Art: Cheops' Architect

  • Share
  • Read Later

(See Cover) The world has forgotten the name of Cheops' architect, but his pyramid still stands. Few outside his own profession have ever heard of Wallace K. Harrison, one of the pyramid builders of today.

But in the past 30 years, Architect Harrison has directed the construction of $700 million worth of modern wonders. Last week Wallace Harrison was putting the finishing touches to his latest group of landmarks: the new U.N. buildings, on which, as boss architect. Harrison has spent five years and $67.5 million.

In place of the Eastside tenements and slaughterhouses stands the shimmering glass and marble slab of the Secretariat, towering 39 stories above the East River.

Along its base crouches a long (400 ft.), flat (five stories) Conference Building for the U.N.'s numberless councils and committees. Besides the thousands of offices, Harrison's designers and engineers have provided restaurants, meeting rooms, lounges and un derground parking space for 1,500 cars.

Architecturally, all that remains to be done is to complete the interior of the General Assembly Building, keystone of the entire group.

Like the Conference Building, it is long and low. But where the Conference Building is rectangular, the Assem bly is sweepingly curved and capped with a wide dome. One end is clear plate glass, the other a cliff of marble and translucent glass strips. A long ramp leads up to the 2,170 seat Assembly hall. Along the walls are banks of transla tors' booths set in strips of gilded South American mahogany. Two vivid, swirling murals by France's Fernand Leger flank the hall, and over the podium will shine rows of plaques bearing the seals of the 60 United Nations.

A Sandwich on End? The U.N. buildings have roused the liveliest architectural debate in years. Some architectural critics have called the Secretariat everything from a "magnified radio console" to "a sandwich on end." Old Revolutionary Frank Lloyd Wright snorted that the design is mere "skyscraperism—a sinister emblem for world power." Said Critic Lewis (The Culture of Cities) Mumford: "A Christmas package wrapped in cellophane ... manticism." a triumph of irrelevant ro Architect Harrison is used to having these stones shied at his glass houses. And he is a pragmatist. "If in five years," says he, "somebody finds a way to build that is so much more wonderful that he wants to tear the U.N. down and rebuild it, why, let him." Five years is a long time in the frenetic world of New York real estate, but Harri son's offer is not likely to be taken up, at any rate within that time limit, for two good reasons: 1) U.N. cost too much to tear down, and 2) even the skeptics are getting used to its sharp, clean slab along the edge of the Manhattan skyline.

Harrison's basic idea for the U.N. was a simple one. "When we started U.N.," he says, "we were not trying to make a monu ment. We were building a workshop — a workshop for world peace. And we tried to make it the best damn we could.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7