Monday, April 30, 2012

The Top of the City

The new One World Trade Center tower officially becomes the tallest building in New York today.

The New World Trade Center with the Space Shuttle on Saturday


Here's some really cool raw video.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


An Alleluia in Mozarabic chant from Medieval Spain followed by a Sufi chant from North Africa:

Psalm 111 in Mozarabic chant:

A group of Moroccan gentlemen sing a spirited Sufi chant:


Saturday, April 28, 2012


I remember so many murder mysteries that begin with the premise of someone getting away with "the perfect crime," which meant usually getting away with murder.  The idea was that people never get away with murder.

People get away with murder all the time, and the bigger the scale of the crime and the bigger and more powerful the perpetrator, the more likely he is to get away with it.

Knowing that, it is gratifying to see one such perpetrator actually see his day in court and have justice dealt to him.  Charles Taylor, the warlord who ruled Liberia for 6 years (and a former business partner of Pat Robertson in the diamond trade) who perpetrated unspeakable crimes there and in neighboring Sierra Leone for fun and profit, may spend the rest of his life in jail.

The pursuit of justice is a deeply flawed business that depends as much, maybe more, on what is expedient as on what is right and fair.

One dramatic example in Texas is the case of Michael Morton convicted in 1987 for the 1986 murder of his wife. He was freed this year after 25 years in prison when he was exonerated by DNA evidence.  Even worse, there is abundant evidence that the Williamson County prosecutor and sheriff's department deliberately withheld and suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Morton.  And even worse than that, the man later identified as the murderer by the DNA evidence, John Foster Norwood, murdered another woman, Debra Baker, a year after the murder of Michael Morton's wife.  Morton, and Debra Baker's bereaved husband, together are lobbying the Texas Legislature for laws making it a crime punishable by removal from office and disbarment for prosecutors who knowingly withhold exculpatory evidence.  That this is not currently illegal in Texas is astonishing.  Judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs are all elected officials in Texas.  They are under enormous pressure to be "tough" on crime, to satisfy the electorate's need for heads to roll in a state with a high rate of violent crime.

Texas is notorious for its casual attitude toward due process, but in that it is hardly alone or unique.  New York City has its own glaring miscarriages of justice.

New York's most flagrant and notorious recent miscarriage of justice is the Central Park Jogger case.  In 1989, Trish Meili, a 28 year old investment banker with Solomon Brothers, was raped and nearly beaten to death in Central Park in the early hours of the morning (Meili  always said that she has no memory of the attack).  Five black juveniles found in the Park hours later were arrested.  The crime created a sensation with the tabloids filled with lurid accounts of gangs of black teenagers roaming city streets assaulting people in a practice dubbed "wilding."  All five arrested confessed and implicated each other.  They were tried and convicted on all counts in 1990.  In 2002, another man, Matias Reyes, already serving time on another charge, confessed to the crime and said that he acted alone.  DNA evidence supported his confession and exonerated the other five men.  Their convictions were vacated and their names were removed from the sex offenders' registry.  The five, now grown men who served their full sentences for the crime, are now suing the city prosecutor's office.  Sensationalism and the deep atavistic terror of crime by young black males against white women (always useful to politicians, remember Willie Horton?) appear to have railroaded these five guys, none of whom were saints, but they weren't rapists either.

On top of all of that is the "hands off" approach to the perpetrators of what may be the biggest financial crime in history, the misconduct and blatant fraud that almost tanked the world economy in 2008.  Not one of the major perpetrators, or even the minor perpetrators, of that set of crimes has even been so much as investigated, let alone indicted and prosecuted.  Public officials concluded that these folks are simply too vital and important to pursue.  It should also be noted that most of our public officials from both parties depend on patronage from these same people.  I seriously doubt that any justice will ever be done about this despite the growing piles of investigative reports.  Certainly no meaningful reform of the financial industry, or its regulation, has come out of this disaster, and may never come out of it.  Most public officials are on the payrolls of the perpetrators.  If you or I do the same thing on a much smaller scale, you can be certain that we would be facing serous jail time.  It's good to be the king.

