Lever House

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Lever House, New York City

Lever House, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and located at 390 Park Avenue in New York City, is the quintessential and seminal glass box International Style skyscraper, and holds the distinction of being the first curtain wall in New York City. Built in 1951-1952, it features an innovative courtyard and public space. Most of the headquarters of the corporations on and around Park Avenue adopted this style of building, but none quite matched its sleekness and innovative design. Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building across Park Avenue is arguably equal in quality, but many of the neighboring skyscrapers, mostly by Emery Roth and Sons, are not particularly distinctive.

Lever House was built to be the American headquarters of the British soap company Lever Brothers. By the late 1990's, parent company Unilever's presence in the building dwindled to a mere four floors. Unilever completely vacated the Lever House in December of 2004. Much of the U.S. headquarters has been transferred to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

In 1992, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Lever House as an official landmark. By that time, however, much of Lever House's original brilliance had been dimmed by time. The building's blue-green glass facade had deteriorated due to harsh weather conditions and the limitations of the original fabrication and materials. Water had seeped behind the stainless steel mullions causing the carbon steel within (and around) the glazing pockets to rust and expand. This corrosion bowed the horizontal mullions and broke most of the spandrel glass panels. By the mid-1990s, only one percent of the original glass remained.

In the late 1990's the property was sold to wealthy industrialist, philanthropist, bicyclist and avid art collector Aby Rosen. Immediately following the sale, a massive renovation project began at the building. The deteriorated steel subframe was replaced with concealed aluminum glazing channels, a state-of-the-art solution in modern curtain wall technology, which is identical to the original in appearance. All rusted mullions and caps were replaced with new and identical stainless steel mullions and caps. All glass was removed for new panes that are nearly identical to the original, yet meet today's energy codes.

The renovation project included the addition of marble benches and an Isamu Noguchi sculpture garden to the building's plaza--elements included in the original plans of Lever House but never realized due to cost concerns.

Since the completion of the Lever House renovation, the building's plaza and lobby have been used as a gallery for the Lever House Art Collection. Exhibitions have included such works as "Virgin Mother" by Damien Hirst, "Bride Fight" by E.V. Day, "The Hulks" by Jeff Koons as well as several sculptures by Keith Haring.

This Lever House is not to be confused with Lever House, Port Sunlight, England. The English Lever House's office buildings now play host to Unilever Home & Personal Care Europe Category, Buyers, and IT Support.

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Lever House

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