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.
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.
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.
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.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel, or Leo Von Klenze or Gottfried Semper.
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.