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The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream

The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream
Meredith L. Clausen
Cambridge, MA : MIT Press, 2005
NA6233 .N5 P363 2005

The Pan Am Building and the reaction to it signaled the end of an era. Begun when the modernist aesthetic and the architectural star system ruled architectural theory and practice, the completed building became a symbol of modernism's fall from grace. In The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream, Meredith Clausen tells the story as both history and cautionary tale - a case study of how not to plan and execute a large-scale urban project that seems especially relevant in light of the World Trade Center and the ongoing discussions over what should be built in its place.

The Pan Am Building was despised by many as soon as the plans were announced in 1958. The star power of the celebrity architects - those deans of modernism, Walter Gropius and Pietro Bellusci - overrode critics' objections. When construction was completed in 1963, it became more than an architectural question; this "mute, massive, overscaled octagonal slab," as Clausen describes it, built over Grand Central Terminal, blocked the view down Park Avenue, created deep shadows where there had once been sunlight, and poured 25,000 office workers on the sidewalk each morning and evening. As Clausen tells it, the story of the building - which was undistinguished architecturally but important because of its location and its moment in history - encompasses the end of modernism's social idealism, the decline of Gropius's and Beluschi's reputations, the victory of private interests over public good, the revival of architectural criticism in the press (both Ada Louise Huxtable an Jane Jacobs emerged as prominent and influential critics), the birth of the historic preservation movement, and the changing culture of New York City.

Quoted from dustjacket.