Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects LLC
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects LLC
475 Tenth Avenue
New York, New York 10018
Fax: (212) 967-0890
Incorporated: 1968 as Gwathmey, Henderson and Siegel, Architects
Sales: $300 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 8712 Architectural Services
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects LLC is one of the largest architectural firms in the United States. Founded in 1968, the firm designed nearly 200 projects in its first 25 years and received an assortment of some 80 honors and awards for its work in that time. Gwathmey Siegel served as the architect for the American Museum of the Moving Image, the Science, Industry and Business Library, and the addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, all in New York City. The firm is noted for its adherence to the principles of Modernism, especially the International Style of architecture embodied in the geometric designs of the French master Le Corbusier.
Establishing a Reputation: 1964-79
Charles Gwathmey—son of the painter Robert Gwathmey—and Robert Siegel became friends while studying at the High School of Music and Art in New York City. After becoming architects they were reunited as apprentices in the firm of Edward Larrabee Barnes. In 1964 Gwathmey designed his first house, the Miller residence on Fire Island, a popular beach resort off the southern shore of Long Island. He then took time off to learn in detail exactly how a house is built and subsequently erected much of the building himself.
Gwathmey’s first major work was an ocean house and studio in Amagansett, Long Island, designed for his parents in 1965 in association with Richard Henderson and completed in 1967. This influential minimalist work, a composition of cubes, cylinders, and sharply slanted roofs clad in vertical cedar siding, established Gwathmey’s career and led to a number of other residential commissions for him and Henderson. Soon eastern Long Island was dotted with similar vacation homes, many of them designed by the architects dubbed “The Five”—Gwathmey, Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier—whom some critics lumped together as founders of a “New York School” based on Le Corbusier’s principles of form, space, and volume after their work appeared together in a 1969 Museum of Modern Art exhibit.
In retrospect, however, it became clear that Gwathmey was no slavish follower of the austere Corbusian ideal. In his designs he emphasized diagonals as much as straight lines and complex interior volumes as much as overall form, and he left many of his houses with natural cedar siding instead of having them painted white, as Le Corbusier would have done. In their 1968 design for the Electric Circus, a New York City dance hall that was a sensation at the time, Gwathmey and Henderson filled the interior with an array of reflective and translucent materials that added glitter and an intentional visual ambiguity to their geometric contexts.
Gwathmey designed his first apartment in 1969 for actress Faye Dunaway in a building on Manhattan’s Central Park West, “sculpting interior objects and playing them off against the rigid, pre-existing forms of the walls of the overall building,” according to Paul Goldberger in his New York Times article “A Design for Orderly Living.” Although the slate floors and cool white walls were typical of Gwathmey’s aesthetic at the time, the apartment commissions that followed revealed a movement toward less austere, more sensuous forms by his willingness to employ lush carpets and fine woods. Since, for such projects, Gwathmey’s control of the building shell was limited or nonexistent, he chose to explore the use of color as a substitute for three-dimensional manipulation.
When Siegel left Barnes to join the fledgling firm in 1968, it was renamed Gwathmey, Henderson and Siegel, Architects. After Henderson’s departure in 1970, it became Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. With a reputation for being blunt as well as obsessive about detail, Gwathmey remained the chief designer. Calmer and more diplomatic, Siegel tended to oversee the firm’s larger projects but, like Gwathmey, was involved in every design. So closely did the partners collaborate that they shared an office with a single common worktable in the firm’s quarters, which were located in midtown Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall building.
In 1973 a restaurateur named Pearl Wong asked Gwathmey Siegel to design new quarters for Pearl’s, her restaurant on Manhattan’s 48th Street. The long narrow dining room, with its quarter-arc ceiling and glass-block front, was widely praised and led to other restaurant commissions. These included Shezan, a Pakistani restaurant on West 58th Street, and the U.S. Steakhouse Co. in midtown Manhattan’s Time-Life Building. Like the Electric Circus, Shezan was sensual, with soft lighting and mirrors and the materials employed including lush woods, polished aluminum ceiling tiles, and glass block. U.S. Steakhouse, by contrast, was so austere that one restaurant critic compared the ambience with that of a gymnasium. Management later hired another architect to add banners and new lighting and billed the restaurant as becoming “warmer, friendlier, more gemutlich.” Gwathmey Siegel’s interior work also included a sleek revamping of five Vidal Sassoon hairdressing salons between 1974 and 1977.
