THE SHAPE OF OFFICE BUILDING

 

Article by Philip Johnson appeared in [AU] magazine on 4.29.1976 and is translated from Japanese

 

 

Since 1967, we have been fortunate to be able to design low and high-rise office buildings. Now as before, designs having certain similarities have stimulated our imagination.

People are bored with standing matchboxes. They are unsatisfied with monotonous shapes. Once these shapes were the inspirations of the 1930’s,such as stone walls with holes in them or pyramid shaped perfume bottles. But now, these are felt to be the dead end of reconstructionalism.

John Burgee and I have taken the path of using plain glass surfaces and then moving into and playing with three-dimensional geometric forms. With simple and yet striking angles, our work has reached it’s height as exemplified by the Pennzoil Building (photo 1) in Houston and the General American Life bldg.(photo 2)in St. Louis.

The first of such architecture was to appear in a building designed for the

Lehman Brothers (photo 3)which was not built .It was to have had two outstanding characteristics:

1: Keystone shaped site exaggerated by architectural plan.

2: A gouge which emphasized a covered pedestrian passage on one side of the building.

These concepts are very close to those of the IDS Tower. By using the Tsuoggs technique (photo 4) to simplify one side of the building, we created a glittering line of mirrors. The Pan American Life Insurance Building (photo 5) designed for Gerard Hines Interests has become a big attraction due to its cube—like construction based on the distribution of silhouettes and masses. It may be a reflection of the 20th century idea, the theory of gouging, the cut away or taking out of parts of the sides, bottom of even tops of a structure in order to create dramatic effects, which is in clear contrast to piling up elements. The Venezuelan Office building (photo 6) built for Juan Gonzales Corondona is a good example of the cut-away style. This plain 400 cubic foot rectangular solid building gains creative expression by having two lower parts being cut diagonally away. These are not only functional openings for cars to go through, but also creates an expression of architectural drama.

Another example of “gouging” is in the design of “101 California” built for Gerard Hines. It is a cylinder with a daring cut from the top to the bottom. We attempted to give direction to the otherwise plain cylindrical shape and add a touch of eccentricity.

Pennzoil Plaza exemplifies our most complicated geometrical design. Although the tops are not contiguous, it is the reverse expression of the design we used for NBC. The spaces between the buildings create dynamic oblique lines, which are the structure’s key signature. The building is surrounded by oblique lines and slanting roofs, which entwine and compete with each other. This complexity of design overshadows the simple means used to achieve it.

Even more complicated is The General American Life Insurance Building in St. Louis, which was completed recently. The design plane is separated by right-angled triangles of two brick cores, which contain emergency stairs. These two triangles have been cut into half to accommodate a cylindrical shaped elevator. Furthermore, one of the triangles (both are three stories) has been lifted higher than the other to create the effect that it is a six-story building. It is such a simple geometry, and yet the spaces create tremendous variation.

The Brant Building (photo 8) in 1976, our latest architecture shows our advanced trend in this theme. The entrance to this expressionless oblong box was made by cutting apart the surface of the granite slabs. This entrance was curved and covered by a glass curtain wall, which is also used as a skylight. This surface, which simply hung from the corner of the building, conceals the freestanding elevator. Without this entrance the elevator could have been on the surface of the plane.

 

Images of projects (not necessarily the ones that appeared in the article):

1. Pennzoil

2. General American Life

3. Lehman Bros.

4. IDS Center

5. Pan American Life Insurance

6. Caracas

7. 101 California

8. Brant Office Buildings

 

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