For Immediate Release: December 19, 2023
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Long Island City's Barkin, Levin & Company Office Pavilion Is a Distinguished Example of Mid-20th Century Commercial Design by Architect Ulrich Franzen
East Midtown Manhattan's Modulightor Building Is a Late-Modern Style Design by Architect Paul Rudolph Featuring a Visually Striking Exterior
New York –Today, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to designate two modern buildings as individual landmarks: the Barkin, Levin & Company Office Pavilion in Queens and the Modulightor Building in Manhattan.
The Barkin, Levin & Company Office Pavilion, located at 12-12 33rd Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, is a distinguished example of mid-20th century commercial architecture, a graceful minimalist building set on a small, landscaped parcel of land and enclosed by low brick walls, concrete walkways, and grass lawns. Constructed in 1957-58 as part of a factory complex, the building was one of the first independent projects from architect Ulrich Franzen, who worked with I. M. Pei for five years before leaving to start his own office. It features an unusual structural system: nine steel pillars that support umbrella-like ceiling vaults that extend up and outside the glass walls, shading the pavilion. The Barkin, Levin & Company Office Pavilion has been described by the New York Times as "ultramodern" and praised by architectural historians.
The Modulightor Building, located at 246 East 58th Street in Manhattan, is a highly significant late work by Paul Rudolph, one of the 20th century's most innovative architects. It was designed in 1989 in the late-modern style and constructed in two phases. The first four floors were mostly complete by 1993, and the top two floors and roof deck were added by the architect Mark Squeo between 2010 and 2016, based on Rudolph drawings in the collection of the Library of Congress. The building features a visually striking exterior, with front and rear facades composed of intersecting and overlapping horizontal and vertical rectangles of varying projection and size, and painted steel I-beams that form jigsaw-like screens. The Modulightor Building takes its name from the architectural lighting company Rudolph founded in 1976 with Ernst Wagner, whose showroom originally occupied the lower floors and remains in the building today.
"New York City's streetscape has always served as a canvas for some of the world's most creative minds, and the buildings designated today highlight two exceptionally innovative designs by internationally prominent modern architects, one at the start of his career, and the other towards the end of it," said Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll. "I'm pleased that the Commission has chosen to recognize these modern architectural gems, and grateful that they'll be preserved for future generations to come."
"During his lifetime, Rudolph wished our residence at 23 Beekman Place would become a study and resource center for the architectural community," said Ernst Wagner, Executor of Paul Rudolph's Estate. "When that didn't happen, I promised him that I'd use the Modulightor building to fulfill his wish and then created the Paul Rudolph Institute for Modern Architecture. It is fitting that the Modulightor building – designed by and dedicated to Paul Rudolph – will be preserved as a living example of his genius. Thank you to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for ensuring future generations will get to experience and learn from his work."
The Barkin, Levin & Company Office Pavilion received considerable attention right from the start. Originally constructed for a manufacturer of women's coats, The New York Times cited it as "the first major plant in the garment industry" to incorporate all stages of production. The office pavilion was illustrated in a proposal to modify the New York City zoning code, widely featured in newspapers, architectural journals, and trade publications, and awarded "first prize in the industrial class" by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1958. Despite the praise, the office pavilion's time as home to Barkin, Levin & Company was relatively short; the company closed the facility in 1961 and began leasing it out. The pavilion was restored with some modifications in 2009, and retains its striking original form and many of its original features.
The Barkin, Levin & Company Office Pavilion was one of architect Ulrich Franzen's earliest works; in subsequent years, Franzen would go on to design Brooklyn Heights' Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Dormitory, the first new building approved for a New York City historic district in 1967, and later served as a Landmarks Preservation Commissioner from 1992 to 1994.
Paul Rudolph and Ernst Wagner purchased the Modulightor Building, located on East 58th Street, in early 1989. During the initial phase of construction, Rudolph moved his office to the building and acted as his own contractor, while Wagner opened a showroom on the lower floors that featured customizable light fixtures and systems inspired by Rudolph. The first four floors, including two duplex apartments, were mostly complete by 1993, four years before the architect's death. Under the architect Mark Squeo, who worked in the Rudolph's office during the early 1990s, a second phase of construction – adding two floors and a roof deck – was completed in 2016, based on Rudolph drawings in the collection of the Library of Congress. The Modulightor Building continues to house the lighting company Rudolph founded with Ernst Wagner, as well as the Paul Rudolph Institute for Modern Architecture, a non-profit organization dedicated to Rudolph's remarkable creative legacy.
The Modulightor's architect, Paul Rudolph, was a leading figure in American architecture during the latter half of the 20th century who was known for his modern sculptural aesthetic that often relied on industrial materials like concrete and steel. Rudolph moved his thriving architectural practice to Manhattan at the height of his career in the mid-1960s when he was Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Two other buildings designed by Rudolph in Manhattan are New York City landmarks: The Paul Rudolph Penthouse & Apartments at 23 Beekman Place, and the so-called "Halston House" at 101 East 63rd Street, which is part of the Upper East Side Historic District.
Images: Photographs of the sites are available here:
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is the mayoral agency responsible for protecting and preserving New York City's architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites. Since its creation in 1965, LPC has granted landmark status to more than 37,900 buildings and sites, including 1,459 individual landmarks, 121 interior landmarks, 11 scenic landmarks, and 156 historic districts and extensions in all five boroughs. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/landmarks and connect with us at www.facebook.com/NYCLandmarks and www.twitter.com/nyclandmarks.