Gwathmey Siegel continued to be in demand for residential commissions. One of its most successful was the Cogan house in East Hampton, Long Island, a rectangular Corbusian pavilion intersected with three projected ramps and a living area elevated to provide a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Completed in 1972, this work was followed by others more complex and larger in scale. They included the Kiselvetz house in Westhampton, Long Island, in 1977; the Weitz house in Quogue, Long Island, in 1978; the Taft residence in Cincinnati, also in 1978; and the deMenil residences in Houston and East Hampton in 1979. Gwathmey Siegel even designed a commercially successful “Tuxedo” tableware line in the early 1980s for Swid Powell.
Institutional Projects: 1973-96
Gwathmey Siegel completed its first large-scale design in 1973, for an 800-student dormitory for the State University of New York at Purchase. The firm followed up this project with other campus commissions. Its renovation of Princeton University’s Whig Hall in the early 1970s lent a stark geometric order to the burned-out shell of the 1893 Greek Revival structure. Gwathmey Siegel also designed a 560-unit low-income residential community in Perinton, New York, completed in 1975. By the end of 1977 Gwathmey Siegel was engaged in designing two more major projects: the 1,000-unit Northgate apartment complex on Roosevelt Island (completed in 1980) and a Columbia University dormitory complex, both in New York City. The latter project, although substantially completed in 1981, was plagued by construction problems.
During the 1980s Gwathmey Siegel was hard at work designing structures for Eastern universities. These included an addition, completed in 1988, to Dartmouth University’s gymnasium, the College of Architecture for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and two buildings at Cornell University, including one for its school of agriculture. For the latter structure, completed in 1989, Gwathmey Siegel expanded its range of colors and materials to include an exterior in three shades of earth tones, with a metal barrel-vaulted roof and teak-framed windows. For the North Carolina building, the firm, aware that architecture students would be learning about design not only in, but also from, the structure, revealed as much about its workings as possible, employing a juxtaposition of materials for the exterior and enclosing the elevator in a glass cage to expose its machinery for study.
Later campus buildings designed by Gwathmey Siegel included a dining hall for Oberlin College (completed in 1991), a building for Hostos Community College in New York City (completed in 1992), a building for theater arts and fine arts at the State University of New York, Buffalo (completed in 1992), and a Jewish center at Duke University (completed in 1994). Werner Otto Hall, the new home for Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, was completed in 1991.
Gwathmey Siegel began work in 1981 on the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City’s borough of Queens. This renovation of a three-story industrial warehouse, not completed until 1988, was rendered in primary colors to relieve the gray uniformity of the neighborhood. In the same neighborhood, Long Island City, the firm drew up the plan for the transformation of two old concrete loft buildings into the International Design Center, completed in 1988.
Perhaps Gwathmey Siegel’s most controversial undertaking was an addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum on the upper stretch of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. First proposed in 1984, the firm’s plan called for an 11-story sea-green annex, including a 148-foot-long slab that would cantilever over the smaller rotunda of the main building. Unable to win city approval, the museum withdrew the proposal in 1987, and Gwathmey Siegel settled on a nine-story limestone structure separated from the main building by a sculpture garden. Litigation delayed construction for three more years, and the building was not completed until 1992. The firm also rehabilitated the original 1959 structure, including uncovering the original skylight by installing clear glass.
Gwathmey Siegel also designed the New York Public Library’s new Science, Industry and Business Library, located in the former B. Altman department store on Manhattan’s East 34th Street. Completed in 1996, this facility housed a collection of 1.2 million volumes and an electronic information center with some 100 workstations. A two-story atrium, intended for exhibition use, connected the two main public levels.
Corporate and Other High-Profile Clients: 1977-98
Gwathmey Siegel’s engagement in corporate projects began in 1977 with the design of an AT&T Corp. office building in Parsippany, New Jersey. The following year the firm designed the Manhattan offices and showroom of Giorgio Armani Inc. It also designed IBM’s office building and distribution center in Greensboro, North Carolina, completed in 1987. Gwathmey Siegel designed the interiors of a number of corporate headquarters in the 1980s. These included interiors for Lexecon, Inc. (1985-86), Georgetown Group, Inc. (1987-88), SBK Entertainment World, Inc. (1987-88), D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Inc. (1987-88), and The Capital Group (1991-92).
Gwathmey Siegel’s biggest corporate project, and its first skyscraper, was the 1986-88 design of the Solomon Equities building, a strongly silhouetted 52-story structure in shimmering metal and glass completed in 1991 at 1585 Broadway, between 47th and 48th streets in midtown Manhattan. In praising the building, New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote, “It isn’t an East Hampton villa turned on its side.... Mr. Gwathmey and Mr. Siegel have given this building an exquisite sheathing of blue-green glass, white patterned glass, mirror glass, silver-gray aluminum panels and polished stainless steel. It’s a kind of laundry list of modern elements, but here put together into a geometric pattern that manages to be neither flat nor dull.... What Mr. Gwathmey and Mr. Siegel have struggled to prove here is that it is possible to do in metal almost all the things that more traditional architecture does in masonry: offer richness, depth, texture and graphic complexity.”