So where is that line that separates civilization from the jungle?  I wonder sometimes.  With all the "shoot first" laws sailing through state legislatures allowing everyone to pack heat and to shoot first, I wonder why we even bother to have a judicial system.  Why not save ourselves a huge bundle of tax money and get rid of the judiciary and the police?  Let's return to the very old days when offenses and disputes were settled by vendetta.  Revenge is so dangerous and even more imperfect, but so much more colorful and emotionally gratifying, or so we imagine.

It seems that Law itself has become completely divorced from the whole business of justice ("It's all just one big game," says Michael).  Law is but another arena of competition in the biological struggle for survival and domination projected into the social sphere (the jungle).  That was the theme that ran through so much of Kafka's stories, and remember he was a lawyer.

Gustave Klimt, Jurisprudence, 1899 - 1907 from a set of ceiling murals for the University of Vienna, destroyed in World War II.

Klimt shows Justice in the far distance flanked by Law and Truth with the disembodied heads of magistrates.  They all look on dispassionately at a grisly drama of revenge in the foreground.  Surrounded by three Furies, spirits of revenge, a hapless bound victim is about to be devoured by an octopus.  This painting created a scandal in Vienna when it was exhibited in 1903.  Eighty seven members of the University faculty resigned in protest.  It was attacked both by liberal critics and by right-wing populist antisemitic demagogues, especially Vienna's populist right wing mayor Karl Lüger.  Liberals objected to Klimt's rejection of the very idea of justice in this painting while right wingers accused Klimt of being part of a Jewish conspiracy (Klimt was not Jewish).  In this painting, Klimt openly wonders if the magniloquent language of legal procedure is but a thin veneer concealing dark irrational passions of revenge and aggression.  Klimt lost a professorship and an academy appointment, as well as all the money for the commission, which he repaid voluntarily.  He was taken aback at the ferocity of the attacks upon him and never painted anything quite like this again.
The painting was never installed on the ceiling.  One of Klimt's patrons bought the painting.  During the war, it was seized by the SS and kept in the Schloss Imendorf castle in Lower Austria.  The SS set the castle on fire, destroying the painting, as they retreated before advancing Allied troops in 1945.  It is known now only through black and white photographs.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Islam at the Met

Here is a view of the beginning of the Muslim galleries in the Met with an arcade inspired by Ummayad architecture from the ruins of Anjar, in Lebanon.

After 8 years closed for renovation, the Islamic galleries of the Metropolitan Museum are finally open again.  They opened back up in November of last year after being closed since 2003.  According to unverified sources (museum, gallery, and local artists' gossip), a number of curators resigned over the course of those 8 years; first over the decision to close at that time (the city still traumatized over 9/11; the height of the Afghan War; and the Invasion of Iraq all in that year), and then because of conflicts over the design of the exhibition.

The Met's magnificent collection is back on display, if a bit tardy.  If it was up to me, I would have delayed the renovation and kept the exhibit open during those critical years between 2001 and 2008.  The collection could have played a crucial role as a standing reminder of Islamic civilization at a time when Osama Bin Laden was the face of Islam in the minds of the American public.

Better late than never, I suppose.

The galleries are magnificently renovated and organized with numerous small works and book arts imaginatively displayed and made more accessible.

These galleries are filled with beautiful things, though there is nothing in the way of monumental painting and sculpture as in the West.  The Quran says nothing about imagery, but the Prophet Muhammad had strong opinions on the subject.  He said that any artist who makes an image of a person will be summoned before God on the Day of Judgment and commanded to make the image speak.  Of course, the artist will fail that test and it's down to perdition.  Before we good Christian people scoff at that idea, let us remember that there are numerous Christians who think that Muhammad wasn't strict enough.  It was Muslim prohibitions on imagery that inspired the whole Iconoclastic Controversy in the Byzantine Empire.  As can be seen in the many book illustrations and painted ceramics here, that prohibition seems to have been even more flexibly interpreted in much of the Muslim world than similar prohibitions in many parts of the Christian world.

