Projects of Architect Gordon Bunshaft

Projects of Architect Gordon Bunshaft

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From 1937 until his retirement in 1983, Buffalo-born Gordon Bunshaft was a design architect in the New York offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the largest architectural firms in the world. In the 1950s and 1960s, he became the go-to architect of corporate America. The SOM projects displayed here not only earned Bunshaft international recognition, but also a Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988.

Lever House, 1952

/ Jackie Craven

"With business replacing the Medicis as patrons of the arts in the 1950s," writes architecture Professor Paul Heyer, "S.O.M. did much to show that good architecture could be good business… The Lever House in New York, in 1952, was the firm's first tour de force."

About Lever House

  • Location: 390 Park Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City
  • Completed: 1952
  • Architectural Height: 307 feet (93.57 meters)
  • Floors: 21 story tower attached to a 2 story structure incorporating an open, public courtyard
  • Construction Materials: structural steel; green glass curtain wall facade (one of the first)
  • Style: International

Design Idea: Unlike the W. R. Grace Building, the Lever House tower could be built without setbacks. Because most of the site is occupied by the lower office structure and open plaza and sculpture garden, the design complied with NYC zoning regulations, and sunlight filled the glass facades. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson are often credited with designing the first glass skyscraper without setbacks, although their nearby Seagram Building was not completed until 1958.

In 1980, SOM won the AIA's Twenty-Five Year Award for the Lever House. In 2001, SOM successfully restored and replaced the glass curtain wall with more modern construction materials.

Manufacturers Trust Company, 1954

Ivan Dmitri / Michael Ochs Archives Collection / Getty Images

This modest, modern building forever changed bank architecture.

About Manufacturers Hanover Trust

  • Location: 510 Fifth Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City
  • Completed: 1954
  • Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
  • Architectural Height: 55 feet (16.88 meters)
  • Floors: 5

Design Idea: SOM could have built a skyscraper on this space. Instead, a low-rise was built. Why? Bunshaft's design "was based on the belief that a less conventional solution would result in a prestige building."

SOM Explains the Construction

" A framework of eight concrete-covered steel columns and beams were used to support reinforced concrete decks that cantilevered on two sides. The curtain wall consisted of aluminum-faced steel sections and glass. The unobstructed view of the vault door and banking rooms from Fifth Avenue indicated a new trend in bank design."

In 2012, SOM architects revisited the old bank building with the goal of transforming it into something else - adaptive reuse. Restoring and preservation Bunshaft's original structure, 510 Fifth Avenue is now retail space.

Chase Manhattan Bank Tower and Plaza, 1961

Barry Winike / Photolibrary Collection / Getty Images (cropped)

The Chase Manhattan Bank Tower and Plaza, also known as One Chase Manhattan, is in the Financial District, Lower Manhattan, New York City.

  • Completed: 1961
  • Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
  • Architectural Height: 813 feet (247.81 meters) over two city blocks
  • Floors: 60
  • Construction Materials: structural steel; aluminum and glass facade
  • Style: International, first in Lower Manhattan

Design Idea: Unobstructed interior office space was achieved with a central structural core (containing elevators) supplemented with exterior structural columns.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 1963

Enzo Figueres / Moment Mobile Collection / Getty Images

Yale University is a sea of Collegiate Gothic and Neoclassical architecture. The rare books library sits in a concrete plaza, like an island of modernity.

About Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

  • Location: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Completed: 1963
  • Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
  • Construction Materials: Vermont marble, granite, bronze, glass

How do you protect the Gutenberg Bible, which is on permanent display at this library? Bunshaft used ancient natural construction materials, precisely cut, and placed within a modern design.

" The structural facade of the hall consists of Vierendeel trusses that transfer their loads to four massive corner columns. The trusses are composed of prefabricated, tapered steel crosses covered with gray granite on the outside and pre-cast granite aggregate concrete on the inside. Fitted into the bays between the crosses are panels of white, translucent marble that admit subdued daylight into the library while blocking the heat and harsh rays of the sun." - SOM
" The white, gray-veined marble panes of the exterior are one and one-quarter inches thick and are framed by shaped light gray Vermont Woodbury granite." - Yale University Library

When visiting New Haven, even if the library is closed, a security guard may allow you inside for a breathtaking moment, experiencing natural light through natural stone. Not to be missed.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, 1971

Charlotte Hindle / Lonely Planet Images Collection / Getty Images

When Gordon Bunshaft was chosen to design the presidential library for Lyndon Baines Johnson, he considered his own home on Long Island - Travertine House. The architect, well-known at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), had a fondness for the sedimentary rock called travertine and took it all the way to Texas.

W. R. Grace Building, 1973

Busà Photography / Moment Open Collection / Getty Images

In a city of skyscrapers, how can natural light make its way to the ground, where the people are? Zoning Regulations in New York City have a long history, and architects have come up with a variety of solutions to comply with zoning regulations. Older skyscrapers, like the 1931 One Wall Street, used Art Deco Ziggurats. For the Grace Building, Bunshaft used modern technologies for a modern design - think of the United Nations Headquarters, and then bend it a little bit.

About the W. R. Grace Building

  • Location: 1114 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue near Bryant Park), Midtown Manhattan, NYC
  • Completed: 1971 (renovated in 2002)
  • Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
  • Architectural Height: 630 feet (192.03 meters)
  • Floors: 50
  • Construction Materials: white travertine facade
  • Style: International

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1974

The Colombian Way Ltda / Moment Collection / Getty Images (cropped)

A Washington, DC visitor would have no sense of the interior open spaces if the 1974 Hirshhorn Museum were viewed only from the outside. Architect Gordon Bunshaft, for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), designed cylindrical interior galleries rivaled only by Frank Lloyd Wright's 1959 Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Hajj Terminal, 1981

Chris Mellor / Lonely Planet Images Collection / Getty Images

In 2010, SOM won the AIA's Twenty-Five Year Award for the Hajj Terminal.

About the Hajj Terminal

  • Location: King Abdul Aziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Completed: 1981
  • Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
  • Building Height: 150 feet (45.70 meters)
  • Number of Stories: 3
  • Construction Materials: cable-stayed Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric roof panels supported by 150-foot-high steel pylons
  • Style: Tensile Architecture
  • Design Idea: Bedouin tent


  • Heyer, Paul. Architects an Architecture: New Directions in America. Londra: Penguin press, 1966. pp. 364-365.
  • Lever House, EMPORIS.
  • Manufacturers Hanover Trust, SOM.
  • 510 5th Avenue, EMPORIS.
  • Chase Manhattan Bank Tower and Plaza, SOM.
  • One Chase Manhattan Plaza, EMPORIS.
  • Yale University - Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Projects, SOM website.
  • About the Building, Yale University Library.
  • W.R. Grace Building, EMPORIS.
  • The Grace Building, The Swig Company.
  • King Abdul Aziz International Airport - Hajj Terminal, SOM.