Iconic postmodern New York lobby doomed to destruction: can it be saved?


Deep in the narrow canyons of the financial epicenter of the West lies a misplaced but neglected courtyard that is as idyllic and awe-inspiring as the whimsical gardens of the East. Located on land between Pine Street and Wall Street in New York City is a postmodern corporate style juggernaut — 60 Wall Street, at one time the tallest corporate building in the city’s financial district.

The skyscraper, including its distinctive lobby, was designed by the late Irish-born architect and protégé of Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, also known for the Ford Foundation and the expansion in 1967 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both notable. for their impressive interior gardens. 60 Wall Street is a mix of architectural styles that changes shape; As the architects of the Art Deco movement did at the turn of the 20th century, Roche embellished his work with ancient motifs filtered through the prism of modern engineering: the exterior is a fusion of Greek Revival elements, neoclassical and postmodern, with their intricate structural ornamentation details modulated as simpler forms.

60 The current private public space of Wall Street, designed by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo in 1989. Photograph courtesy of KRJDA.

Pillar rooms of twin 70-foot-tall stone columns anchor the base of the 51-story tower, creating the illusion of a granite curtain framing the entrances to the north and south. Within this facade, an architectural colonnade transfers passage to a monumental atrium designated by the city as “private public space,” a type of zoning regulatory incentive that grants additional airspace and floor space in exchange. of a usable open space dedicated to the enjoyment of the public. The styling of this interior alludes to Mughal design: it is a winter garden with ornate octagonal columns supporting mirrored ceilings framed in white trellis, inducing a reflective kaleidoscopic effect that Roche is known to use.

Photograph courtesy of KRJDA.

The atrium offers an escape from the claustrophobia of the financial district. In the morning, a crowd of rush hour workers rush there to get to their offices and for the rest of the day a mix of people from all walks of life congregates under the seasonal plantings and ornamental white stones of 20 feet tall that adorn its interior walls.

As all architectural styles have done at some point, postmodernism goes through its own personal phase of rejection by the status quo. A glove of renovations disguised as “updates” by real estate developers who view the style as outdated, undesirable for modern business rental and therefore, in theory, bad for the bottom line, have occurred in such spaces. across the United States in recent years, including the destruction of the AT&T building atrium at 550 Madison and the Hall of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History, both in New York City.

60 Wall Street, completed 1989. Photograph courtesy of KRJDA.

60 Wall Street faces a similar fate. Its current occupant, Deutsche Bank, will move to the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle in the coming months. Recent lease changes have left 60 Wall Street vulnerable to sweeping renovations: part of the ownership group, the Paramount Group, has already redeveloped another KRJDA lobby in the old Deutsche Bank building on West 52nd Street, Stripping it off of any unique quality in favor of something more sterile and considerably bland. It was, in my opinion, a tragic loss of one of New York’s most beautiful spaces, one that should never happen again.

However, the Paramount Group has construction plans, slated to begin in the summer of 2022, to demolish the 60 Wall Street atrium inside and out in favor of a narrow skylight and a 100-foot-high green wall designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox. Additionally, the exterior stone colonnade will be targeted for an intense update to the point of being totally unrecognizable, despite its overt charm and attention to detail. To hail these cliché design decisions as “new” and “alive” comes at the cost of yet another huge blow to Roche’s historic genius legacy.

The KRJDA design of the 60 Wall Street atrium is loved by many fans of the postmodern movement who, time and time again, are faced with the need to justify its continued architectural existence, as iconic examples of the era are routinely misunderstood. and destroyed. In 2018, Philip Johnson’s AT&T building became New York’s youngest landmark; However, his designation was purely external and couldn’t stop the fate of his beloved PoMo lobby. Without better preservation of these works of art, we face a bleak future: one without style and deprived of unique architectural experiences.

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