Ely Jacques Kahn


Ely Jacques Kahn

Ely Jacques Kahn (1884 - 1972) was an American commercial architect who designed numerous skyscrapers in New York City in the twentieth century. [Jewel Stern, John A. Stuart, "Ely Jacques Kahn, Architect: Beaux-arts to Modernism in New York," Norton, 2006, ISBN 0393731146] In addition to buildings intended for commercial use, Kahn's designs ranged throughout the possibilities of architectural programs, including facilities for the film industry. Many of his numerous buildings under the 1916 Zoning Resolution feature architectural setbacks [Hugh Ferriss, "The Metropolis of Tomorrow," Princeton Architectural Press, 1986, p. 166 ISBN 0910413118] to keep the building profitably close to its permitted "envelope" and have been likened to the stepped form of the Tower of Babel: [Frederic Bedoire, "The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture: 1830-1930," KTAV Publishing House, 2004, pp. 436-438, ISBN 0881258083] a notable example is his 1400 Broadway (1931).

Kahn was born in New York, the only son of a prosperous Austrian and French Jewish family. His father brought design wares from Europe to sell in New York, perhaps providing his earliest introduction to design. Ely Jacques Kahn traveled to Europe where he was aware of the work of architect Josef Hoffman. [Robert A. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin, Thomas Mellins, "New York 1930," Rizzoli, 1995, pp. 551-558, ISBN 0847818381] He attended Columbia University, and later was a professor at Cornell University. Kahn was the father of noted "New Yorker" magazine writer Ely Jacques Kahn, Jr., and great-grandfather of Ely Jacques Kahn IV, Director of Risk Management for the Transportation Security Administration.

Ely Jacques Kahn's partnership with Albert Buchman lasted from 1917 until 1930. In this period his work alternated Beaux-Arts with cubism, modernism, and art deco, of which examples are 2 Park Avenue (1927), using architectural terracotta in jazzy facets and primary colors, the Film Center Building in Hell's Kitchen (1928-29) and the Squibb Building (1930), which Kahn considered among his best work. [http://www.thecityreview.com/745fifth.html The City Review: 745 Fifth Avenue] .] In what has become an iconic photograph, Kahn masqueraded as his own Squibb Building with other architects dressed as buildings for the "Beaux Arts Ball" of 1931. [Rem Koolhaas, "Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan," Monacelli Press, 1994, p. 128, ISBN 1885254008; Paul Goldberger, "The Skyscraper," Knopf, 1981, p. 79, ISBN 0394505956] The building moved decisively away from the decorative modernity of the Art Deco 20s: Lewis Mumford praised it in 1931 as “a great relief after the fireworks, the Coney Island barking, the theatrical geegaws that have been masquerading as le style moderne around Manhattan during the last few years.”

As research for "The Fountainhead" Ayn Rand worked in Kahn's office, [Mimi Reisel Gladstein, "The New Ayn Rand Companion," Greenwood, 1999, p. 41, ISBN 0313303215] where Kahn arranged for her to meet Frank Lloyd Wright. [Stern 2006, p. 179] Kahn, who had taken full control of the practice of Kahn & Buchman in 1930, as Ely Jacques Kahn Architects, produced some commercial skyscrapers that combined traditional massing with a skin pared if all details, such as the 42-storey Continental Building (1931) at Broadway and West 41st Street. [ [http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=continentalbuilding-newyorkcity-ny-usa The Continental Building] ]

In 1940 he formed a partnership with Robert Allan Jacobs, the son of architect Harry Allan Jacobs. An exemplary work of this period is the Universal Pictures Building of 1947 which was used by Reyner Banham to illustrate air conditioning. [Reyner Banham, "Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment," University of Chicago Press, 1984, p. 223 ISBN 0226036987] Another is 100 Park Avenue, and the firm later collaborated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson on the Seagram Building. In 1944 Kahn and Jacobs rendered a prosaic program, the Municipal Asphalt Plant as a free-standing sculptural essay in concrete covering four parabolic steel arches, familiar to any driver on the FDR Drive (at 90th-91st Streets). ["This bold work of 'industrial architecture' has not been matched in New York for bald functional and esthetic logic." ("AIA Guide to New york" 1968:181).] For the New York Stock Exchange, Kahn & Jacobs created additional facilities in 1956 designed with their characteristic zig-zag of setbacks in the upper stories. [ [http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=newyorkstockexchangeannex-newyorkcity-ny-usa New York Stock Exchange Annex] ]

Kahn's work just after World War II had direct relevance to Judaism. In 1946 he began a renovation of Central Synagogue. [Ken Shulman, [http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_1000/restore.htm "Restoring the Soul,"] Metropolis, October 2000] In 1947, he wrote on the subject of design principles for synagogues in an article entitled, "Creating a Modern Synagogue Style: No More Copying." [Ely Jacques Kahn, "Creating a Modern Synagogue Style: No More Copying," Commentary, June 1947] In 1948, with sculptor Jo Davidson, Kahn made the first public plan for a Holocaust memorial in the United States. [James Young, "The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning," Yale University Press, 1994, p. 290, ISBN 0300059914] The chosen site for this project in Riverside Park later bore other projects for memorials by Percival Goodman, and Erich Mendelsohn.

Although Kahn retired some years earlier, the firm of Kahn & Jacobs lasted until 1973, the year after Kahn's death. [Stern 2006, p. 56]

A collection of his drawings is held at the Columbia University Library. [Columbia University Libraries, [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/exhibitions/treasures/html/245.html 2004 "Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections," 2004] accessed 31 July 2008]

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