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May 23: The United Nations Architect

May 23, 2014
Philharmonic-Hall-Lincoln-CenterMax Abramovitz, the architect who designed Avery Fisher Hall as well as substantial parts of United Nations headquarters in New York, was born in Chicago on this date in 1908. His other buildings include Hartford’s Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company, the U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh, the Tour Gan, a skyscraper in the business section of Paris, Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, and CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Much of his career was spent in the shadow of Wallace K. Harrison, his architectural partner, who was close to the Rockefeller family and “became a kind of master planner of the city’s complexes,” including “Rockefeller Center, the United Nations and Lincoln Center,” according to Randy Kennedy’s New York Times obituary of Abramowitz, who lived to 96. Avery Fisher Hall, his signature project, “later became a lightning rod for criticism,” writes Kennedy, “in part because its acoustics were almost immediately found to be lacking by members of the Philharmonic, who described it variously as a ‘pinball machine,’ a ‘television studio’ and ‘raw alcohol instead of a vintage wine.’ ” “With Harrison, Abramowitz also designed the last Rockefeller Center skyscrapers: the Time & Life, McGraw-Hill, Exxon and Celanese Buildings on the Avenue of the Americas. Harrison and Abramowitz oversaw the United Nations project in New York from 1945 to 1952, and Abramowitz served as deputy director of planning for the complex.” -Architectural Record