William Van Alen

William Van Alen

William Van Alen (August 10, 1883 – May 24, 1954) was an American architect, best known as the architect in charge of designing New York City's Chrysler Building (1929-30).


William Van Alen was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1883. He attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, while working for the architect Clarence True. He also studied for three years at the Atelier Masqueray, the first independent architectural atelier in the United States, founded by Franco-American architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray.

Thereafter, Van Alen worked for several firms in New York, before he was awarded the Paris Prize scholarship in 1908; this led to his studying in Paris, in the atelier of Victor LalouxCitation
last = Pennoyer
first = Peter
author-link = Peter Pennoyer
last2 = Walker
first2 = Anne
title = The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich
place =
publisher = W. W. Norton & Company
year = 2003
url = http://books.google.com/books?isbn=0393730875
isbn = 0393730875
] at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.Citation
title = William Van Alen
publisher= The Van Alen Institute
url = http://www.vanalen.org/html/01_wva.php
accessdate = 2008-09-09
] Citation
last = Pierpont
first = Claudia Roth
title = The Sliver Spire. ('The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon, Day by Day')(Book Review)
newspaper = The New Yorker
pages =
year = 2002
date = 2002-11-02
url = http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-26718893_ITM
accessdate = 2008-09-09

When Van Alen returned to New York in 1911, he formed a partnership with H. Craig Severance. The partnership became known for its distinctive multistory commercial structures. Their friendship grew strained over time and eventually the partnership dissolved. Thereafter both Severance and Van Alen continued to practice on their own in New York.

In the late 1920s, both architects found themselves engaged in designing buildings which were heralded in the press to become the tallest buildings in the world: Severance, 40 Wall Street and Van Alen, the Chrysler Building. At 1046 ft., Van Alen's building won. However, both were surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931.

The completion of Chrysler building was received by critics with mixed reactions. Van Alen was hailed as a "Doctor of Altitude"Citation
last = Gray
first = Christopher
title = Streetscapes/William Van Alen; An Architect Called the 'Ziegfeld of His Profession'
newspaper = The New York Times
pages =
year = 1998
date = 1998-03-22
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905E7DB1F39F931A15750C0A96E958260
accessdate = 2008-09-09
] , and as "the Ziegfeld of his profession." However, the building, itself, was decried by some critics as just flash which "embodies no compelling, organic idea" and which was "distinctly a stunt design, evolved to make the man in the street look up" having "no significance as serious design."

Unfortunately, when commissioned to build the Chrysler Building, Van Alen failed to enter into a contract with Mr. Chrysler. After the building was completed, Van Alen requested payment of 6% of the building's ($14 million) budget - which was the standard fee of the time. After Chrysler refused payment, Van Allen sued him and won, eventually receiving the fee. However, the lawsuit significantly depreciated his reputation, as an employable architect. His career effectively ruined by the lawsuit, followed by the Great Depression, Van Alen focused his attention more on teaching sculpture.Citation
last = Bascomb
first = Neal
title = For the Architect, a Height Never Again to Be Scaled
newspaper = The New York Times
pages =
year = 2005
date = 2005-05-26
url = http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/26/garden/26creator.html
accessdate = 2008-09-09


He is the namesake of the Van Alen Institute, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving design in the public realm through a program of exhibitions, competitions, publications, workshops, and forums, and is an advocate for active and accessible waterfronts. Founded in 1894 as the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, the Institute was renamed in 1996 after Van Alen, its largest benefactor, and reorganized to focus on the public realm. Based in New York City, the Institute’s projects initiate interdisciplinary and international collaborations between practitioners, policymakers, students, educators, and community leaders..


External links

*Structurae person|id=d000175|name=William van Alen
* [http://www.greatbuildings.com/architects/William_Van_Alen.html Biography on Great Buildings Online]
* [http://www.vanalen.org Van Alen Institute]

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