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Midtown Modern Project identifies significant buildings in East Midtown

August 28, 2012

DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State’s Midtown Modern Project was initiated several years ago through a grant to survey Modern architecture in Midtown and ascertain the history of development and architecture in the area. With the help of Columbia University preservation graduate students over two summers we created a list of about 200 buildings that highlight the significant construction boom in Midtown from 1950–1970. The study area covered from 35th to 60th streets. Using a database we coordinated building addresses, architects, owners, completion and alteration dates along with current photographs. The survey files were submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for reference and incorporated into our collaborative project with World Monuments Fund for the Manhattan Modern Map in 2004. An article summarizing the survey by project coordinator Nina Rappaport was published in the DOCOMOMO Journal in 2004. 

With the current Department of City Planning proposal to up-zone the eastern portion of Midtown—78 blocks between 39th and 57th Streets and Fifth and Second Avenues—we have resurrected the survey. Assisted by two new Columbia preservation students we have identified the most significant buildings in the area and plan to bring them to the attention of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of City Planning. The updated survey also offers opportunities to think about historic districts differently, perhaps thematically, or as groups of non-adjacent buildings significant to safeguarding Modern vernacular architecture within this new zoning proposal. Key to preservation efforts could be proposing incentives to encourage owners to upgrade their Modern buildings, making them sustainable and more energy efficient while keeping their historic character.

DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State is currently working with the Municipal Art Society to recommend individual buildings for landmark designation and to form a broader strategy for the recognition and preservation of these buildings.


Park Avenue in Midtown
270 Park Avenue/Union Carbide Building, SOM (Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Bois), 1960. Lobby and plaza altered in 2011. Photos: Nina Rappaport.