Letter in support of the designation of the Kaufmann Conference Rooms, Lecture Hall, and Elevator Lobby, 809 United Nations Plaza, Manhattan

by SAH Heritage Conservation Committee | Nov 12, 2015
Letter to the New York Landmarks Commission in support of the designation of the Kaufmann Conference Rooms, Lecture Hall, and Elevator Lobby, 809 United Nations Plaza, Manhattan (12 November 2015) Read Letter

Kaufmann Conference Rooms (courtesy Historic Districts Council)Issue: 
The Kaufmann Conference Rooms, Lecture, and Elevator Hall at 809 United Nations Plaza had long languished on the docket of the New York Landmarks Commission, along with 94 other properties that had been nominated but for which no action had been taken. A series of hearings were scheduled to consider which, if any, of these 95 buildings would be removed from any additional consideration or forwarded for listing. The owner objected to the designation of these interiors. These backlogged properties had all been nominated before 2010; most had been calendared for over twenty years.  

Commissioned by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., the conference room suite and lobby are a wonderful and highly significant suite of rooms that represent a rare North American work (one of four extant properties) by an architect who is unquestionably one of the great artists and humanists of the twentieth century. Occupying a double-height penthouse suite in the Institute of International Education, Aalto skillfully shaped a raw volume into an exceptionally evocative procession of spaces. Many of Aalto’s signature design tropes are in evidence. These include his virtuosic sculpting of the space—building to the crescendo of the double-height but subtly modulated window wall that enables the view out across the UN and the East River—his skillful use of both natural and artificial light and familiar, sensual material choices such bent wood bas reliefs—here evoking the boreal forest—and blue, tubular Arabia tiles, all of which impart a distinctive and unmistakable character to the suite. 

SAH position: 
SAG expressed strong support for the designation of the Edgar J.  Kaufmann Conference Rooms, Lecture Hall, and Elevator Lobby, 809 United Nations Plaza, Manhattan. We strongly urged the Landmarks Preservation Commission to grant designation to the Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Rooms. In encouraging this designation, the Society of Architectural Historians joins with supporting organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter; the Preservation League of New York State; Docomomo US; Docomomo US/New England Chapter; The Municipal Art Society of New York; and individuals including Jukka Leino, Consul General of Finland in New York City; historians and curators including Peter Reed, curator of a retrospective exhibition about Alvar Aalto, Between Humanism and Materialism, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998, Glen Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art, and Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia University; and many accomplished architects, including Tadao Ando, Frank Gehry, Fumihiko Maki, Robert A.M. Stern, and Robert Venturi.

Follow-up: 
On 22 February, the New York Landmarks Commission recommended 30 of the 95 resources for designation, including the Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Rooms, Lecture Hall, and Elevator Lobby.  

More information: 
Big Risks as Landmarks Preservation Commission Moves to Prune Proposed Gems - The New York Times
Landmarks Commission Acts on Backlog Properties - NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
Landmark Status Is Urged for 30 New York City Properties - The New York Times



Founded in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an international nonprofit membership organization that promotes the study, interpretation and conservation of architecture, design, landscapes and urbanism worldwide. SAH serves a network of local, national and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life. SAH promotes meaningful public engagement with the history of the built environment through advocacy efforts, print and online publications, and local, national and international programs.
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