most like to see demolished…and yet it remains. An ugly duckling perched atop the neo-classical beauty of Grand Central Terminal. The MetLife building, for all its jarring aesthetics, is much loved by tenants for its unrivalled location and spacious floorplans.
Marcel Breuer’s famed stepped facade of The MET
The Met Breuer (formerly the Whitney Museum of American Art) by Marcel Breuer propels inhabitants into a future where Manhattan continues its architectural reign. The imposing stepped facade of this Upper East Side building exudes a commanding presence amongst the stately townhomes that surround it. Begging no apology, Breuer took cues from Frank Lloyd Wrights approach to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and redefined traditional notions of what a museum in Manhattan ought to look like. Despite its 1966 completion, The Met Breuer remains a poignant homage to modern architecture and the contemporary art that is housed within.
What we can learn from these astonishing buildings is that their civic qualities are paramount to the continued success of their form and function. Their relevance within one of the most globally iconic corners of the planet comes down to the visionary abilities of the architects who first envisioned them, and the long term significance of their locations alongside the highly prized level of urban amenity that surrounds them.
Images by Simon Shiff.