Corporate work remained an important part of Gwathmey Siegel’s business in the 1990s, both for architecture and interiors. After AT&T sold its 35-story Manhattan flagship headquarters in the early 1990s to Sony Corp., the firm, armed with a $70 million budget, gutted the entire interior to accommodate an additional 1,000 employees in the 750,000-square-foot building. For the offices of EMI, a company on the leading edge of rock music, the firm chose cutting-edge materials like galvanized metal on the undulating ceiling, concrete pavers on the floor, and black glass for walls.
Walt Disney Productions Inc. was an important client for the firm in the early 1990s. Gwathmey Siegel designed the Disney World Convention Center (completed 1991) and the Disney World Golf Clubhouse (completed 1992). For Euro Disney, Gwathmey Siegel designed another golf clubhouse (completed 1992) with three distinct forms—a dome, a curved shed, and a barrel vault. During the mid-1990s Gwathmey Siegel designed Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore, a 2.3-million-square-foot project sprawling over 75 acres, scheduled for completion in 1998.
Gwathmey Siegel’s high-profile clients in the mid-1990s included movie director Steven Spielberg, for whom the firm was designing a Manhattan apartment as well as three additional structures at the East Hampton compound that it originally designed in 1985. For entertainment mogul David Geffen, the firm designed a New York apartment in the late 1970s and a three-story headquarters building in Beverly Hills that was completed in 1994. Gwathmey Siegel also designed the Malibu, California beachfront home and Utah wilderness home of Jeffrey Katzenberg, partner of Spielberg and Geffen in their joint Dreamworks company. In addition, Gwathmey was reported in 1995 to be commuting to Los Angeles to plan a new house for Hollywood superagent Ron Meyer and to renovate a house for actor Dustin Hoffman.
Before Gwathmey Siegel even drew up a blueprint for a residence, it required a client to participate in all aspects of the design process. Interviewed for Harper’s Bazaar in 1995, Gwathmey explained, “Having people believe in the process is crucial, because the result is unknown; it’s all speculative. A client is coming to you based maybe on what you’ve done for other people. There has to be a huge trust they are endowing you with that says, ‘We don’t know what we are going to get; it’s millions of dollars of whatever it is, but we believe in it.’ That’s pretty wild. It’s not like going to an auction and buying something that’s already there. You’re really investing in ideas.” He added that the architect and the client must have “a mutual aspiration of making a great work of art together.”
President Clinton was said to have been captivated by the beachfront Katzenberg home when he stayed there in 1997. He also stayed at Katzenberg’s Utah house and Spielberg’s East Hampton complex in 1998 and placed Gwathmey at his table at a White House dinner that year. Inevitably, therefore, there was speculation that Gwathmey Siegel would be commissioned to design the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. The three Dreamworks partners were friends of Clinton and were expected to play a role in giving and raising money to build and endow a $100 million complex to preserve the president’s legacy. Also in 1998, the firm learned it had won the commission to build a new United States mission to the United Nations.
By 1993 Gwathmey Siegel had moved its quarters to a 15,000-square-foot warehouse loft on the West Side of midtown Manhattan. The firm had 14 associates that year and was employing 71 architects in its New York offices in 1996.
Abercrombie, Stanley, Gwathmey Siegel, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1981.
Collins, Brad, and Kasprowicz, Diane, eds., Gwathmey Siegel: Buildings and Projects, 1982-1992, New York: Rizzoli, 1993.
Goldberger, Paul, “A Design for Orderly Living,” New York Times Magazine, December 11, 1977, pp. 146-48, 163-67, 170.
------, “In Times Square, Dignity by Day, Glitter by Night,” New York Times, February 10, 1991, Sec. 2, pp. 32, 34.
Goodman, Wendy, “Gwathmey on the Rise,” Harper’s Bazaar, July 1995, pp. 118-23, 136, 138.
Purdum, Todd S., “The Clintons Shop Architects,” New York Times, August 13, 1998, pp. Fl, FIO.
Russell, Beverly, “Gwathmey Siegel at 25,” Interiors, September 1993, pp. 55-83.
Taylor, John, “Born Again: The New Guggenheim,” New York, June 1, 1992, pp. 30-33, 36-39.
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