Architect: Philip Johnson, John Burgee Year(s) of construction: 1986 Height: 143 m Floors: 36 Location: New York, New York, United States

Architect: Philip Johnson, John Burgee
Year(s) of construction: 1986
Height: 143 m
Floors: 34
Location: New York, New York, United States

Its official name is 53rd at Third, but is popularly known as the Lipstick Building  (the lipstick). The elegant elliptical shape of the building is different from its surroundings.

This is the second post-modern contribution of Philip Johnson to the Manhattan skyline, after the AT & T building with its unusual pediment, built two years earlier.

lipstick unusual uglyConsidered by some to be one of the ugliest buildings in Manhattan, it has held a special place in my heart since first seeing it with my design students on an architectural field trip, post construction. We were all excited to see a building that resembles a tube of lipstick. It’s an unusual reddish/purplish color, like a deep red lipstick,1986ness (it’s made of enameled Imperial granite and steel). It stands on columns (not visible from this photo, but columns can be seen in the first image above), which are two stories high and separate the street from the nine-meter high lobby, a lobby almost as tall as a two-story building. Today, I find it hilarious, amazing and set apart from the square 1960’s glass boxes. It definitely connects to the nostalgia of the 1980s Johnson buildings in New York.

Lipstick Building fun facts:

  • The building was designed by John Burgee/Philip Johnson Architects in 1986.
  • It is 453 foot (138 meters) tall in four oval cylinders placed one on the other, from highest to lowest, with 34 floors, creating a building that is tilted away from the crowded third avenue.
  • Bernie Madoff’s offices were there – his investment company leased the 17th through 19th floors.
  • New York rates it as one of the eight worst buildings to have blighted our skyline. (“One of Phillip Johnson’s (many) failures”)
  • The elliptical shape makes no difference between offices located around the perimeter where top executives usually have the corner office. Here, there are no corners.
  • The Ramones second single (1976) is about the intersection of 53rd & 3rd being a notorious spot for male prostitutes to hustle. Dee Dee wrote it and sings the bridge. The area was a section of what was known as “the Loop,” which also boasted gay bars such as Rounds and Red. In 1994, a crackdown by police with heavy support from the neighborhood saw an end to the area’s nighttime activities, and despite protests by gay advocate groups, many arrests were made and the bars were shuttered.
53 street & 3 avenue

53 street & 3 avenue

The exact address is 885   Third Avenue, New York City, the streets between 53rd and 54th, only two blocks from the famous PJ Clarke’s on 55th street.

The company that owned the building filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

What do you think of a building that resembles a tube of lipstick–a red one at that?





The style of Art Nouveau and the flower forms of the plant live on. But not

Gaudi double bench Casa Batilo

necessarily in styles of furniture. The linear floral ornamentation lives on in architecture. Specifically, the architecture of Antonio Gaudi. Last week we discussed the brilliance of this architect who built structures

Gaudi's forms on the Casa Batilo rooftop

in Barcelona that attract millions of visitors each year. His work was a major source in the use of the linear floral forms in all aspects of design. Have a look at last week’s blog on Gaudi.

The forms were promoted by Victor Horta in his van Eetvelde House (1895) in Belgium. There was a whole group of architects and designers who were responsible for developing Art Nouveau as a new style that had nothing to do with the past. It was a style that advocated art for art’s sake.

Victor Horta van Eetvelde House staircase

The design premise was based on the asymmetrical flowing lines of plant forms. Floral forms in iron are the essence of interior ornamentation. Typical use are rail designs, floor patterns, window divisions and column ornamentation in architecture and furniture. In all the forms, look for the pervasive S form. The style was used pervasively in the late 19th century to early 20th century. The style was decorative, it did not lend anything to structure. So it can be easily dispensed with. Besides, designs with moving forms can be tiring. They have vibrations and make quiet noise like bright colors. We seem to go back to the simplistic styles.

In Barcelona, the style is everywhere in keeping with Gaudi’s strong influence. The double bench above was in our Marriott Hotel.

Gaudi salamander Parc Guell's rooftop

Although the bench was not the original, still it was an excellent reproduction. It was thrilling to actually sit in one of Gaudi’s creations. And walk on his rooftops to see his humorous creations. Check out this salamander. Look for the S forms. Take another look at plants, flowers, mermaids. Where else does nature provide the S forms?

Gaudi Interior Casa Vicens

This interior has moorish influence. See if you can find the S forms? Can you visualize the colors?

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