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AD Classics: Lever House / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

  • Architects: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • Location: New York, NY, USA
  • Architect: Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill
  • References: Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, Columbia University
  • Area: 289584.0 ft2
  • Project Year: 1952
  • Photographs: SOM, Columbia University

AD Classics: Lever House / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill © SOM © Columbia University © SOM

From the architect. The Lever House by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was one of the first glass International style office buildings in the United States. Located in midtown Manhattan, it was originally the American corporate headquarters of the soap company Lever Brothers. Built between 1951-1952, the Lever House extends 24 stories in height right across from Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, and stands as its own perfect glass box.

The design of the Lever House offsets the tall office tower from the horizontal base. The horizontal base is lifted off of the ground plane by pilotis except for a small enclosed portion, providing a public plaza underneath and a threshold between the exterior and interior of the building. Here, the ground floor has space for displays, waiting visitors, an auditorium, and a demonstration kitchen.

© Columbia University
© Columbia University

The entire base that is raised up is the second (and largest) floor of the building. Extending horizontally towards the city, this floor contained the employee's lounge, medical suite, and general office facilities, and the third floor was the location of the employee's cafeteria and a terrace. 

© SOM
© SOM

The rest of the floors rising up the building contained offices, and a penthouse suite was located on the twenty first floor. The last three floors of the building contained the mechanical spaces, which on the exterior were opaque, giving a contrast and end to the rest of the tower that was covered in glass.

© Columbia University
© Columbia University

One of the most important elements of the Lever House is its curtain wall which is made of blue-green heat-resistant glass and stainless steel. Its design had both an economical and aesthetic purpose. 

© Columbia University
© Columbia University

Since it was the headquarters of a soap business, the use of an all-glass facade would make the building easy to clean as well as maintain its glimmer on the skyline. A system was created with a rooftop window-washing gondola that was able to move on tracks to clean the glass. The curtain wall is also completely sealed without operable windows to prevent the passage of dirt from the city into the building, and the heat-resistant glass helped reduce cooling costs.

© SOM
© SOM

The building, although designated a landmark in 1982 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, was in need of a restoration by this time due to water seeping into the building and the breaking of the glass panels. 

© SOM
© SOM

By the mid-1990's only one percent of the original glass remained. In 1998 Unilever, the original company of the Lever Brothers, only remained on the top floors of the Lever Building when RFR Holding LLC bought the building. They hired Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill once again to restore the curtain wall with state-of-the-art solutions in modern wall technology while still keeping the building's original appearance which was all completed by 2001.

Winning numerous awards, including the AIA First Honor Award, the AIA National 25 Year Award, and the Architectural League of New York Gold Medal, the Lever House is a New York City landmark that has mesmerized people through the years with its modern style that has yet to fade into the past.

© SOM
© SOM

This building is part of our Architecture City Guide: New York. Check all the other buildings on this guide right here.

© SOM
© SOM
Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite:Adelyn Perez. "AD Classics: Lever House / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill" 26 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/61162/ad-classics-lever-house-skidmore-owings-merrill/>