Thursday, August 27, 2009

We Will Rock U--Part Two

Next we jump ahead two decades to the 1950s. It was in 1954 that the institute was renamed The Rockefeller University, they created a graduate program, and began to expand. But first, CSBA added this extension to the Hospital in 1951, seen here at the top right with the mostly nondescript Gasser Hall in the right foreground:
Click for larger.
--All photos ©2009, Ryan Witte, except where otherwise noted.

Obviously, that's not a building from 1951, from the looks of it. It was renovated again in 2000 by HOK, the absolute masters of stadium and sports arena architecture whose roster of projects is so gargantuan I won't even bother to go into it here. They also added the fifth and sixth floors. Here's what it looked like when it was being constructed, quite sensitive in style to the original structure it was supplementing:
--Photo courtesy Shepley Bullfinch.

But when Harrison & Abramovitz came in toward the end of that decade, things really started to get interesting. This is also when Kiley redid the landscape design.

In 1958 Harrison & Abramovitz built Caspary Hall/ Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Hall and the President's House. Caspary and Abby Aldrich easily read as one single building, but it's divided in two on the interior with faculty offices in Caspary and a dining hall and other amenities in Abby Aldrich.

The southern end is Caspary. This is one of the many inviting outdoor spaces, nicely concealed from the main entrance roadway by dense foliage:

Then the southern end is Abby Aldrich:
I didn't go into the buildings too much, but this one I did, because it seemed to be the only way to get from the lower level to the upper level without walking all the way around the building. The interiors are gorgeous in that sparse mid-century sort of way. Here's a lounge area with Chuck Close's portrait of Philip Glass:
And on the opposite side of that wall, a portrait by Paul Peter Kiehart of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller herself:
I don't know if anyone actually lights those fireplaces in the winter, but I certainly hope they can and do. It would be such a beautiful place to hang out on a frosty winter night.

This section of the building had a number of interesting paintings, one that looked like Piet Mondrian but wasn't, one that looked like Clyfford Still but wasn't, and a few others that looked like they were but weren't. Outside is a sculpture that looked like and actually was by Herbert Ferber, Homage to Piranesi, I (1963):

The northern end of the building terminates in the most incredible sort of pavilion, one of those moments of discovery and an example of the team's goal to create a series of "outdoor rooms" throughout the campus:
You could smell barbecue all over this part of the campus, it was coming from here. The food looked unbelievably delicious, but I didn't think I should ask for a taste. This gets even better, too. Where that greenery is, just right of center, is actually a circular opening to the lower level with a tree growing up through it:
The campus is situated on a hill, like with Founder's Hall positioned majestically at the top of it as seen from York Avenue. Almost all the later buildings take amazing advantage of that slope to create these incredible views and meandering routes from one level to the next. It's as if they conceived of the inhabitable volumes and their interrelationships not just on the X and Y axes, but also fully on the Z.

Right outside that covered patio is this extremely charming fountain:

They have more grills you can see there, which I assume the students/ faculty can use to make burgers whenever they like. The public relations person pointed out that it's been called an "urban oasis," and she wasn't kidding. This place seems like paradise in the summertime. It's no wonder they can lure the world's greatest scientists to this place.

To the west of this pool is the Philosopher's Garden, with a terraced area with tables and chairs--remarkably full of people, by the way, so I didn't photograph it--and more fountains.

There were ducks everywhere, not surprisingly, just wandering around. In this pool was a mother with a bunch of ducklings trailing behind her. But in the distance there you can see arguably the most widely recognized building on the campus, the domed Caspary Auditorium.
There's another duck there, if you look closely. The dome may not look quite as familiar because it was originally covered in mosaic tiles--at least, that's how I remembered seeing it in photographs. Within eight months after it was completed, the original tiles had bit by bit started to come dislodged and pop off like projectiles, I was told. Some years ago, Abramovitz' firm covered it over with this Fullerish dome. I asked if there were plans to redo the mosaic, and I guess there aren't, which I think is kind of a shame, but I can understand that this is probably far more durable and it is, reportedly, self-cleaning, which is good considering bird poop and so on.

I love how the geometries work so beautifully with the sunlight and shadow.
The entrance and interior are totally sculptural in this wonderfully late-50s sort of way, too. You walk through a set of double doors (around the corner from the Chuck Close) into a staircase lobby not much larger than the doorway. The staircase corridor gets wider and wider as you step down toward a wall of glass and a set of glass doors that lead into the auditorium below. In other words, you enter it from above through that concrete bridge you see in those exterior shots. Along one side of the stairs are these terraced pits filled with stones that once contained plantings. The other side of the staircase was made into a ramp for ADA compliance. There was an event going on inside and a trio of snotty 20-something year olds--I guess working?--in the lobby, so I just took a quick look and left without getting photos of it. Here's what it looked like when it was first built:
--Photo courtesy Desde la memoria urbana.
The acoustics were by Bolt, Beranek & Newman, who I think I may have discussed before elsewhere. They also created the revolutionary live translation system at the United Nations and acoustic specifications for the ill-fated Philharmonic Hall before it was overhauled in the 1970s. I'll be the first to point out that what happened at Lincoln Center was not at all their fault, in fact Leo Beranek (who very kindly corresponded with me briefly by email) did everything he possibly could under insane circumstances, but that story is way too long to go into here. They were the ones to implement the ARPANET, what eventually became...this. They were the first to use the "@" symbol for email addresses and they created the first protocol router. They're now called BBN Technologies and are a fascinating company.

Unfortunately, I couldn't even get close to the President's House to so much as see it. In fact, the security guard at that entrance was being a bit of a butthole, to be honest. I swear, I think one of the job requirements for being a security guard is that you need to have self-esteem issues and become very easily intoxicated by small amounts of power. He needed to prove to me that his you-know-whats were WAY bigger than mine. Luckily I know how to appease these types. I puckered up and kissed his behind, and by the end of our exchange, he was all about shaking my hand oh, so politely and making nice.

On top of it all, finding any images anywhere of the President's House was like some kind of tragicomic Surrealist scavenger hunt. The person at the Rockefeller Archives was very nice, and they do have some from when the buildings were first built, but I wasn't going to make a trip to Sleepy Hollow or whatever (I've already been up there, trying to catch a glimpse of the Headless Horseman--we didn't), or pay all the fees to get them. For some great historical photos, check out Robert Stern's New York 1960. Rockefeller University PR were kind enough to let me show this image of when it was first built, from an old transparency:

Anyway, I did get some nice shots from the river promenade:

As for the interiors, these photos are the work of a very cordial and fantastic photographer by the name of Marie Kotschedoff (I always have to be careful when I try to spell that). I highly recommend checking out her work.

Here you can see the amazing interior landscaped courtyard, which responded perfectly to Kiley's landscaping of the campus in general, and very much reminds me of Philip Johnson's residential work from this same period:

And the dining room, which evidently could accommodate dinner parties for around fifty people or something insane:

Part Three forthcoming.

©2009, Ryan Witte

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