 These are splendid and luxurious art objects, many of them small and portable.  Islamic art had little room or patience for the grotesque and the horrible.  It was the religious and social duty of art to be beautiful in the Muslim world.

I recently took my trusty little digital camera to the Met's Islamic galleries and took all of these pictures.

A gallery of Islamic art and civilization must begin with the most important thing in Islam, the Quran, the collected revelations to the Prophet Muhammad.  When Muhammad first met the angel Gabriel on the mountain, Gabriel commanded him to recite all that was to be revealed to him, according to tradition.  The word "Quran" means "The Recitation" in Arabic.

Here is a Quran stand made of teak wood in 1360 by Hasan ibn Sulaiman al-Isfahani

On that stand is a Quran, 15th to 16th century, from the Ottoman Empire.

Here is a small volume of the Quran from the 9th century, from the Abbasid Caliphate written in early Kufic script.  I look at the beautiful intervals and rhythms in this script and I think that Mondrian must die of envy.

Writing was greatly revered in the Islamic world.  There is a mystical tradition that says that the pen was the first thing that God created so that He could write down all that was to come.  Calligraphy was a high art form, and great calligraphers enjoyed lasting fame in the Muslim world.
The calligraphers lavished their highest art on that holiest of books, the Quran, a book literally written by God, according to Muslim belief.  There are some Muslim traditions that regard the Quran as so holy that it is uncreated, that it was there with God from before the Creation.  Muslim tradition says that all Qurans in this world are copies of the original inscribed on gold tablets and always open before the throne of God.

The task of the calligrapher was gravely important.  Through the letter forms and the layout of the page, the calligrapher had to express something of the mystery, the power, and the awe of Who it was who spoke to the believer from the page.

A page from an enormous Quran from Samarqand made by the calligrapher Umar Aqta for Timur, better known as Tamerlane in the West, 15th century

A folio from a Quran made by Ahmad ibn al-Subrawardi in 1307

A mihrab from the Madrasa Imami in Isfahan, 1354; the inscription on the surrounding frame is from the Quran, Sura IX: 14-22

The Met has several magnificent glass mosque lamps from Egypt.  This one was made for the Mausoleum of Amir Aidakin al-Alai al Bunduqdar in Cairo in 1285.  Inscribed on this lamp and on all mosque lamps is the Ayat an-Nur, the Light Sura from the Quran:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as if there were a niche and within it a lamp: the lamp enclosed in glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His light: Allah doth set forth parables for men: and God doth know all things.

A mosque lamp appears on this Ottoman carpet, probably used for prayer, from Cairo, circa 1575-1590.

Writing plays a central role in Islamic ornament.  Here, a magnificent Kufic inscription forms the sole decoration of this bowl from Nishapur, Iran from the 9th century.  The text is a proverb:
Planning before work protects you from regret:  prosperity and peace

Here is another bowl from Samarqand from the 11th century with the inscription, "Forbearance is at first bitter to the taste, but in the end is sweeter than honey, Blessing."

Here is the state of the art navigation system of its day, an astrolabe.  This one is from Yemen from 1291 by the master instrument maker Umar ibn Yusuf al-Muzaffari.

For you fans of early science, here is a 15th century "Book of Images of the Fixed Stars (Kitab Suwar al-Kawakib al thabita) of al Sufi, based on Ptolemy's Almagest.  This book was made in Iran during the rule of the Timurids.
The classics of ancient Greek science were lost and forgotten in the West for centuries, and found their way back into Western readership through Arab manuscripts and translations.

Islam was the great bridge culture between East and West.  This magnificent bowl was made in the 13th century in Kashan, Iran in imitation of Chinese wares.

