In a city still mourning the loss of an architectural icon, the buzz these days in Manhattan is the much-anticipated Austrian Cultural Forum tower on 52nd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue. A decade in the making — architect Raimund Abraham won an international design competition sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Austria in 1992 — and under construction since 1998, it is already heralded by some of the city's cultural clerisy as the most important new work of architecture in New York in 40 years.
Abraham, who has taught architecture at Cooper Union since 1971 and who has built very little, designed a slender mid-block tower that rises 24 stories, yet is only 25 feet (8 meters) wide and just over 80 feet (24 meters) deep. With the bearing of a totem pole, and with a facade that could be described as "Easter Island Modern," the 30,000-square-foot (2800-square-meter) tower has already been compared to dagger blades and guillotines, thermometers and metronomes.
Ironically, Abraham says he never intended such associations. "The inspiration for the design came completely out of seemingly trivial circumstances of site, zoning, codes. And then other things triggered, unconsciously."
The tower is intended as a place for presentation of and research in contemporary Austrian arts and Austrian-American collaboration in music, architecture and design, digital and Web projects, literature, film, and video. Scheduled for completion this month, its formal opening is slated for mid-April. Look for a design review in ArchitectureWeek.
From Midtown Manhattan,
Michael J. Crosbie