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Video transcript

this is steven zucker i'm with matthew postal who's an architectural historian and we're looking at lever house we're on Park Avenue and 53rd Street in New York City lever house is really one of the great iconic post-war international style buildings it's gorgeous and it's so perfect it was a short several years ago by the architects who designed it Skidmore Owings and Merrill so they brought back the original not the original team but they brought back the original firm yeah the chief designer Gordon bunch after ed passed away but they had the original blueprints and they could get it back to where it was it is so pristine and it's so much about reflectivity and about light what makes this building significant well it's the first glass curtain wall office building in Manhattan this building is now completely inundated by much larger buildings that are also glass and steel but what did this look like originally in 1952 when it was finished can you imagine when it was finished all of the buildings that surrounded it were faced in brick and stone this really must have stood out it must have been incredibly radical how is it that a corporation could have been that brave to do something too extraordinary not to mention the Skidmore Owings and Merrill I think a lot of it has to do with the patron one of the chief officers at Lieber was a man named Charles Luckman not only had Luckman trained as an architect but he had been at Johnson wax when they worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on their signature hit ah so that's really interesting he saw firsthand the value that really innovative architecture might have on a company and the way that could produce a really sort of important public face for the firm yeah it definitely about publicity and of course Lieber interestingly enough made soap didn't they in this building it really just speaks of a kind of cleanliness and a kind of sharpness and a kind of clarity and that feeling would have been even stronger when it was completed because the limestone and brick buildings that surrounded it would have been 30 or 40 years old at that time and they probably would have needed a good cleaning and so this building is this gorgeous reflective green glass clear glass this steel trim lumen aluminum and then there's this beautiful marble this is white marble that it just amplifies the sense of modernity and of a kind of industrial nature it's really very strict in its geometry in the way in which it's balanced the building is really made up of two buildings isn't it it's two forms one horizontal and the other Burdick right of course it's actually integrated physically but visually it really does look like two objects one stacked on the other almost one floating over the over the other I found them balanced against each other so it was Gordon Bunn shaft really developing these ideas himself or were these ideas that he was borrowing and where does this come from it's in the air when I look at this building rather than pointing at one source I'd rather point to two different sources and that would be the ideas of the French architect Luke Abruzzi a and the architect Mies van der Rohe and both of them were really interested in taking in industrial culture and introducing that to what had up to that point been a fairly new architecture had been fairly old fashioned and really historical in its view and so it's really interesting that you have an American then putting into practice these European ideas how did that work the Great Depression of the 30s the Second World War we were one of the few places where one could attempt to put those ideas into place but now here in a corporate environment right they'd use these ideas at the United Nations a year or two earlier but this is the first time that American corporation embraces these ideas kind of set the trend so one of the things that I'm really interested in about this building is this interior but still exterior space because you know when you look at the building from across the street it's the horizontal slab it's the vertical slab but you come underneath into the courtyard into the courtyard and the whole space opens up yeah well where else in New York can you sit in the center of the space and look out in three directions into the next block and the whole building feels open in that way when you look through the vertical slab for instance especially the corners you can see in one pane of glass and then out the other right through it's fabulous it's almost as if the exterior is almost permeable membrane and it's just simply holding in the heat it's just holding out the rain it's so different than the way the architecture had traditionally been constructed the way that a building usually fits yet it doesn't feel solid and it probably took a little getting used to