One of my favorite rooms in New York, a reception room (qa'a) from Damascus under the Ottoman Empire, 1707

A gallery filled with magnificent carpets.  The ceiling is carved wood from 15th century Spain, an Islamic survival after the Christian reconquest.

The "Simonetti Carpet," one of the Met's most famous and celebrated carpets, from Mamluk Egypt around 1500.

Herat, Afghanistan today is notorious for opium and brutal war lords.  Who would know now that it was once celebrated for its poetry, calligraphy, and painting?  All of those things come together in this beautiful page from an anthology of poetry by Sa'id and Hafiz made by the calligrapher Sultan Ali Mashhadi from 15th century Herat.

Islam produced some of the most beautiful books in the world.  Among many examples in the Metropolitan's collection is this work from Isfahan about 1600.  This is an illustration to a major work of Persian literature, the Mantiq al-Tair (The Language of Birds) by Farid ud-Din Attar.  This episode is the Concourse of the Birds. The artist is Habiballah of Sava.

Here is a detail of the Concourse of the Birds painted by Habiballah of Sava.  The Mantiq al-Tair tells the story of a group of 30 birds who gather to decide who should be their king.  Persuaded by the hoopoe, the wisest of the birds, they journey out to find the Simorgh, a Persian equivalent of the Phoenix.  When the birds reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh after a long journey, all they find is their reflection in a lake.  The Mantiq is an allegory of the quest for knowledge that contains these famous lines:
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside
Thanks be to Wikipedia.

This is a tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent, greatest of the Ottoman Sultans, a calligraphic monogram used as the equivalent of a state seal for official documents and proclamations, 1555.

Another example of Islam playing the role of bridge between East and West; this is a Persian copy of a Chinese painting of 2 Buddhist saints called lohans.  From Tabriz, circa 1480.

Magnificent Iznik tiles from the Ottoman Empire, from the reign of Suleiman in the 16th century;  Iznik is the Turkish name for ancient Nicea.

A magnificent luster ware bowl, so-called because of the opalescent sheen of the glaze, from 11th century Syria.

Lovers, a book miniature by Riza-yi 'Abbasi from Isfahan, 1630.  This surprisingly passionate and sensual work reminds us of the passion and sensuality of Persian love poetry, especially from Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Dynasty that ruled Persia in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Another example of East Meets West in Islamic art, A Night Time Gathering by Muhammad Zaman from Isfahan in 1664.  This clearly shows the influence of Western painting in the dramatic lighting and the use of chiaroscuro, even in the flowers in the margins.

This set of three wooden arches from 17th century northern India greets us as we enter the Islamic Indian galleries.   These galleries mostly contain works from the time of the Mughals like these arches.

Here is a detail from those three arches, a column capital showing the use of Hindu lotus motifs.

An example of the luxurious opulence of Mughal India, a small box made from nephrite and gold adorned with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds; from the 19th century

A splendid Mughal book miniature showing the Emperor Jahangir with his famous and powerful prime minister Itimad al Dawla, the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal for whom the Taj Mahal was built

To my mind, one of the most luxurious items of all, a shamsa or calligraphic rosette containing the names and titles of the Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, from 17th century India.

A highlight of the re-opened Islamic galleries is this Moroccan courtyard created by a group of Moroccan master craftsmen specifically for the Metropolitan Museum, testament to the continuing durability of so many Islamic craft traditions, even in an age of mass production.

Here is a detail of the carved plasterwork from the new Moroccan Court at the Met.

Islam is as large, varied, and conflicted a universe as Christianity.  There is as wide a variety of belief in Islam as in Christianity.  Islam encompasses everything from the most universalist and liberal Sufism to the apocalyptic messianism of Shia to puritanical Wahabism, to the militantly fundamentalist followers of the Deobandi School and the readers of Sayyid Qutb.

It is quite likely that puritanical fundamentalist Muslims dismiss all the art in these galleries just as much as Christian fundamentalists would dismiss galleries full of Christian art, and for the same reason; as wasteful vanities and idolatry.

