Lever House

Lever House
  1. About the Lever House in New York
    1. Building Catalogations
    2. Prizes & Awards
  2. Lever House's architect and team
  3. Lever House's architectureal style
  4. Lever House's spaces and uses
  5. Structure and materials of the Lever House

The Lever House is an International Style skyscraper designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, with Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois as lead architect, and built between 1950 and 1952, for a reported $0.04 thousand dollars, in New York, NY.

Its precise street address is 390 Park Ave, New York, NY. You can also find it on the map here.

The Lever House is a structure of significant importance both for the city of New York and the United States as a nation. The building embodies the distinctive characteristic features of the time in which it was built and the International Style style. Because of that, the Lever House was officially declared as a national landmark on November 9th 1982, and was included in the National Register of Historic Places on October 2nd 1983.

The Lever House has received multiple architecture awards for its architectural design since . The following is a list of such prizes and awards:

  • Best Building Award, Fifth Avenue Association in 1954
  • National Plant America Award, American Association of Nurserymen in 1958
  • National 25 Year Award, American Institute of Architects 
(AIA) in 1980
  • AIA 25-Year Award in 1980
  • Architecture League of New York Medal

At a time were all buildings in NYC were built with masonry facades and sash windows, the Lever House, with its shiny and reflective curtain wall, changed the paradigm of what an office building should look like.

The Lever House might not be as well known to non-architects as the Seagram Building, by Mies van der Rohe, just across the street, an it is true that SOM based their design on many of Mies’s ideas, but one way or another the Lever House was the first to implement them in Manhattan.

1952, The Lever House was the second building in the city to install a curtain wall, only second to the UN building on the East side of the city.

In the 1980’s the owners of the building wanted to demolish it to build a higher one with more rentable space, but thanks to the pressure of some very important people, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis the building was saved and granted landmark status, which protects it against future demolition threats. .

At the time of its completion in 1952 the Lever House incorporated solutions that were quite advanced at the time, these included the first window-washing scaffold in the city, also designed by SOM. The Lever Brothers’ wanted the building to be “a symbol of everlasting cleanliness”, since, after all, they were a soap company.

The building has been restored 2 times over the years to ensure its conservation and adaptation to the pass of time. The main restoration works happened in 2001 and 2023.

Building's timeline

Construction begins
1950
74
Construction completed
1952
72
Declared NL
1982
42
Added to the NRHP
1983
41
a
Restoration
2001
23
b
Restoration
2023
1
years ago
2024
  1. 2001 - The facade was restored to it's original state using stainless steel mullions and heat-strenghtenen PPG solex glass. The idea was to maintain the aspect of the building but upgrade the materials of the facade to improve duration and climatization management. The architect in charge was SOM.
  2. 2023 - During this $100 million restoration, the ground floor plaza and outdoor spaces were updated, the lobby fully restored and the mechanical systems of the building, including the climatization, upgraded to achieve better levels of energy efficiency.

    The tower's third floor became The Lever Club, an indoor-outdoor hospitality suite. The architect in charge was SOM.

Architect and team

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, with Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois as the lead architect, was the architecture firm in charge of the architectural design.

Commonly known as SOM, the firm was founded in Chicago in 1936 and has grown to be one of the largest architecture firms in the world.

Even long after its founders passed away, SOM has remained at the top of worldwide architectural excellence by attracting visionary architects. Amongst their most notorious partners we find names such as Gordon Bunshaft, Bruce Graham, Walter Netsch, Adrian Smith, Myron Goldsmith or David Childs.

SOM has also managed to grow and evolve to tackle the architectural challenges of each time, whatever those might be, and today is committed to aspects as important as efficiency and sustainability, as core values of their designs.

With a legacy spanning decades, SOM continues to shape the skylines of cities around the world, and is a usual contestant in any competition or selection process to design large-scale or iconic buildings and structures.

Skidmore Owings Merrill

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was in charge of the architectural design, however, architecture is a complex discipline, which usually involves many professionals from different fields, without whom this building would have not been possible. We will surely be leaving out a lot of names here, but here is a list of the people we do know also played their part in making the Lever House a reality:

  • George A. Fuller Company as the Main Contractor
  • Jaros, Baum & Bolles in charge of MEP Engineering

Architectural Style

The Lever House can be categorized as an International Style building.

The international style originated in Europe in the early 20th century, and made its way to the US a couple of decades later when the rise of the Nazi regime forced figures such as Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, or Mies van der Rohe to flee Europe.

The International Style emerged as a response to the prevailing historicism and ornate architecture styles of the late 19th century, which according to a younger generation of architects didn't represent the new materials and construction techniques that were on the rise at the time.

Architecture in the early 20th century US was marked by the adoption of steel structures, modern construction techniques, and the rise of the skyscraper. As it turns out, this combination of circumstances created the perfect ecosystem for the International Style to flourish, becoming the to-go style for skyscraper designs during the mid-20th century, when American cities were growing fast.

The International Style’s legacy can not only be found in numerous iconic buildings across all major American cities, but also incorporated in contemporary architecture, which still puts a big emphasis on functionality and minimalism.

The Lever House was completed in 1952. By 1952 the International Style movement had already left its early days behind and could be considered a mature movement, which does not mean it was loved and accepted by everyone, on the contrary. The International Style was accepted by the architecture community way before it was by the general public, and it is therefore likely that the Lever House was not well received by everyone at the time.

Spaces & Uses

The Lever House reaches an architectural height of 307ft (93.57m). It has a total of 22 floors, 21 above ground and 1 basements.

Ever since opening its doors to the public in 1952, the Lever House has mainly been used as Commercial space.

307ft (93.57m)
1 basements

Materials & Structure

The Lever House uses a frame structure made of steel columns and reinforced concrete slabs.

A frame structure uses a combination of beams and columns to sustain the building's weight. The walls in this case are non-load bearing, which allows for more flexibility when distributing the interior spaces.

The facade is non-load bearing either, as it is common in frame structure type buildings.

From an aesthetic point of view, the facade features a curtain wall, that as we already mentioned, was only the second curtain wall to be installed in the city.

The tower’s curtain is generally described as “green”, but there’s a lot more detail to it.

The curtain contains vertical steel mullions that connect to the building’s floor plates. In between mullions each panel consists of a greenish window pane that cannot be opened, and a darker-colored spandrel.

This alternating composition of dark and light elements creates a horizontally-ribbed facade, but at the same time, the shiny steel millions create a sub-grid of vertical lines. These two orders combined give the facade texture and rhythm .

Sources

  • www.som.com
  • zola.planning.nyc.gov
  • s-media.nyc.gov
  • time.com
  • en.wikipedia.org
  • www.newyorker.com
  • npgallery.nps.gov