Architect Philip Johnson

Sunday past was Architect Philip Johnson’s 106th birthday anniversary. This model shows the lobby at 885 Third Avenue, where my classmate Debbie Shapiro and I designed the core, lobby and plaza with Mr. Johnson. Gerald Hines was the developer, his first project in New York City.

The massing of the tower is derived from the zoning diagram; the stepping of the floor plates is tangential to the rear elevator core. We initially had the core centered in the building and then moved it back to free-up the floor plates. The tower floor plates are ellipses and the ground floor storefront is not, as it steps in from the ellipse above at a fixed dimension.

Not all the ground floor columns are structural, as some were added for the rhythm of the facade. This was not Mr. Johnson’s first job for Mr. Hines, who trusted Johnson’s judgement, particularly when it came to investing for the architecture.

The genius on this project was structural engineer Ahmad Rahimian, his first job as a lead designer for Irwin Cantor. I may scan and post some of the structural drawings to illustrate the point.

I don’t know where the term “Lipstick Building” came from, but in any case it was later, after the tower was built. Mr. Johnson had a terrific sense of humor, but wasn’t amused by it, as well he should not have been; this is one of his best towers.


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