During this site visit we walked around observing the Seagram Building, Lever House, Citicorp, Lipstick Building Ford Foundations and the United Nations. These buildings were all built relatively around the same time, mid to late 1900’s. A specific style or design language is being developed for office/institutional buildings which is still noticeable in today’s typical office/ institutional buildings.
All with the exception of the Lipstick building, the massings were very similar but not exactly the same for the buildings we observed. They were all very rectilinear in massing. Not including the United Nations building, all the building’s massings are lifted up by the building’s columns. This was due to the fact that Le Corbusier’s five points of a new architecture heavily influenced and led the twentieth century modernist architectural movement, around the time the buildings we observed were constructed. The massing of the Lipstick Building is different compared to the other buildings because the architectural style is no longer modern but actually post modern. It’s elliptical massing was done on purpose to help it stand out among its neighboring buildings.
The first two buildings we observed, Lever House and the Seagram Building, sort of set the standard for design in the area of Park Avenue and not only that but also set a precedent for future office buildings to follow. A striking feature of these building is the absence of ornamentation on the building’s exterior. However, it could be argued that the mullions and different types of glass have become the ornamentation/decorative feature of the building’s facade. In the Lever House, there are two different tones of glass used, a darker non-transparent green glass which helps hide floor slabs, dropped ceilings and all mechanical work happening under the floor slab as well as a greenish transparent glass which allows you to peak into the different rooms/spaces within the building. Meanwhile in the Seagram Building, the facade consists of alternating bands of bronze plating and amber tinted glass that gets separated by the bronze toned I-beams which run vertically, imitating mullions. Uniquely for the Citicorp building, there’s less sense of transparency between the interior and exterior of the building until you’re higher up in the building because of its extremely thick and un-aesthetically pleasing columns, which are hard to miss walking along the streets.
When we talk about the evolution of the exterior skin of a building, we have to keep in mind that every building’s facade is unique in conception and that the way in which we design is constantly changing per discoveries made. The point being that the evolution of the exterior skin of a building is a process which is currently still occurring because we’re still designing unique building facades and not just making the same building over and over again. However, in the case of office and institutional buildings, I’ve noticed that no matter what massing the use of a curtain wall and the alternating between transparent glass and spandrel glass (or other non-transparent material) has become prevalent for these buildings. Which in a way has become a signature or identifying feature of the modern office/institutional buildings from both the present and the past.