East Side Ziggurat


Walking up Lexington Avenue, I stumbled across this architectural marker, calling attention to this building at the corner of E. 81st Street.


Cued by the landmark plaque, I looked up. You can already see low to the ground the start of the terraced effect pulling the building facade off of and away from the street:


I crossed the street to get a better look. You can see how the construction covering the water tower is pushed back from the front facade of the building:


These were probably typical of the modest structures replaced by the new taller and more elegant East Side towers:


No doubt, these next two buildings in the near vicinity of 133 E. 80th Street on Lexington Avenue were designed to meet the new zoning laws. The higher stories are pushed back. This one is more modern. It includes some neat little features:


But this one is rather ugly:


You can see the full and uneven look of 133 E. 80th Street from a better vantage point a couple of blocks south.


As the architectural marker makes clear, there’s a reason for why this building looks so whimsical. By happy coincidence, this article about NYC’s zoning code was published in this Sunday’s Metropolitan section of the NYT.  You can read it here.

As the article makes clear, the concern from an urban planning perspective was to make sure that taller buildings not lead to too much urban congestion, and to make sure that they not block out the sun from the streets below.

Instead of a tall single block tower construction, it’s a combination of law and invention that gives this building and this piece of skyline their unique and even peculiar look, whose ultimate logic is saw-toothed.

One last point of note. 133 E. 80th Street along with several other buildings on the Upper East Side was designed by Rosario Candela. A very important architect during the 1920s, he was born in Sicily and came to the United States in 1906. 720 Park Avenue is also terraced, but not as wild.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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