Olympic materials like steel and glass was the

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Last updated: July 24, 2019

Olympic Tower near of St. Patricks Cathedral Source: ANDREW ALPEM, (1975), New York’s Fabulous Apartments, Dover Publications Inc, pp 159 In New York’s Manhattan, one of Fifth Avenue’s fewtruly Miesian designs and the first mixed-use structure to be constructed onFifth Avenue, 645 Fifth Avenue, better known as Olympic Tower, was constructedas a joint venture of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and Arlen Realty& Development.  Completed in 1976 toplans by Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill, the 52-story building is a work ofsevere elegance.  It has 226 condominiumapartments on its top 29 floors, more than 250,000 square feet of office spaceon floors 2 through 21, retail space and a through-block public arcade. Highlypopular with the jet-set of its time, its deep-brown glass façade provides aglittering contrast to the recently restored limestoneof St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the south…as well as, one suspects,inspiration for the later design of Trump Tower several blocks to the north.

The buildingseems to successfully comply with the works of the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe whose pioneering workin modern architecture and take on the modernist international style exemplifiedthe Fifth Avenue’s skyscraper. Developed in 1920’s the International Style speciallyknown for its clean lines and flat surfaces, the lack of ornaments or colourand use of mass-produced, lightweight industrial materials like steel and glasswas the first fundamentally original architectural style since the Gothic andbecame the dominant style up worldwide until the 1970’s. Mies’ nearby SeagramBuilding completed in 1958 flaunting its glass and metal, and foregoing theheavy stone and brick used in ornamental facades of previous decades, set astandard for the straightforward, modern bronze and dark glass skyscraper andits structure and minimalistic geometries.Seagram Building made thegrand gesture of setting back the building 100 feet from the street edge, whichcreated a highly active urban and open plaza that creates a graciouspedestrian space with its two large fountains surrounded by generous outdoorseating. Where Mies distanced himself from New York urban morphology, lotline development, and the conventional economics of skyscraper construction, theOlympic Tower failed to do so by providing no sidewalk landscape whatsoever.This results in a reasonably busy area when considerable traffic is present anda lack of procession to the entry of the building that would cleverly provide thethreshold that linked the city with the skyscraper.

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However, Olympic Tower wasinnovative in two respects. First it was the city’s first major mixed-use towerin midtown when it was built, combining apartments, commercial space, retailstores and a public shopping arcade which has a large, skylit, south-facing,multi-tiered waterfall, 9-meter high ceiling and a café. Moreover, it providesmany of the facilities and services one expects of a hotel, such as a restaurant,a barber shop, a hairdressing salon and an international newsstand. Secondly, ithad an unusual structure that consisted of a 30-story cast-in-placereinforced-concrete frame apartment building over a 21-story steel-framedoffice building. The whole facade is clad in brown-tinted glass which gives the189 meters tall building a solid, almost black, and highly reflective surface,providing both a contrasting backdrop for views of the St. Patrick’s Cathedralfrom the south as well as reflections of it.

Source: ANDREW ALPEM, (1975), New York’s Fabulous Apartments, Dover Publications Inc, pp 159   The plan of a typical cornersuite is shown left. The 226 apartments that are in the top 29 floors feel overwhelmingin number and the lack of balconies add up to the feeling of confinement.  The apartments were however designed with 2.7-meterhigh ceilings, which was slightly higher than the norm at the time of itsconstruction, and floor-to-ceiling windows providing `and St. Patrick’sCathedral.

When it comes to the planning the apartments are basicallyconventional. A two-bedroom apartment has a large entrance foyer that leadsinto an 80-meter long living room and the bedrooms on the lower level that allprovide views of the Manhattan skyline. The enclosed kitchen and the bathrooms arelocated at the ‘blind’ sides of the apartment. In conclusion, the buildingincorporates some clever design touches, such as its innovative constructionsystem, its first to be seen mix usage and its location within New York’s Manhattanthat provides a bright and interesting contrast to St. Patrick’s Cathedral butsome poor ones as well. Overall, it is a rather generic addition to the list ofbuildings built according to the International Style. By the time of its constructionthe architectural style in question was already in the twilight of its life.

Olympic Tower’s architecture was nothing sort of oppressively banal to thispoint offering no original approach to it and was nowhere near innovative as SeagramBuilding was when it was built in 1958. It is a fair attempt but not aninteresting one.             References 1 MARIHVATTUM and CHRISTIAN HERMANSEN, (2004), TracingModernity: Manifestations of the Modern in Architecture and the City, Routledge,pp. 219   

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