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Thread: Chrysler Trylons - Three pyramids by Philip Johnson

  1. #1

    Default Chrysler Trylons - Three pyramids by Philip Johnson

    From New York Times

    May 9, 2001


    After a half-century of practice, Philip Johnson would seem to be the architect least in need of an out-of- town tryout.

    But his latest creation — three pyramids as sharp as pinstriped crystal shards and as tall as a seven- story building — is so structurally complex that it required a full-scale trial run last year in Rimouski, Quebec, about 590 miles northeast of 42nd Street.

    Having passed the test, the steel framework was shipped to New York, reassembled between the Chrysler Building and 666 Third Avenue and sheathed in semireflective blue-gray glass. With the removal of sidewalk scaffolding three days ago, New Yorkers got their first full glimpse of the Chrysler Trylons, as they are called, whose crazy angles are borrowed from the spire above.

    "It's a monument for 42nd Street," Mr. Johnson said, "to give you the top of the Chrysler Building at street level."

    More precisely, it is a retail pavilion developed by Tishman Speyer Properties as part of its three-year, $100 million Chrysler Center project, incorporating the landmark Chrysler Building on Lexington Avenue, 666 Third Avenue (formerly the Kent Building) and the site between them on 42nd Street.

    "The pyramids are the exclamation point," said Jerry I. Speyer, the president and chief executive of Tishman Speyer. "It's a real surprise and an artist's gift to the city."

    Among other milestones in Mr. Johnson's career are the landmark Rockefeller guest house (1950), at 242 East 52nd Street; the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964), with Richard Foster; the former AT&T headquarters (1984), at Madison Avenue and 55th Street, with John Burgee; and the "Lipstick Building" (1985), at Third Avenue and 53rd Street, also with Mr. Burgee.

    When the pyramids were planned, Mr. Speyer said, the likeliest tenant would be a restaurant. Today, Tishman Speyer is marketing the space as a showcase and waiting to see who is interested. The asking rent for the entire three-level, 22,000-square-foot retail pavilion, of which the pyramids are a part, is $83 a square foot annually. The more desirable first floor alone, which can be rented separately, would command $150 a square foot.

    For historical symmetry, the most noteworthy prospective tenant at Chrysler Center would have been DaimlerChrysler A.G., successor to the company founded by Walter P. Chrysler, who developed the 77-story skyscraper that bears his name.

    DaimlerChrysler signed up last year for nearly 20,000 square feet at the top of the tower, including the former Cloud Club. But in January, faced with huge losses at its Chrysler division, the company decided not to move to the Chrysler Building, a spokeswoman said. Instead, it will keep its New York office in the Seagram Building at Park Avenue and 52nd Street.

    (It was at the Seagram Building that Mr. Speyer first met Mr. Johnson 40 years ago. The future developer was a student at Columbia College, preparing a paper comparing the Woolworth Building with the Seagram Building, on which Mr. Johnson had worked with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.)

    Mr. Johnson has never particularly admired the Chrysler Building, designed by William Van Alen and completed in 1930. But he allowed in 1998 that it is the "most loved building in New York."

    So his firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, turned for inspiration to the chevronlike windows in the stainless-steel spire, the very sort of "zigzag trimmings" that Mr. Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock dismissed in their 1932 book, "The International Style."

    The result was intersecting three-sided pyramids 57 feet, 68 feet and 73 feet high, each differently angled. The frame is made of 2,000 feet of 10-inch steel tubing — enough to reach twice the height of the Chrysler Building — covered by 535 panes of glass in 186 different shapes, made by Antamex International.

    "It is all compound angles," said Thomas G. Evans, project engineer for the Turner Construction Company, the construction manager. "But everything they did fit perfectly." Mr. Johnson's firm worked with Adamson Associates Architects. The frame was engineered by Severud Associates and fabricated by Mometal, which tested it last July in Rimouski, on the St. Lawrence River.

    One engineering challenge, Mr. Johnson said, was to ensure that the narrow peaks could withstand heavy winds.

    Even after testing, the structure had surprises in store, like wildly angular interiors recalling the Expressionist sets of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."

    "These things pop out at you in the funniest places," Mr. Johnson said last week, after his first visit to the nearly completed space. "It was meant to break the regularity of the building. And it sure does."

    "I want to congratulate the owners," the architect said, "because this was not the cheapest thing to do. I don't know how much it cost."

