No. 298 . 09 August 2006 
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Hugh Stubbins, Modern Tower

by Michael J. Crosbie

On New York City's Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street, Citicorp Center (built 1976 to 1978) reaches into the sky like a giant sheathed in aluminum and glass. Its designer, architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr., who challenged modern skyscraper orthodoxy of the time, died July 5, 2006 at the age of 94.

The top of the tower, which rises 59 stories on the Manhattan skyline, slopes 45 degrees to the south and was intended to be fitted with solar panels (but never was). The tower stands on four muscular legs, not at the expected corners of the square plan, but at the midpoints of each side, its shaft cantilevering out over the plaza 114 feet (35 meters) beneath it.

Tucked under Citicorp's northwest corner is a prism of stone that houses St. Peter's Lutheran Church, its vertical slit windows revealing a worship space a story or more below street level.

I remember poring over the latest issue of an architecture magazine thirty years ago with my fellow architecture students. It is now hard to imagine the buzz Citicorp stirred at the time. The issue had devoted several pages to this colossus of Gotham. Months later, I had a chance to see the building in person.

The gleaming tower, seemingly weightless above my head, opened inside to a multistory atrium with promenades, escalators, and brilliant sunlight. Citicorp seemed all about light; the spring after it opened, neighbors reported the rejuvenation of spindly trees across the street, responding to the light reflected off Citicorp's aluminum and glass body. The building won an AIA Honor Award in 1978.   >>>

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