When Firms Falter

The work of Pei Cobb Freed was never that exciting, at least not after Pei retired, but the firm produced serious, well-executed modernist designs. Nothing to sneer at. So what is one to make of its latest project, 1045 Avenue of the Americas, a 28-story office building overlooking Bryant Park? A “modern hourglass-shaped structure” is how the New York Times described it. A “tepid Frank Gehry wannabe” would be another way of putting it. With the Beekman Tower, Gehry raised the bar, or perhaps moved the hurdle, and so we get this. It reminds me of a building on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Dietrich Hall, the original Wharton School. A mediocre design, neither modern nor traditional, it is an uneasy blend of the two.  The building was designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1952, decades after the last founding partner, Mead, had died, and 9 years before the firm closed its doors. McKim, Mead & White was a master of the Classical idiom, but by the 1950s they felt obliged to adopt the current fashion—Modernism. The problem was that it was not something it understood; or maybe it’s heart just wasn’t in it.

1045 Avenue of the Americas



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