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Help Save Postmodernism

Postmodern architecture has been with us since the early 1970s—pushing back against spare Modernism with sometimes fanciful use of historic architectural elements. New York has striking examples. But few have received landmark designation. Help us change that.

Noted architect Robert A.M. Stern has proposed a list of Postmodern buildings he deems worthy of designation. Over the next several weeks, we will present buildings from his list and ask you to let us know your favorites.

Kevin Roche’s design for 60 Wall Street articulates the classical column with a Postmodern flair, crowning the 52-story tower with a capital of paired columns rendered from sets of bay windows supporting a classical pediment.

60 Wall Street – designed by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, photo by Mike Roberts

The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to landmark the fanciful, Egyptian-themed public atrium that Roche designed at 60 Wall Street, saying Postmodern architecture needed further study. The atrium has now been destroyed. There is an extensive body of work on this architecture and we don’t want to risk other losses.

60 Wall Street public atrium before interior redesign

We could still save the exterior of 60 Wall Street.

If you agree that 60 Wall Street should be landmarked, click here.

The “Lipstick Building” & The Paley Center for Media

The “Lipstick Building” – 885 Third Avenue, Manhattan
(Philip Johnson & John Burgee, 1986)

Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s unorthodox and arresting design for the often-called “Lipstick Building,” a 34-story ellipse-shaped tower sheathed in bands of red-polished granite and stainless steel, gets its name from the telescoping upper floors that create a dynamic effect instantly likened to a lipstick emerging from its canister.

The Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio)
25 West 52nd Street, Manhattan (Philip Johnson, 1991)

Philip Johnson’s Museum of Television and Radio is a striking success of Postmodernism’s revival of tradition and classicism: its 16-story limestone facade features turrets and a small pediment above a rounded arch at street level and is capped with four matching turrets on the tower above, a respectful and sculptural Postmodern form.

If you agree that these buildings should be landmarked, click here.


Asia Society Building & Islamic Cultural Center

Asia Society – 725 Park Avenue, Upper East Side Historic District
(Edward Larrabee Barnes, 1981)

The Asia Society building is a testament to Postmodernism’s desire to place new construction within its existing context. Its red Oklahoma granite façade follows the strong line of apartment buildings looming over Park Avenue and then is set back at the corner to allow for a subtler articulation on 70th Street that respects the neighboring historic brownstones.

Islamic Cultural Center – 1711 Third Avenue, Manhattan
(SOM, Michael McCarthy, 1991)

Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill’s Islamic Cultural Center is a Postmodern interpretation of the Islamic tradition of geometric—rather than figurative—architectural ornamentation. Rotated 29 degrees off the street grid to face Mecca, the eight-story mosque is clad in graying rose Stony Creek granite pierced by thin strips of glass. The copper-clad dome sits atop 12 large clerestory windows patterned with blue ceramic that recalls the blue tiles on the Great Mosque of Isfahan.

If you agree that these buildings should be landmarked, click here.

Storefront for Art and Architecture and Store facade at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel

Storefront for Art and Architecture – 97 Kenmare Street, Manhattan
(Vito Acconci and Steven Holl, 1993)

A collaboration between artist Vito Acconci and architect Steven Holl, the elevation of the Storefront for Art and Architecture uses 10 pivoting panels of concrete board at various orientations to disrupt the distinction between the interior space of the gallery and the exterior space of the street. In this postmodern design, the façade becomes permeable.

Store facade at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel – 781 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan (Michael Graves & Associates, 1984) located within Upper East Side Historic District

Only the facade of Michael Graves’ first retail store still exists, next to the entrance of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. A pink stone portal crowned by a golden Grecian vessel all set into a glass façade, the simplified design is a hallmark of Postmodernism’s classical revival that sticks out among the traditional and reserved designs of Fifth Avenue.

If you agree that these buildings should be landmarked, click here.

Trafalgar House & 712 Fifth Avenue (photo: KPF)

712 Fifth Avenue – At 56th Street
(KPF – Kohn Pedersen Fox, 1990)

712 Fifth Avenue towers above the landmark Fifth Avenue Rizzoli and Coty buildings, set back 50 feet from the Avenue so that its slender gray limestone and white marble silhouette appears to rise from a base of French neoclassical townhouses. As part of the development, a two-story jewelry store at 716 Fifth Avenue was replaced with a five-story neoclassical facade that matches the scale and style of the neighboring landmarks. What makes this building Postmodern is the play between the eclectic and historical buildings that form its base and the abstracted historical details on the 52-story tower, including massive granite quoins and a temple-like top.

The neoclassical facade at 716 Fifth Avenue, designed in 1986 by Beyer Blinder Belle, is an essential part of the Postmodern character of the tower at 712 Fifth Avenue, completing the historical base formed by the Rizzoli and Coty Buildings. Now, this Postmodern fabric is in danger: a proposal in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission would strip 716 Fifth Avenue of its differentiated neoclassical limestone detailing and replace it with a contemporary travertine facade that matches the neighboring building at 718 Fifth Avenue. The proposed modification would destroy the Postmodern genius of 712 Fifth Avenue, defacing the subtly differentiated but cohesive historicist base that was designed to play off the abstract detailing of the tower.

Trafalgar House – 180 East 70th Street
(KPF – Kohn Pedersen Fox, 1986)

At Trafalgar House, Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) embraced traditional imagery to project the aura of history, permanence, and luxury of classic Upper East Side apartment houses. The 33-story Edwardian Georgian-inspired tower is clad in red brick and topped with a triple-pedimented crown. Trafalgar House is Postmodern for the way it imitates the style of classic Upper East Side apartment houses at a monumental scale, pasting historical ornament onto the once-austere high-rise to create a building that looks new but feels historic.

If you agree that these buildings should be landmarked, click here.

Kol Israel Synagogue, 3211 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (RAMSA, 1989)
Postmodernism didn’t just borrow from ancient Greece and Rome. Set in a residential East Midwood neighborhood of free-standing houses, Stern’s Kol Israel Synagogue riffs on the Mediterranean-inspired architectural features popular in nearby homes. Exposed rafters under a clay tile roof, medieval-looking wood doors topped by an almost Moorish tympanum, decorative bands of brickwork, thick wood window mullions, and ornamental nail heads reflect the historical roots of the synagogue’s Sephardic congregation.

Brooklyn Law School, 250 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY (RAMSA, 1994)
It is no surprise that as an advocate for recognition of Postmodern architecture today, Robert A. M. Stern’s portfolio includes some excellent Postmodern designs of his own. Stern’s addition to the Brooklyn Law School is emblematic of his practice. Borrowing from Classical architectural styles, the eight-story pre-cast concrete bell tower features pediments, medallions, triglyphs, and a post-and-lintel pavilion all reinterpreted in a modern way.

If you agree that these buildings should be landmarked, click here.

At the end of the series, we will unveil the 10 most popular buildings and forward them to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Thank you for helping us save the very best of the City we love.

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