But this is not the Celestial Jerusalem and we are not living in Heaven.  We are living on the earth.  We are not angels.  We are mortal men and women.  We have art to make this mortal life bearable.  Art is worthwhile not because it is holy (it is not), but because it is human.  The record of history is mostly a record of crime.  Art is testimony to what we can imagine, to what we can be and do despite ourselves.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Prodigies of Midtown New York: The Glass Box

More pictures from my hike on Saturday through Midtown Manhattan as a tourist with a camera.  Once again, all of these pictures are mine, taken with my trusty little digital, and are available for any educator to use.

Again, I concentrated on buildings that I teach, taking my own pictures of these buildings because what I've found available is for whatever reason inadequate.

The glass box office tower began in the USA in a very specific place, on the corner of 53rd street and Park Avenue with two buildings from the 1950s.

The International Style of modern architecture and design arrived in the United States after World War II in two famous buildings.  First, it came in the United Nations Headquarters in New York begun in 1947.  This was the first large scale construction in the new style, and the first public institution housed in a building in a fully modern style.  Modern architecture and design was mostly confined to commercial and residential buildings before World War II.  A private home or an office building could use as much sheet glass, steel, and reinforced concrete cantilevers as could be desired, but City Hall needed columns.
Second, the International Style arrived by way of Chicago in the Lake Shore Apartments designed by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, the first building in the United States designed entirely by a creator of the International Style.

The International Style was formed out of the legacy of the Russian Avant Garde, the Bauhaus, German Expressionist Architecture, and the Chicago of Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham.  In the decades following the War, the International Style would become the most successful architectural style in history remaking the look of cities around the world from Beizhing to Berlin.

Lever House on Park Avenue was the first all glass and steel office building in the USA, and the prototype for all that was to follow here and abroad.

Lever House was completed in 1952 as the American HQ of the British Lever Brothers soap company.  It was designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, a firm that specialized in bringing modern and avant garde design to "mainstream" architecture of the time.

Here's a detail of the building.  Note all the window shades on the south side here.  The architects sold the Lever Brothers company on the international style precisely because it was bold and new, and because it was so efficient.  The architects covered a steel frame in a skin of sun resistant tinted and polarized glass and stainless steel.  The windows could not be opened requiring constant air conditioning (I wonder if anyone is writing any books out there on that very transformative invention, air conditioning).  This kept dust and soot from getting in the building saving on cleaning and maintenance costs.  This was the first building to have a built-in motorized gondola for window washing.

I respect this building more than I love it.  This building seems so familiar to me because it was the prototype for so much of the architecture of Dallas' first post-War skyscraper boom in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

I've never cared much for the detailing on this building or the blue-green color ( a color that turned to turqoise when it reached Dallas).  But I think the street level design of this building is wonderful.  The ground floor is completely open to the street.  Not even a step separates it from the sidewalk.  The second floor is an employee cafeteria, lounges, and an auditorium.  the third floor faces out onto a rooftop garden, a wonderful transition from the street to the building proper.

Inside the street level of Lever House is a beautiful inner garden in an open courtyard.  All of this is open and accessible from the street.  This street level, the best part of the whole design, was the part least imitated by other later buildings.  Landlords don't like empty space.  They want as much leasable ground level floor space as possible.

It is remarkable to think what this building must have looked like when it was finished in 1952.  There was nothing else quite like it anywhere, even next door.  A bright shiny green glass box rose out of the brick and stone surroundings into the sooty New York air.  To some, it must have looked like a shiny eyesore.  To others, it looked like a bright and shining promise of Things To Come.  Today, it looks very dated, surrounded by its much larger and more up-to-date glass and steel progeny.

In 1998, a German real estate management company bought Lever House and restored it extensively after many years of decay and neglect.


Unlike Lever House, The Seagram Building seems ageless, as elegant and beautiful now as when it was completed in 1958

Lever House may have been a first of its kind as a glass and steel office building, but the Parthenon of all glass and steel boxes is right across the street, the Seagram Building.  This building set all the standards of excellence for glass and steel skyscrapers, standards that most later buildings could not meet.

