Designated: December 19, 2023
Ulrich Franzen’s Barkin, Levin & Company Office Building offers both a history of the development of Modernism in America, and an education about the architectural development of Postwar Queens.
Ulrich Franzen was born in Dusseldorf and died in Santa Fe. That trajectory reflects the paths of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, whom Franzen studied under at Harvard. After graduation, Franzen worked in the office of I.M. Pei.
This spectacular Modernist lineage brings us to Queens, where 61 percent of all buildings constructed in New York City from 1930 to 1943 were built. This architectural fecundity continued in the postwar years, because the population of Queens rose an average of 20 percent each decade from 1940 to 1970, a time when it was falling or staying steady in other boroughs.
The 1958 Barkin, Levin building stood out among the deluge of new buildings. Upon completion, it was awarded “first prize in the industrial class” by the Queens Chamber of Commerce for its “ultra modern glass-wall” design.
The building also stands out because of its siting, which includes a landscaped plot enclosed by low brick walls, concrete walkways, and grass lawns. The fact that an industrial building, designed as a coat factory, was intended to be surrounded by a landscaped campus, speaks not only to Franzen’s design intent but also to the fact that postwar Queens was still so relatively bucolic that such a large parcel of land was available for this project.
The fact that both the building and its siting remain intact makes it even more remarkable and worthy of recognition and protection.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
Long Island City
The westernmost portion of Queens remained predominantly rural and undeveloped until around 1870, when Long Island City was incorporated from the nascent industrial communities of Astoria, Blissville, Hunters Point and Ravenswood. The start of this area’s growth began when the Long Island Rail Road moved...Explore the Neighborhood >
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