UNIVERSITY OF STRATHCLYDEDEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURECULTURALSTUDIES 3 The Olympic TowerA critical Review 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 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe inspired designs and the first mixed-use buildingto be erected on Fifth Avenue, 645 Fifth Avenue, widely known as Olympic Tower,was constructed as a joint venture of Greek shipping businessman AristotleOnassis and Arlen Realty & Development. Completed in 1976 by Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill, the 52-story structureis an elegant addition to the long list of Miesian designs and 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 dark bronze glass façade provides a dazzlingcontrast to the recently restored limestone of St.
Patrick’s Cathedral to the south…as well as, one might suspects, inspiration for the later design ofTrump Tower several blocks to the north.Thebuilding seems to successfully comply with the works of the German-Americanarchitect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe whosepioneering work in modern architecture and take on the modernist internationalstyle exemplified the Fifth Avenue’s skyscraper. Developed in 1920’s the InternationalStyle specially known for its clean lines and flat surfaces, the lack of decorativefeatures or bright colour and use of mass-produced, lightweight industrialmaterials like steel and glass was the first in essence original architecturalstyle since the Gothic and became the dominant style up worldwide until the1970’s. Mies’ nearby Seagram Building completed in 1958 avoided the use ofstone and brick in ornamental facades apparent in preceding decades, paving theway for the simple, modern dark-brown glass high-rise building and itsstructural system and minimalistic geometries.Seagram Building made thegrand gesture of setting back the building 30 meters from the street edge,which created 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. However, Olympic Tower wasinnovative in two aspects. 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 views of 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 glittering 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 unoriginal tothis point offering no original approach to it and was nowhere near innovative asSeagram Building was when it was built in 1958. Is it a fair attempt? Yes, but notan interesting one at the time of its construction. References 1 https://www.cityrealty.
com/nyc/midtown-east/olympic-tower-641-fifth-avenue/review/3965 1 MARIHVATTUM and CHRISTIAN HERMANSEN, (2004), TracingModernity: Manifestations of the Modern in Architecture and the City, Routledge,pp. 219