The Seagram Building was designed by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, one of the creators of the International Style.  This may well be his finest building in the United States.

Mies Van Der Rohe was the son of a stone-cutter and had a craftsman's sense of material and precision.  He designed for modern materials and technology, but he demanded tolerances and quality beyond the capacity of most building methods of the day.  The glass and steel "curtain wall" of the Seagram Building, so called because it hangs off the steel frame like a curtain, is probably the most beautiful ever built and the most expensive.  Mies could not get the color he wanted in any available pre-fabricated material for this curtain wall.  In the end, he demanded, and got, bronze for the cladding of the steel grid of the wall, and for those exposed portions of the structural frame.  The building is a 516 feet tall work of bronze using over 1500 tons of the metal.  I'm amazed Seagram's agreed to all of this expense, but then, there's a lot of money to be made in booze.

The outside plaza also spared no expense on materials.  The pavement is quarried red granite.  The long bench in the foreground is green Tinian marble.

Here is the grand main entrance, grand in its sense of scale and interval, though very plain and unadorned.  You can see reflected in the glass of the entrance lobby the old Racquet and Tennis Club building from across the street that seems to fit so well.

And here is the Racquet and Tennis Club, designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, and White and completed in 1918.  It is an American version of an Italian Renaissance palazzo and forms a perfect foil for the Seagram Building.  We are looking at it from the Seagram in this photo.  Lever House is just to the right across the street.

The exposed support beams (clad in black patinated bronze) form a classical peristyle around the all glass lobby of the building.  I've long argued that for all of his modernity,  Mies Van Der Rohe was at heart a German Neo-Classicist cut from the same cloth as Karl Friedrich Schinkel, or Leo Von Klenze or Gottfried Semper.

Here is the very unadorned and yet very beautiful entrance lobby with the floor made from the same red granite as the plaza, more exposed support piers here clad in polished bronze, and the elevator shafts clad in polished Travertine marble.  The placement of the recessed lights in the ceiling and even the ceiling air ducts is very deliberate and beautifully consistent with the whole design of this room.  This is one of the least spectacular, and yet most gratifying building lobbies in New York.

One of my favorite details is this glass and steel canopy Mies designed for the entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant in the building; more evidence for designating Mies Van Der Rohe as a German Neo-Classicist.

Mies Van Der Rohe applied to architecture the great project of the modern aesthetic, to collapse the distinction between form and content (DeKooning thought that this project was futile; a painting is always about something, he said).  Mies Van Der Rohe thought that the surest path to that final marriage for form and content was through reductivism.  "Less is more," he insisted.  The content is the form and the form is the content.  The way to achieve that end was to purge the design down to its purist structural and formal essences, to get rid of ornament, and all the narrative and allegorical content that comes with ornament.  Mies had a sovereign indifference to the needs and desires of the people who must inhabit his buildings.  His vision of architecture was very aloof and abstract.

And yet, as coolly abstract as Mies Van Der Rohe's architecture is, it seems downright warm and fuzzy compared to the cold, arbitrary, and out of scale quality of so much (though not all) contemporary architecture.  As far as I'm concerned, it is no surprise and no accident that the most enthusiastic patrons of contemporary architecture on a vast scale are Arab petroleum dynasties and the Chinese Regime (Dubai, Beizhing, and Shanghai are now showpieces for the newest of the new in architecture and design).

Glass architecture began with romantic utopian visionaries around the time of the First World War, with people like Bruno Taut, Wassili Luckhardt, and Paul Scheerbart.  They dreamed of great crystalline cities that gleamed like the celestial Jerusalem out of the grimy brick and stone of early industrialism.  Mies Van Der Rohe wedded the Expressionist Crystal to the Chicago steel frame and the Modernist grid to create the glass and steel box of the last 60 years of architecture.  Mies' design genius plus his reductivism purged modern architecture of its former utopian and political content, and transformed it into a preferred power style after the combined forces of Hitler and Stalin killed off Classical architecture for the next thousand years (though I wouldn't write it off completely; historically classicism returns like dandelions every few centuries).

