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?



Styles, Shape, Spaces

Styles, Shape, Spaces

Styles, shapes, space. What did folks do to fit into a space, fit into a chair, fit on a throne. Our daily lives are so crowded with news, stories, headlines,  we have become aware of the space around us.  How do we find enough space? What is enough space? Did you know that space is calculated based on job type and position?

Did you read in Yahoo News on Monday September 12, 2011, White Castle is being sued by a stocky stock broker for not being able to fit his 290lb frame into the chain’s stationary booths? According to the customer, White Castle is in violation of the American with Disabilities Act. “I just want to sit down like a normal person,” he says. He compares himself to a pregnant woman and the handicapped.

Look at England’s Henri VIII, a really big guy. He would never fit into a White Castle booth. You can be sure his throne and furniture, of the 16th century Tudor period, was massive. Oak was the wood of the day, hard wood, hard to carve, hard to shape, but strong enough to accommodate a big person like Henri VIII.

Good space is premium. How much do we need to live and work and play? At work you may have a cubicle or a private office. At home you may enjoy a cozy, small, warm room with human scale ceilings (8′) or a large room with cathedral ceilings (13′ or higher). But the seating has to give the comfort you seek in your place of refuge.

Space in a chair, how big should it be? Chairs in the home, chairs in the office, chairs in your favorite restaurant. A place like White Castle, MacDonald’s and Burger King are people movers. They want you to eat and leave. Make the diners too comfortable, folks hang to visit with friends. Go where you pay a pretty price for a meal they better give you good seating. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll stay for dessert.

So folks, have a seat. Try them out before you bring them to your home or office. How do you decide? Each have a purpose. With chair types and styles. Even Thoreau, in 1845, in his small cabin on the banks of Walden Pond, where he built a 10′ by 15′ house  furnished with a bed, a table, a small desk and lamp, and three chairs — He wrote about his chairs, “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Today we have special chairs for every activity from  watching games on television to working at the computer.

Office chairs need to be what is called “ergonomic.”  It has to be adjustable, adjustable height, adjustable arms, adjustable pitch. A chair that gives you all those choices will cost a little more, but it is worth the price. Be sure the fabric is cleanable and durable. Leather is always great, but costly. Today, some imitation leathers are close to the real thing, just ask the seller if it is durable. Be sure to buy from a reliable source. Fabrics gather dust, especially black, but there are great fabrics that look good and are practical. Ask the seller to advise you. The image above is a “Herman Millerhard mesh type, a material that does well. You don’t need comfort in the office, you need body support.

At home you need comfort. Your feet need to touch the floor, the seat should be sized to fit your body, the back should have the pitch that allows your feet to touch the floor. A standard chair has a seat height of 17-18 inches.

This chair is called a Fauteuil, French traditional (country) classic upholstered open armchair. It has allthree attributes, roomy seat, good pitch, and for most, your feet should touch the floor.

This is the “Barcelona Chair.” A contemporary classic design by Mies van der Rohe, designed in 1929. For most, because the seat is deep, your feet will not touch the floor. It is a beautiful design, found in most corporate offices to impress.

The image to the right is a 1925 Marcel Breuer contemporary classic. The “Cesca” chair is well-designed, functional, comfortable and practical. Do you recognize this popular chair? Have you owned one?


Remember the “Mitt chair” made by Stendig? You tell me,  can we really tell White Castle to build bigger booths? Do you have chairs you love, do they give you comfort, do they give you the space you need to function, do they support your body?


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