AD Classics: Chase Manhattan Plaza / SOM

SOM | Erich Locker

Known for their innovation and economy in design, SOMs Chase Plaza in the Financial District of Lower displays SOMs architectural language on efficiency and its relationship with the public realm.  Completed in 1961, the 60 story skyscraper by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM is a coming of age story for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill presence as an [inter]national leader of corporate architectural design that evokes efficiency and functionality.

More on the Chase Manhattan Plaza after the break.

SOM | Ezra Stoller © Esto

Situated on Liberty Street, the Chase Manhattan building bridges two commercial properties between Nassau Street and Williams Street in Lower Manhattan.  Rising 813 feet above the bustling streets of Manhattan, the building is an exemplary project on efficiency where the slender tower only occupies 30% of the 2.5 acre site.  In effect creating one of the largest privately owned public spaces in Manhattan that are intended to create an oasis to relieve the congestion and density within the city.

Following in the footsteps of many prolific architects that have designed buildings for Manhattan’s dense urban fabric, SOM places the public space as a high priority in the design of the building just as Mies van der Rohe and Raymond Hood had done previously.

SOM | © Alexandre Georges

By allocating the majority of the allowable space to the public realm, the building is not solely become restricted to such tight constraints, rather the proportion of built to unbuilt space gives the Chase Manhattan building an iconic presence at the heart of the Financial District that becomes a central focal point for commerce and recreational activities to converge in one location.

The design of the Chase Manhattan building is relatively straightforward – slender tower with a repeated typical floor plan that optimizes efficiency and functionality on every level that allows for a completely flexible interior.

SOM | © Alexandre Georges

Echoing on the Inland Building by Bruce Graham and Walter Netsch from SOMs Chicago office, the Chase Manhattan skyscraper places the columns on the exterior of the building while situating the core offset from the center to designate areas of spatial efficiency and flexibility. The offset core allows for offices to be placed on the northern part of the building while the south side of the building can be designed for flexible desk use and more collective gathering/work spaces.

The entire project over exaggerates efficiency and flexibility required for modern business in 20th Century corporate America.

SOM | © Alexandre Georges

In terms of materiality, the Chase Manhattan building employed the most readily available and economic materials that were present at the time of construction.  The building is clad in anodized aluminum along with a glass and steel façade system.  The building was telling of how the International Style was creeping into American architecture.

SOM | © George Zimbel

The Chase Manhattan building is one of many examples from SOM that began to show the firms presence in modernism in corporate America where economy does not solely relate to a monetary value, but a temporal value where time is the ultimate factor in efficiency, flexibility, and corporate prosperity.

Architect: SOM
Team: J. Walter Severinghaus, Gordon Bunshaft, Alan Labie, Roy Allen, Jacques Guiton
Location: Manhattan, New York City, New York
Photographs: © SOM
References: SOM

Cite: Kroll, Andrew. "AD Classics: Chase Manhattan Plaza / SOM" 12 Apr 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • Eric W

    love the photos

  • Kevin Jones

    What a great look into a Modernist building of SOM’s more early work! I think it is really interesting that they choose more than a few of both Mies and Corbs major themes to emulate but didn’t let the typical aesthetics of a Modern design limit what they chose to articulate. The structure was celebrated on the exterior well within the bounds of being appropriate for buildings already existing center structure. Over all great work for its time!