I'm not hostile to modern design or even to post-modern design, but the exponential rise of historical preservation movements around the world since the mid 20th century to me is a profound vote of no confidence.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Prodigies of Midtown New York

It was an almost perfect day out.  It's my last Saturday before tsunamis of grading start breaking against my shore.  So I decided to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time.  I joined the tourists in Midtown Manhattan and took my trusty little digital camera to take some pictures of some of the prodigious skyscrapers.  I stayed away from the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center for the time being.  There's no shortage of pictures of those buildings.  I concentrated today on buildings that I teach in modern art classes, and that I think have too few photos of the architectural details, or that I've never been satisfied with the pictures available.

I took all of these pictures, and any educators out there who don't live quite so conveniently close to these things as I do, then please help yourselves.

Here's Lexington Avenue at 52nd Street looking downtown to the Chrysler Building

Here is the top of the Chrysler Building, everyone's favorite skyscraper in New York.  The big spike on top was built secretly in an elevator shaft so that William Van Allen could humiliate a rival architect with whom he had a grudge.  Van Allen and his former business partner Craig Severance were in a race to see who could build the tallest building in the world.  Severance claimed victory when his building at 40 Wall Street topped out at 5 feet higher than Van Allen's Chrysler Building.  During Severance's press conference, workers in the Chrysler began raising the spike up through the top adding another 100 feet, making the Chrysler the tallest building in the world very briefly until the Empire State Building went up.

A closer view of the top of the Chrysler, a brilliant design

The Chrysler from 42nd Street

One of Van Allen's automobile hood ornament inspired "gargoyles" on the Chrysler, plus a close up of the ornamental brickwork.

The Chrysler from Lexington Avenue; If you look carefully at this photo, you can see me in a reflection taking the picture.

The bizarre looking main entrance to the Chrysler Building on Lexington Avenue

The magnificent lobby of the Chrysler, one of the best in New York in my opinion.  No expense was spared here.  The floors are paved with Travertine marble, the walls with bookmarked jasper, and with zinc and alabaster light fixtures.  As you can see by the sign and the guards there, my access was limited.  I couldn't get any pictures of those amazing elevator doors with all the inlays in rare woods.

The mural on the ceiling of the Chrysler lobby

One of the light fixtures made out of zinc with alabaster reflectors; amazing.

A little known masterpiece of New York Art Deco architecture, the General Electric Building designed by John W. Cross in 1931.  It housed a division of GE when the company moved to Rockefeller Center.  Today, it is usually known as 570 Lexington.
The 640 feet tall building is set back in stages because of the 1916 Zoning Code to keep air and sunlight on the street level.  The upper parts of this building, of the Chrysler, and of others of this period are tall and narrow because of air flow.  During hot months, windows could be open to let a cross breeze through.  Just as the elevator made buildings taller, so the invention of air conditioning later on would make them fatter.

The ornamental detail on this building is amazing, especially the top, probably the most elaborate and original of the Art Deco skyscrapers in New York.  Here it is photographed from Park Avenue.

Here is the top of the old GE Building from Lexington Avenue.

Here is the amazing corner entrance at 52nd and Lexington to the old GE Building.

The GE clock with hands holding lightning bolts above it, and above the entrances.

Some of the amazing ornamental terra cotta work on the ground floor of the old GE building

More stainless steel lightning bolt ornament with stonework on the old GE Building

And a certain retired librarian in Thibodaux, LA seems to have a presence everywhere; in this case, up on Lexington and 84th Street

Next time, I'll post pictures of the first glass and steel office tower in the USA (and possibly the world), and pictures of what I think is the Parthenon of glass and steel towers that set all  the standards.