Yale Bulletin and Calendar

August 27, 2004|Volume 33, Number 1















The 36-story Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building was designed by George Howe, former head of Yale's Department of Architecture, and William Lescaze. Once a bank and office building, it now serves as a hotel.

Modernist icon is highlight of
School of Architecture exhibit

The School of Architecture's first fall exhibition will showcase the landmark Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building (PSFS), an icon of International Style Modernism.

"PSFS: Nothing More Modern" -- organized and designed by Dean Sakamoto, director of exhibitions at the school -- is the first exhibition to explore the design, construction and adaptive re-use of this historic building. Custom furniture, archival photographs, drawings, ephemera and a model are among the artifacts that will be on display.

The show will run Aug. 30-Nov. 5 in the gallery of the Art & Architecture Building, 180 York St. There will be a reception and related symposium Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2. The event will gather an international group of historians, architects, critics and theorists to examine how 1930s American Modernism, with its distinctively American social and cultural sensibilities, evolved from the European model.

PSFS, the first International Style high-rise building in the United States, was designed by George Howe, head of Yale's Department of Architecture during the early 1950s, and William Lescaze. The 36-story bank and office tower combines Modernist architectural forms and innovations in structural, circulation and mechanical systems, and it was heralded as a progressive undertaking when it opened in 1932.

Today, PSFS once again exemplifies a contemporary trend: preserving an original structure and adapting it for another use -- in this case, the conversion of the iconic office building into the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.

The exhibition is divided into four sections. The first documents the evolution of the building from conception through realization. This section will explore the role played by the bank's visionary president, James M. Willcox, as well as the brief collaboration between Howe, a new convert to Modernism, and the Swiss-born Lescaze, who was largely instrumental in bringing Modernism to America. Also represented will be the team of lesser-known architects assembled by Howe and Lescaze, some of whom were at the forefront of European architectural Modernism, and seminal European projects that influenced the design of the Philadelphia building.

The second section will show how every aspect of the building, from its red neon rooftop sign to its Cartier clocks, was designed by the architects as a seamless work of art. Beyond its progressive architecture, the building was heralded for other pioneering elements, some of which would become standard features of post-World War II commercial buildings. These include street-level shops, the use of an escalator as a primary means of entrance, radio outlets in every office, nearby garage facilities, high-rise elevators, thermostatically controlled heat and a rooftop observation platform. Perhaps the most noteworthy advance of all was the use of air conditioning, which ranked PSFS the second tallest building in America to be climate controlled. This section of the exhibition will also display photography and Modernist graphic designs created to promote the building at its opening.

The third section will show the building's transformation into the Loews Philadelphia Hotel and demonstrate how some inherent features of PSFS made it ideal to refurbish as an ornament to downtown Philadelphia and as an active player in the city's civic life. Among these assets are the building's central location, its floor plans allowing simple division into hotel rooms and its grand corporate spaces -- boardrooms and executive suites -- which translate easily into meeting rooms and reception halls. Vintage furniture included in this section recalls the hotel's historic past.

The fourth section will include a collection of publications and articles testifying to the enduring importance of PSFS, both to professionals and the general public, over the past 75 years. This section includes magazines and books with commentary by such figures as Le Corbusier (who visited the PSFS Building in 1935) and Philip Johnson. These illustrations will demonstrate the international reception to PSFS when it opened and place it within a historic context.

The exhibition was guest curated by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins. It is supported in part by Bower Lewis Thrower Architects, Jeffrey Brown and Elise Jaffe, Carabello Designs, The Designtex Group, Esto Photographics, John and Patricia Gattuso, Aileen and Brian Roberts, Lisa Roberts, Jonathan M. Tisch and Loews Hotels, and The Nitkin Family Dean's Discretionary Fund in Architecture.

The gallery is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, contact the School of Architecture, (203) 432-2288, or visit the website at www.architecture.yale.edu.


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Campus Notes

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