Office building and showroom space for the American Radiator Company.
The American Radiator Building is a neo-gothic skyscraper of the early Art Deco movement. Its color, arrangement and night-time lighting scheme evokes the product its namesake s company built: radiators. Built in two phases, both the original tower and shorter side extension are made of the same materials: black granite, black brick with black pointing, and gold-glazed terracotta. It is a steel frame building with cast iron and plate glass storefront on the bottom level, originally housing a multi-story radiator and plumbing showroom.
The 26-story tower of the original building steps back at the fifth and fifteenth story, marked by double gold courses. The side building addition includes the same decoration at the fifth story with two stories of brick above capped by another crenallated gold course. The tower itself, due to its chamfered corners and side courts on the fifth level, sits free from the surrounding structures. Windows are paired on the front facade with wider bricks piers traveling the height of the building to the upper setbacks. The gold courses and parapet are detailed with sculptured corbels and gothic ornament in gold terracotta. Small gold towers sit like finials atop the rounded corners on many levels of the parapet and gold horizontals line the top stories. The spiky mass is ultimately peaked by a completely golden crown-like loggia. Even in its early years, the top floors of the American Radiator Building were lit by electric light, whereby the pairing of the gold ornament and black brick made the tower look almost ablaze.
The American Radiator Building sits prominently amidst a section of the city that is rife with skyscrapers. Its visibility on the park aside lower scale buildings and unique coloring allows it to stand out.
The steel framing used in the American Radiator is typical of the skyscraper construction of this period. Its use of various external cladding materials, brick, granite, and terracotta, was not uncommon on corporate structures of this scale. The colors of this materials, however, were novel, and emphasizes the availability of variant color schemes in this period. Brick manufacturers were producing pigmented brick in multiples shades. Terracotta had also been in use for decades, though more often its color was matched to the other materials.
The practice of lighting the top floors of the structure marks this building as technically advanced. The skyscraper profile was an important piece of the design and the practice of night-lighting, used to enhance its prominence. Between its color scheme and lighting, the American Radiator Building was a major feature of the skyline, both easily spotted and identified. Its nighttime display was popularized by a 1927 Georgia O’Keefe painting titled ”American Radiator-Night, New York.”
As a corporate office tower that included the company showroom, the American Radiator Building was built with specific functions and goals in mind. Raymond Hood was known as one of the best corporate architects. “He excelled at monumentalizing what was inherently nonmonumental, at creating commercial monuments that were symbols as well as working environments.” (Stern, New York 1930, 575) The showroom attracted business owners of supply stores looking for products to source to their stores, home owners outfitting their homes in the latest fashion, and builders completing new buildings. Hood even designed some radiator covers for the company and rented out office space in the floors above. It was meant as a symbol of American modernity.
The American Radiator Building was received as a new type of architecture which served as advertising. Its lantern-like pinnacle gave a progressive face to the American Radiator Company. The building helped shape New York’s Art Deco movement. With its chamfered corners, setback arrangement and side courts, this building was known as a new form, one which detached itself form surrounding structures and sat on its own within a block. This massing, along with its coloring, speaks to its aesthetic impact on the city and the rest of the Art Deco movement.
The American Radiator Building is a local New York City individual landmark and is included in most textbooks on American modern architecture. It is an Art Deco skyscraper with gothicizing motifs, and one of the many modern skyscrapers that used pinnacles and towers in their design.
Black Brick Building for New York City. The New York Times. January 20, 1924. Page RE1.
Radiator Firm to Build 5-Story Midtown Offices. The New York Times. March 24, 1936. Page 41.
Stern, Robert A. M. , et al. New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars. (1987). New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. Bussel, Abby. Checking In. Grid. (2000). Volume 2, issue 6, page 98-102. Breeze, Carla. American Art Deco. (2003). New York: W. W. Norton & Company
Stephens, Suzanne. AR Past and Present: From Corporate Ad to Chic Caravansery. Architectural Record. (2006). Volume 194, issue 2, page 212.
Kittinger, Margaret. Something Old, Something New. Oculus. (2007). Volume 69, issue 1, page 38-43.