557 Broadway, 1996–2001

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Red, white and green, the ten-story-tall Scholastic Building at 557 Broadway was designed by the Italian architect and theorist Aldo Rossi. In 1966 Rossi published “The Architecture of the City,” a book urging his contemporaries to pay greater respect to history and architectural context. During a time when sleek modernist forms were in vogue, he believed architects, whether working in Italy or Lower Manhattan, should change course and mine the past for inspiration. Critic Ada Louise Huxtable once described Rossi as “a poet who happens to be an architect” and many of his most memorable buildings have a dream-like quality, much like the surrealist imagery found in paintings by Giorgio de Chirico.

Scholastic Inc., an international publisher of educational materials and children’s literature, such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and the “Harry Potter” series, was founded in the 1920s. The company’s New York City headquarters moved to SoHo in 1992, occupying floors in the adjoining structure at 555 Broadway. Rossi’s sensitive “Post-Modern” design, which replaced a low-rise parking garage, easily won the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1996, but the architect died before construction could begin and his decade-long partner Morris Adjmi took the helm. Sadly, this would be Rossi’s only work in New York City.

Though the brightly-colored facade may lack the haunting qualities attributed to Rossi’s most celebrated work, such as the San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena, Italy, the Scholastic Building fits quite comfortably between 555 Broadway, the 1889 Charles “Broadway” Rouse department store building, and Ernest Flagg’s highly-regarded “Little” Singer Building of 1902. Like most mid-19th century Classical Revival (Italianate and Neo-Grec) buildings found in the SoHo Cast-Iron District, the three-bay Broadway facade features grandly-scaled half columns, gridded metal windows, and a prominent stepped cornice. While some observers find these reductive features more cartoonish than ideal (there is hardly any ornament) such choices pay obvious homage to the iron-fronted buildings that make Soho unique and distinctive.

The Mercer Street facade, however, projects a somewhat more serious air. Be sure to stroll around the block and look up. Instead of using columns or cornices, the monumental rear facade is hardly neo-classical. Instead, Rossi drew on industrial precedents, layering tiers of double-height steel bolted arches painted a bright red. It is a powerfully architectonic solution, one that feels, perhaps, more daring than the more prominent Broadway facade, but one that speaks to the less-ornate building traditions that shaped Mercer Street.

– Matthew A. Postal