clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Frank Lloyd Wright's never-realized plans for glassy East Village towers

New, 14 comments

Welcome back to Curbed's Could Have Been, where we investigate some of the most outlandish proposals and grandiose buildings that were never built. Know of a plan that never saw the light of day? Send it to the tipline.

[Left image via Modern Mechanix, right image via MoMA]

St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, with its small cemetery and yard, is a New York City landmark, but the little East Village enclave could have turned out very differently. Around 1930, Frank Lloyd Wright unveiled plans for three glass apartment buildings to be built on the triangular park surrounding the church. Surprisingly, the project had been commissioned by the church's reverend at the time, William Norman Guthrie, despite the fact that it would have dwarfed the church with two 14-story structures and one 18-story tower. Wright's towers would have been the first in the world to be constructed without any structural steel, instead using only glass and concrete, with ornamental parapets and balconies made from copper.

The plan for the towers was scrapped when the Depression hit. Had they been built, they would have stood over the grave of Peter Stuyvesant in St. Mark's cemetery, replacing the 19th century rowhouses on the streets surrounding the church. A June 1930 issue of Modern Mechanix notes that Wright planned a two-story penthouse for himself atop the tallest tower.

A drawing for the towers is now part of the Museum of Modern Art's collection, and the gallery text details the architecture:

The design of these apartment towers [...] stemmed from Wright's vision for Usonia, a new American culture based on the synthesis of architecture and landscape. The organic "tap-root" structural system resembles a tree, with a central concrete and steel load-bearing core rooted in the earth, from which floor plates are cantilevered like branches. This system frees the building of load-bearing interior partitions and supports a modulated glass curtain wall for increased natural illumination. Floor plates are rotated axially to generate variation from one level to the next and to distinguish between living and sleeping spaces in the duplex apartments. The three towers on the triangular park site are positioned apart from other tall buildings to avoid creating the dark urban canyons that Wright detested.

Although they were never built in New York, Wright used the designs as inspiration for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma:

· First All-Glass Building Soon to Rise in City of New York [Modern Mechanix]
· St. Mark's-in-the-Bouwerie Towers, project, New York City [MoMA]
· The New York City That Never Was: Part I, Buildings [Untapped NY]
· Curbed's Could Have Been archives [Curbed]