Model of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie. Unbuilt project. New York, New York. 1927-31. Painted wood. 53 x 16 x 16″ (134.6 x 40.6 x 40.6 cm). The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). From the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive at The Museum of Modern Art.
In 1927, architect Frank Lloyd Wright began plans for three to four all-glass apartment towers in the East Village at 11th Street and 2nd Avenue. The unprecedented buildings, which would have been the first all-glass ones in New York, were commissioned by the Reverend William Norman Guthrie of St. Mark’s Church. Though the modern structure would have towered over the revered church, rent from Wright’s apartments would have provided a much-needed influx of funds for the church. This wouldn’t have happened today though–in 1966 the church was landmarked and in 1984 the St. Mark’s Historic District was extended to include the row houses on 10th Street that would have been demolished with Wright’s plan.
The design featured octagonal shapes and copper balconies and parapets, but even more unusual would have been the lack of steel anywhere in the structures. Without steel for reinforcement, concrete cores were placed at the center of each tower in “tap-root” structures that resembled trees. The cantilevered floors would have extended from the core like branches. The tallest tower had 18 stories–including Wright’s personal two-story penthouse at the top, with the others topping 14 stories. In keeping with the “towers in a park” style later popularized by fellow architect Le Corbusier, Wright made sure the buildings were surrounded by open space. The lack of “dark urban canyons” evoked a more rural atmosphere in the middle of a city.
Unfortunately for Wright, investors were cautious to support his revolutionary design and the Depression put the final nail in the proposal. Instead, Wright had to wait until 1956 to see his glass tower dreams realized in the construction of the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The “towers in a park” plan did catch on in New York though, and can be seen today in the many NYCHA housing developments all over the city.
Get in touch with the author @catku. This post was adapted from Benjamin Waldman’s article, The New York City That Never Was: Part I Buildings.