Monday, June 19, 2017

The Lever House NYC, Landmark Modernist Structure

Nearby the celebrated Seagram House is another landmark Modernist structure at 390 Park Avenue known as the Lever House NYC. This slender green-tinted glass tower stands at only twenty-one stories and appears as an inverted L from street-level. The building features an extended lobby floor that contains an art gallery and also a Sculpture Garden that was added in 1998. In the Sculpture Garden you can view works from Isamu Noguchi who also created the Red Cube which resides outside of 140 Broadway.

The glass curtain design by Gordon Bunshaft of the firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill was relatively new and innovative at the time. Similar to the added bronze beams on the Seagram House for aesthetic purposes, the glass curtain design contained an added outer wall of glass that was not structural. Although the glass was not operational, it did serve as a low-cost material to keep out the elements and allow for a high degree of natural lighting within the building. Lever House NYC was the second significant structure within the city to make use of the glass curtain design. The first was the U.N. Secretariat Building which had also been built in 1952.

The Lever House NYC was built as the American headquarters for the British soap company Lever Brothers. Lever Brothers president, Charles Luckman, expressed to Bunshaft that he wish for a “sparkling” design that would align with the company’s image. Bunshaft, in turn, responded with a shiny glass tower that would reflect the ideal image for a soap manufacturer.

 Lever House NYC
 Lever House NYC
As to the Lever Brothers, it would go on to merge into Unilever in 1930. The Lever Brothers division remained in the building until 1997 when it relocated to Greenwich,CT. The parent company, Unilever, does still maintain a small presence in the building though. Lever Brother’s former president, Charles Luckman, who many labeled the “Boy Wonder of Business” would go on to architect some magnificent buildings of his own including the existing Madison Square Garden.

In the 1990s the Lever House NYC fell into a period of decline when nearly all of its original glass, so meticulously selected for a uniform appearance, had been haphazardly replaced over the years. Forty years after its unveiling, ninety-nine percent of the glass had already been replaced at least once, giving it the appearance of a patchwork quilt. In 1998, though building’s owners began an extensive renovation which has since restored the building to its original luster of uniformity and elegance along Park Avenue.