This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
Stark and reductive, 140 Broadway towers quietly above Zuccotti Park. Completed in 1968, this slab-like skyscraper has a memorably smooth matte black aluminum and glass skin that contrasts sharply with the earlier masonry buildings that surround it. Whereas the 1915 Equitable Building (to the south) and the 1901 Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York (to the northeast) are rich with traditional ornament and detail, 140 Broadway is remarkably abstract, recalling the mysterious black paintings that Ad Reinhardt created during the same decade. Ada Louise Huxtable, in her 1968 essay, “New York: Sometimes We Do It Right,” astutely praised 140 Broadway as “one of the handsomest [buildings] in the city…New York’s ultimate skin building . . . an architectural statement of positive excellence.”
In a city where speculative construction seldom achieves excellence, 140 Broadway definitely deserves attention. Harry Helmsley was the developer and his role is acknowledged by a rather ponderous black granite monument that occupies the site’s southwest corner. Like many Manhattan office towers, 140 Broadway was originally named for the principal tenant, the Marine Midland Bank, which leased numerous floors, including the second-story banking hall.
The architect was Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the partner in charge was Gordon Bunshaft, who assigned the project to Roger N. Radford. His elegant and refined design conforms to the 1961 zoning resolution that encouraged developers to abandon the setback formula of earlier decades for sleek free-standing towers set in public plazas. As a result, the 51-story elevations rise without interruption, and the building’s trapezoidal footprint occupies only 40% of the site. To reduce visual clutter, signage was deliberately kept to a minimum and the lobby was oriented towards Cedar Street rather than Broadway.
140 Broadway stands near the center of the block, surrounded on all sides by pink granite pavers (originally travertine). The deepest space faces west, opening views toward the building, as well as to the north and south. In the northeast corner stands sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube. He was a close friend of Bunshaft and they collaborated on many architectural projects, including the Sunken Garden at 28 Liberty and The Garden of the Beinecke Library at Yale University. By employing a noticeably vibrant color, Noguchi enlivened the greater architectural composition. Viewed from the west, the precariously-balanced reddish rhombohedron (a slightly distorted cube) provides a stimulating counterpoint to the tower’s dark facade, as well as the dramatic neo-classical structures that bookend it.
– Matthew A. Postal