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There’s more—Queens Modern: the Architects

February 18, 2019

Queens Modern, the digital archive covering more than 500 midcentury buildings and sites designed by local practitioners in the borough, was expanded in December 2018 with a comprehensive new component—Queens Modern: The Architects. This second phase adds research on more than two dozen firms working in Queens and the surrounding region during the midcentury decades. Queens Modern is a project of Frampton Tolbert, an historian and deputy director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy. Tolbert is also author of the blog “Mid-Century Mundane” and a DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State board member (yes, the man behind Mid-Century Mundane is on our board). The new project was recently featured in ny.curbed and CityLab. Both include interviews with Tolbert about his motivations for tackling the vernacular and the spectacular Modern architecture seen in Queens.

The Queens Modern digital archive started as a searchable database of around 400 buildings recognized under the Queens Chamber of Commerce Building Awards program during the years 1948–1970. The majority would fall in the category of vernacular architecture—modest local interpretations of Modernism as it was being built, promoted and published across the country. These were the banks, churches, apartment blocks and small industrial buildings blanketing Queens during its postwar population boom. As Tolbert has noted, Queens had more midcentury buildings than other boroughs but most were unheralded at the time and remain undocumented today. Picking up where the initial survey left off, Queens Modern: The Architects provides in-depth documentation on each firm, including biographical information, a selected list of significant works and accompanying photographic documentation—all accessible on a top-notch, easy to navigate website. As Tolbert wrote in an article for DOCOMOMO’s mōd in 2017, “In Queens, prolific local practitioners labored steadily, quietly shaping the sturdy, low-rise, workaday borough.” And now they shall be known. The Queens Modern projects received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts and the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation.

Bay Terrace Jewish Center, Arthur Silver, 1963
Walter Lippman Building, Long Island City, Jerome Pearlstein, c. 1967
Bayswater Park, Edgemere, Coffey, Levine & Blumberg, 1970.
Metropolitan Industrial Bank, Jamaica, Philip Birnbaum, c. 1952. All photos Christopher Brazee; courtesy Queens Modern