    Mr. Speyer assured him, "You don't want to know." And he wouldn't say.

  2. #2

    Default Chrysler Trylons


    2000 Renovation Project of the Year

    Chrysler East Building

    Tishman Speyer Properties of New York, N.Y., has transformed the former Kent Building into the Chrysler East Building Addition, and with adjoining properties, including the Chrysler Building, created Chrysler Center - changing both the streetscape and skyline on "the other 42nd Street."

    To create this $53 million transformation - which took place while the building was occupied - a new facade was added following a build-out rather than a buildup of the existing building. The buildout added 150,000-sq.-ft. to the west side of the building, turning it from a side core building into a central core structure.

    Because the building was occupied, nights and weekend work became the rule of thumb for this project's construction crew. To add the 150,000 sq. ft. of new construction, existing columns at the building, 666 Third Avenue, were stripped to bare steel and then enclosed in concrete.

    And, because of the new load created by the additional space, the building's existing columns, from the foundations to the 14th floor, had to be reinforced. To reinforce the columns, a composite structure was developed. The composite structure encased the existing columns with concrete and included the addition of rebar and shear studs to increase the load capacity of the columns to add more than 20 floors on top of them.

    In addition, some of the footings were underpinned. To achieve this, three of the existing footings were enlarged by adding new concrete and footings under the existing footings. This required rock excavation inside and below the existing structure.

    At the 14th floor, the existing structure at the north side of the building required a two-story-high truss system to transfer the load of 22 floors above it.

    Other challenges included recladding the facade and construction of pyramids on grade. The new facade, consisting of dark gray curtain wall glass with a "bustle" or big bay window that orients the tower toward the Chrysler Building, was reclad to make the addition and the existing building appear as if it were one. The three 65-ft.-high glazed glass pyramids, located id-block at street level, were designed to provide cohesion to the block. The idea of the pyramids is to recall the top of the Chrysler Building, which at night, has been described as chards of light. The windows at the top of the Chrysler Building are triangular. Therefore, the street level pyramids help bring the image of the top of the Chrysler Building to street level and add to the cohesiveness and identity of Chrysler Center.

    One of the project's biggest design challenges was to figure out how to put a new skin on the building within four inches of the existing facade without removing the existing exterior. The solution was to allow the existing skin to remain because the design and construction team was legally limited to four in. beyond that with which to install a new skin and to have a custom-made curtain wall that met the design specifications. The curtain wall was installed using Hek machines. These consist of a moving platform mounted to the building with tracks around the entire perimeter of the existing building to allow workers access to the outside skin without disrupting tenants' day-to-day operations inside. It also provided for a lot safer operation than a typical hanging scaffold.

    The jury said the Chrysler East Building was a difficult project to execute because of its logistics, design specifications and the fact that all of the work had to be performed in the building while it was occupied, including the construction of an addition on one side of the building. They praised the project team for its efforts in helping the owner transform the streetscape and skyline to create Chrysler Center.

    Chrysler Trylons during construction on 26 November 2000.

  3. #3

    Default Chrysler Trylons

    Working the Angles
    Philip Johnson may be the past half-century's greatest architectural channeler, though in his dotage he's been channeling no one more than himself.

    Philip Johnson has been working overtime at the Xerox machine lately. In the fall of 1999, the New York architect completed a see-through garden folly composed of distorted pyramids set at precarious angles. But six months ago, the identical idea popped up at the groundbreaking of a mixed-use project in Guadalajara, where he has designed a children's museum. New Yorkers needn't venture out of town to see Johnson replicate himself. Final touches are now being put on the Chrysler Trylons on 42nd Street, next to the Chrysler Building. Bookended by granite-clad cubes, three phantasmagoric triangles from 57 to 73 feet tall spike their way into our consciousness. Developer Tishman Speyer first anticipated that the 22,000-square-foot structure would attract a restaurant, but no one has yet signed up for the attention-grabbing glass shards.

    Johnson's official biographer, Franz Schulze, has said that anyone ready to accuse Johnson of lacking originality has to wait his turn in line. Ambitious beyond his talent (or, as Frank Lloyd Wright said, educated beyond his capacity), Johnson is one of the century's most gifted copyists. But now the New York architect is outdoing even himself, paying his career the final compliment of cloning. For Johnson's true gift, what really sets him apart from other architects, is mimetic genius. He has long been able to spot talents and scratch their backs even as he picks through their portfolios, re-creating designs nearly as good as the originals. Then he smooths over the whole transaction with panache over low-cholesterol lunches at The Four Seasons.

