Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

A Gordon Bunshaft Top 10

In this morning’s New York Times there was an article about new Hirshhorn Museum director Melissa Chiu and her plans for the museum in our nation’s “staid capital.” Late in the article, Graham Bowley referred to the museum’s “round, nearly windowless building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft.” Now, I took the photo at the top of this post in 2013, so unless they have filled in the wall of windows on the interior of the building’s donut, it certainly has quite a few. I am a fan of both Bunshaft and the building, and I felt the description was inaccurate and did not do the building justice. It is popular to make the Hirshhorn sound too difficult for art, and too many buildings of its era (1974) have recently suffered death by a thousand pinpricks of disdain.

So I wrote to the Times asking for a correction, and this is what they said:

Dear Ms. Lange,

Thanks for taking the time to write.

After consideration, we’re comfortable with our assertion that this building is nearly windowless.

Thanks again for writing, and for reading The Times.

Now, more than two can play that game.

Ted Grunewald pointed out that Ada Louise Huxtable didn’t like it.

But I don’t think of the Hirshhorn as brutalist, but rather as part of Bunshaft’s long exploration of raised geometric shapes. It may be referential, but it is a striking interpretation of modernism in Neo-Classicalland, and has qualities of mystery and discovery that are rare. So I offer my Gordon Bunshaft Top 10, in order of my own discovery, for further exploration.

1. Lever House, New York, 1952. My favorite building in New York. Better than Seagram.

2. Beinecke Library, Yale University, 1963. Almost surreally white, with an incredible amber glow, via translucent stone panels, on the interior.

3. Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, Bloomfield, CT, 1957. The topic of the first chapter of my dissertation, on suburban headquarters. One of the earliest with an all-star design team (Bunshaft, Knoll, Noguchi).

4. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1962. Just sublime.

5. Manufacturers Hanover Trust, New York, 1954. Now Joe Fresh :(

6. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, 1962. Designed with Walter Netsch, the chapel at the academy is more intricate and experimental than most Bunshaft.

7. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 1974. See above.

8. Marine Midland Building, New York, 1968. Ada Louise likes this one. The Noguchi ‘Red Cube’ out front is also on the cover of my book.

And now, a couple of lost Bunshafts.

9. Travertine House, East Hampton, NY, 1963. Destroyed by Martha Stewart.

10. Emhart Manufacturing Headquarters, Bloomfield, CT, 1963. A Victim of Corporate Vandalism indeed. Connecticut General almost met the same fate.

[Photo credits, top 10: All Ezra Stoller/ESTO except Air Force Academy (Stewarts Commercial Photographers/Pikes Peak Library District); Marine Midland (Francis Dzikowski/Isamu Noguchi Foundation); Travertine House (Adam Bartos).]