410 Park Avenue: Chase Manhattan Bank

Chase Manhattan Bank,  410 Park Avenue  Emery Roth and Sons with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, 1956; completed 1959 Built FAR: 20.2 proposed 21.6 NOT ON REVISED LIST

410 Park Avenue
Emery Roth and Sons with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, 1956; completed 1959

410 Park Avenue is an office building designed by Emery Roth & Sons in 1956 and completed in 1959. It forms a significant pair with the slightly earlier 400 Park Avenue, and together they give a perfect image of the design and development of the commercial office building on Park Avenue in the post-war period.

410 Park Avenue is significant for the quality of its design, using the new language of the glass and aluminum curtain wall within the envelope of the 1916 zoning code. It is also significant as the work of two notable architectural firms, Emery Roth and Sons and Skidmore Owings and Merrill, which both played an important role in the development of American modernism in the post World War II period, in particular in Midtown but also worldwide, in the case of SOM. We recommend it for consideration as an individual landmark, with a request that it be considered along with its neighbor, 400 Park Avenue, with which it forms a highly significant grouping.

The building’s architecture is significant in that it follows the massing dictated by the 1916 zoning code (an old law by 1955) using the language of modern architecture and together with its neighbor at 400 Park demonstrates the possibilities inherent in the metal and glass curtain wall: it is particularly significant because the design is the result of a collaboration between Emery Roth and Sons and Skidmore Owings and Merrill who were hired when Chase Manhattan Bank became a major tenant. SOM combined two floors to create a piano nobile for Chase on the second floor and the building “was restyled inside and out by SOM to befit the dignity of Chase Manhattan Bank. . . . The skin [designed by SOM] follows a modular grid that does not quite fit Roth’s setbacks, which are non-modular. This lack of fit (most visible on the side street) has created odd left-over pieces, but these oddities add to the building’s appeal, calling attention to the differences between the two systems, thereby revealing the nature of the design. The result is something new: the grid is a unit of organization, not a means of composition.” The scale of the curtain wall is larger than at 400 Park and the choice of its materials and colors hints at the choices SOM was making for the curtain wall of the Pepsi Cola building (SOM 1958-60, NYC Landmark, 1994).

When the “wedding cake” buildings were built in Midtown, they were favored by owners and tenants for their efficiency but were generally condemned by critics. Time has allowed us to appreciate them for what they are – profoundly urban buildings giving meaningful shape to the post-war cityscape: as early as 1965, Team Ten founder, “architect Peter Smithson noted ‘ . . . Lever House is meaningless in the town pattern – routine Emery Roth perversely enough makes more sense’. The Minimalists, Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson, Mel Bochner, et al. were interested in the setback blocks, taking photographs of building setbacks, in effect seeing them as Minimalist Art. LeWitt wrote ‘ . . it might be time to take a new look at the ziggurats. Many will be seen as valuable works of art.’

References:

Columbia University CLIO: “Emery Roth & Sons” write up for drawings archive. Available online: http://library.columbia.edu/indiv/avery/da/collections/emery_roth_sons.html

Killian, Tom, “Brutalism – The True Story of Mid Century Modernism” (unpublished manuscript.)

Le Witt, Sol, Arts Magazine, November 1966.

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