    The pattern started back in the forties, when he cribbed from the Mies van der Rohe archives, left in his trust when he was architecture curator at MoMA. In 1949, he completed the Glass House before Mies could build one himself, and even if Johnson got the corners wrong and sneaked wood ceiling joists into a supposedly all-steel structure, he established a wildly successful modus operandi for a career constructed on ideas plucked from the greater talents he cultivated. In a recent lecture, Frank Welch -- author of Philip Johnson & Texas -- cited the probable source for each of the buildings that Johnson designed there. The habit came to a titillating head at the College of Architecture, University of Houston, when, in a succès de scandale, he shamelessly copied plans by eighteenth-century architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux. Harold Bloom wrote that poets suffer "the anxiety of influence," but Johnson's gift was to take the influence without the anxiety. As the philandering Prince admitted in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, "I was trained to be charming, not sincere."

    Untouchable because of his long-standing association with MoMA, the Teflon don of American architecture emerged by the eighties a full-fledged Warhol creature, famous for his fame. His Chippendale top for the AT&T headquarters on Madison Avenue was, indeed, a classy variant of the soup can. Developers loved the attitude behind the image-oriented architecture and hired him because his celebrity guaranteed press. Three weeks ago at the Guggenheim, during one of Johnson's perennial Last Suppers (to fête his 95th birthday), all the speakers skirted the delicate matter of his very uneven work. In a private remark, one prominent architect noted that the models of his buildings for developer Gerald Hines, carved in ice and displayed on pedestals, improved as they melted.

    At the risk of praising faintly, let's admit that the Trylons ranks with the Glass House among Johnson's best buildings. It is a good and, to a point, interesting design that harbors the germs of a provocative architecture. What has changed between the Mies-derived glass pavilion and the auto-plagiarized glass pavilion on 42nd Street is that intimations of irrationality have bent the solid Euclidean geometries out of shape. Johnson has crossed from Plato to Heraclitus, from immutable ideals to flux. After flirting all these years with Apollo, Johnson has run off with Dionysus.

    Johnson's mentor Mies realized that glass buildings lend themselves to plays of reflection, and here on 42nd Street, with angled pyramids, Johnson delights us with a semi-reflective glass-curtain wall that throws the surrounding buildings into kaleidoscopic frenzy.

    Johnson, however, does not develop the ideas of disruption and chaos much beyond the initial Expressionist distortion, but leaves them diagrammatic, even idealized. The building looks explosive, but in its polite elegance it doesn't disturb the cubic masses that police either side. Johnson may have brought the tiara of the Chrysler Building down to street level, but the idea remains a thin one-liner that shortchanges its premise of complexity. Johnson came of age with the emergence of advertising as a social force, and long ago he mastered the art of the sound bite. In this vertiginous skyscraper canyon, he has built the kind of visual slogan on which 30-second commercials thrive -- the catchy image essential to branding. He has made a complex idea simplistic, digestible at a glance.

    Like most of his designs, this building has little interior life. The pyramids that, on the outside, seem to have been summoned to an otherworldly gravitational state reveal themselves to be overcontrolled inside. The poststructuralist façade that advertises its instabilities is heavily girdered with ten-inch tubular-steel supports. Had the structure been integrated into the edges of the pyramids, or had the planes of the pyramids been made into a space frame, the interior space might have flowed up into the tapering volumes. But a V-shaped column crowds the central area, and the heavy structure oppresses the space. There are redeeming moments in a couple of corners that offer shooting views to adjacent façades, but you have to find them. For all the kerfuffle outside, there is little spatial payoff inside.

    In a letter to his mother, cited in Schulze's biography, Johnson writes, "I was stinging under Raphael's" -- his philosophy teacher's -- "reproach that I was a lazy thinker and never criticized my thoughts, so I got busy and thought for five minutes." Some 75 years later, the self-advertising Johnson may have extended his fifteen minutes of fame to a full hour: He is his own best construction. But he still has difficulty mustering five minutes of concentration on any other subject, and it shows on 42nd Street. He continues to be unable to sustain ideas and make them his own. A long career has been wasted on an architect with a short attention span.

    From the August 6, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.

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