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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Skyscraper City European Modernism in New York
Starrett-Lehigh Building
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European Modernism in New York
Starrett-Lehigh Building
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This is also a period when European modern ideas are very slowly beginning to filter into New York. European Modernism developed in the 1910s and the 1920s, but New York was a very conservative city and preferred to use much more conservative architectural forms. But by about 1930, some European modern ideas begin to appear in New York, nowhere more dramatically than at the Starrett-Lehigh Building, from 1930 to 1931, on the Hudson River waterfront. This building was designed by the firm of Cory and Cory, which specialized in industrial buildings, working, interestingly, with a Japanese immigrant architect named Yasuo Matsui, who was involved in a lot of skyscraper design in New York as well. This building has the horizontal massing, the ribbons of windows, the exposed concrete floors, the industrially made products, like concrete-and-steel windows—all of these industrial ideas that were imported to New York for one of the first times from Germany. These came from German ideas of exploiting the beauty of industrially made products to create something that is very dramatic. Now of course you were building it in New York, and it had to follow the 1916 zoning law. So you see that it has some setbacks, especially on the right-hand side of the building, which were a reflection of the requirements of the law. And then you have these spectacular horizontal ribbons of window, alternating with ribbons of brickwork, alternating with ribbons of exposed concrete flooring—and no applied ornament. This is almost the antithesis of the art-deco buildings, which were popular at this time because they were filled with beautiful, applied-ornamental detail. But here there is no applied ornament. The beauty and the drama is just the industrially made products.

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