[Editor’s Note: The following are reader-submitted response to a back-page comment written by Pamela Jerome (“The Mid-Century Modernist Single-Glazed Curtain Wall Is an Endangered Species” AN 05_04.09.2014). Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ]
Pamela Jerome’s thoughtful comment on mid-century modernist curtain walls raises a number of important issues that deserve further study.
Having successfully redeveloped two major twentieth century commercial buildings, I believe that those buildings are probably the least understood in all of preservation theory. They were built by unsentimental men in pursuit of trade, commerce, and wealth. There was never a moment’s hesitation to alter them time and again as tastes changed, neighborhoods evolved, and tenants came and went. Those commercial cultural issues are just as important as the aesthetic issues inevitably associated with any building, and they are very hard to reconcile.
Mid-century modernism really expressed the world’s rebirth from the horrors of World War II, a feeling clearly seen in every part of the UN campus. Lever House, the Seagram Building, and scores of other projects of that time express it, too. One of the ways we can see it is in the refusal to accept the state of the art as a limitation.
When Lever House survived Swanke Hayden Connell’s proposal that it be demolished and replaced with an SHC design based on a Wurlitzer jukebox, it was landmarked. Around that time, SOM, where I was an associate, received an AIA award for the building. In celebration, the partners displayed the original curtain wall details as fine art on our main floor, revealing that Lever House’s magnificent curtain wall was cobbled together from miscellaneous iron sections, bent plates, and who knows what else; and a far cry from the sophisticated aluminum curtain wall systems of the 1980s. With nothing to guide them but their desire, they were determined to create something brilliant with the means at their disposal. And they did.
David A. Lederman