Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Procession, profile, proportion

We would know 
them anywhere.

Panache is not
the taking of pride.
It's the giving of it.

Edmond Rostand had it right, and it's a shame that his Cyrano is only wasted by study in childhood, where élan and generosity are inherent - happily evolving, heuristically but naturally toward bearing and finesse. One fine day, the familiar comes home for dinner, the implicit theorem chalks itself on the blackboard, the inchoate kernel of architecture rises up from the street, giving promised form to hope. We are acquainted with what we wanted.

It takes a civilisation to keep its gifts. In the week before this page opened in 2010, an august but genial guide to consumption took it upon himself in his column in The New York Times to advise us of where and how to enjoy a drink out of doors in his city. Here, verbatim, is his guidance on where to go about this at midtown -

But once you’re in the Salon de Ning: wow. The Peninsula’s Midtown location affords you, to the north, a sweeping view of the Trump Tower to the right, a sliver of Central Park going all the way up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art dead ahead; the sleek towers of the Time Warner Center far to the left. You can set your elbows and your drink on a ledge that’s not obstructively high and take it all in while the sun sets, the city’s night lights come up, the traffic below lightens, the sound of it grows fainter, and a breeze ruffles your collar. This is what rooftop drinking is all about.

Probably not since André Soulé seated Mary Todhunter Clark and her mother at a marginal table at Le Pavillon has any arbiter so merited the praise, You have a nice restaurant, Sir, it's only a pity you don't know your New York. (Among her many other benefactions, she was then enduring a marriage to Nelson Rockefeller).

No one could accuse our merry hosts at this chain hotel of taking excessive care to conserve a sense of place, with their theme-park appointments and cultivation of degenerate dress. A parapet for elbows and booze says enough, of what it's all about. Yet it's our advisor's tour d'horison of construction vulgarities and eponymous regressions which takes our breath away at this altitude, given the alternative, chastising masterpiece in view. Not that anyone would appraise the Seagram Building from this perspective, any more than we'd judge a play by its intermission. But there it is. A coming home not of style, high or low, but of panache too radiant to refuse, a remission of distaste - a republic of its own, as Franklin said of our Constitution, if you can keep it.

Frank Bruni
The Tipsy Diaries
The New York Times
22 July 2010

A.F. Klercker

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Philip Johnson
Building and Plaza, 375 Park Avenue


  1. I am fortunate to work in an office on Park Avenue, only several blocks south of the Seagram Buiding, and I walk by it regularly. Seeing it never fails to take my breath away, in its beautiful, severe, elegance. It is one of the architectural treasures of the city, and frankly the world in my view. The juxtaposition of the Renaissance palazzo of the Racquet Club across the street is quite marvelous, and the proximity of Lever House, my next favorite "modern" office building in the city, within only a block or two is a delight to those of use who are students and lovers of architecture. It's really quite humbling, actually. Reggie

  2. The interplay of the 3 buildings - the one facing 375 and the other kitty-corner from it - truly is part of why we appreciate them all; but by virtue of being at the apex of this triangle it's naturally 375 that holds them together. The tint of 375's glass is so extremely harmonious with the Racquet Club, its bronze cladding being so recessive, that in many lights the respect of the younger building is positively melting. Its radical setback from the sidewalk, only the most obvious of its processional aspects, is further deferential to the opposite edifice.

    But it is Lever House (Gordon Bunshaft, for SOM) which plays off this setback in a plainly answering way, with the tower set deeply back atop its podium building, elevated for pedestrians below. (Is Lever not the façade HItchcock chose to typify New York, in the opening credits of "North by Northwest?"

    We'll be returning to the building recurringly, as the page unfolds, for so much of one's experience of New York is linked to it in one way or another. I thank you very much for the central 'confession,' if I may, in your contribution here. It is very moving to hear it affirmed by someone much more mature than I was, when I knew the building, that it does take the breath away, without exaggeration. But I believe it does so by way of being a great gift.

    I selected the elevation you see in this posting, to portray something not obvious from the street, as one of the corollaries with the first image. The 3/4 profile, of course, but something else. The shot of its cuffs on the upper mechanical floors is almost racy, and would certainly be suppressed today by lowering those functions and charging premium rents above. The gestures of this building are irreplaceably generous but ineffably poised - by severity, as you say, or mere certitude, I don't know..

    The humility you mention is disappearing as a response to the civic space in general, and yet is indispensable. I take it as another word for inspiration - as I think you do, in this comment - and is the apposite last word.