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William Lescaze (American, born Switzerland. 1896–1969)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American architect of Swiss birth. He studied architecture under Karl Moser at the Technische Hochschule in Zurich (MA, 1919) and worked in the Paris office of Henri Sauvage (1919–20). He emigrated to the USA in 1920 and after a brief stay in Cleveland, OH, set up his own practice in New York in 1923. Although his early commissions were small, he gained recognition for some unexecuted projects, such as ‘The Future Country House’, which was illustrated in the Architectural Record (November 1928). It was efficient, well-planned and insulated, with an adjacent aeroplane garage and runway.

In 1929 Lescaze was introduced to george Howe. Wishing to break with the past and practise in the modern idiom, Howe joined with Lescaze; their partnership agreement stipulated that Lescaze would be the designer and that Howe would initiate business contacts. Howe’s previous work for the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society led to the organization’s commission for a £12.5 million high-rise headquarters building (1929–33) on 12th and Filbert Streets, Philadelphia. A photograph of the incomplete building was included in the show Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, organized at MOMA, New York, in 1932 by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson. Other works by Lescaze in the International Style displayed in the exhibition were the Capital Bus Terminal (1927), New York; the nursery building (1929) for the Oak Lane Country Day School, Philadelphia; the housing development (1931–2) at Chrystie-Forsyth Streets, New York, a project of 24 steel-frame buildings, each 10 storeys high; and the Hessian Hills School (1932–6), Mt Airy Road, Croton-on-Hudson, New York. After working with Lescaze on the nursery school, the headmaster, William Curry, moved to Dartington Hall, Devon, England, and introduced Lescaze to its owners, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. This contact later led to commissions at Dartington for a headmaster’s house (1931–2) for Curry, a gymnasium (1933–5), estate housing (1933–5), a house (1935) for the choreographer Kurt Jooss and a Central Office building (1935). All these buildings remain as part of the Elmhirsts’ experiments in education, agriculture and local crafts.

After the dissolution of the firm of Howe & Lescaze in 1932, Lescaze used his share of the profits to purchase a row house at 211 East 48th Street in New York, a building he demolished and replaced with a modern house and office (1933–4) where he lived and worked until his death. Its most noticeable features were glass block ribbon windows running the width of the street façade at the 2nd and 3rd floor levels. He built numerous houses in both urban and rural settings, studios (1938) for the Columbia Broadcasting System, Hollywood, CA, and pavilions (e.g. the Aeronautics Pavilion) for several exhibitors at the World’s Fair of 1939 in New York.

In 1942 Lescaze published On Being an Architect, which summed up his philosophy of architecture at a turning-point in his career, when he abandoned the clean, smooth, pure white and logical expression of the International Style in favour of glass curtain–wall construction. In the next 25 years Lescaze built his largest commissions, including two of the earliest high-rise buildings on Third Avenue, New York, numbers 711 (1954–6) and 777 (1962), a tower at One Oliver Plaza (1968), Pittsburgh, and Number One, New York Plaza (1969), South and Broad Streets, New York, a 50-storey building in Manhattan. Although these buildings made Lescaze wealthy, they had none of the vitality of his innovative years from 1927 to 1942, when he perhaps ranked with Richard Neutra as one of the most significant American practitioners in the International Style.

Lawrence Wodehouse
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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