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New School Architectural plans and drawings for 66 West Twelfth Street

 Collection
Identifier: NS-09-01-01

Summary

Originally located in six renovated brownstones on West 21st Street in New York City, The New School for Social Research reopened in 1931 in a new building at 66 West Twelfth Street in Greenwich Village, designed by Joseph Urban (1872-1933). The collection consists of drawings of Urban's original building at 66 West Twelfth Street, drawings for the expanded campus in the 1950s, and plans of other renovations and expansions at the site.

Dates

  • 1924 - 1986
  • Majority of material found within 1930 - 1959

Creator

Extent

17.4 Cubic Feet (1 box, 8 oversize boxes (rolled drawings), 3 drawers of flat files, 9 folders)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Content of Collection

The 66 West Twelfth Street Architectural Plans and Drawings consist of design and construction drawings documenting Joseph Urban's original building project for the New School at 66 West Twelfth Street in New York's Greenwich Village, as well as plans from later periods of renovation and expansion at the site, including the addition of two adjacent buildings to form a three-building complex in the 1950s. The collection is arranged in four series, each representing a distinct period of construction at the New School.

Series I. Original Construction (Joseph Urban, Architect), 1927-1931 contains drawings for the original Joseph Urban-designed building, which opened in 1931, and represents the largest group of plans in the collection. While mostly consisting of blueprints by the architect, some original design and construction drawings are present, as well as a number of drawings by the contractor and subcontractors. Where original drawings are present, it is noted within the inventory below.

The largest subseries, Construction, consists of plans and drawings, beginning with a set of floor plans for all floors, then sections of the entire building, followed by drawings arranged alphabetically largely by location in the building. When only details are available related to a particular location, these are sometimes found within the Details and elements subseries. The Details and elements subseries also includes drawings where a single page depicts details related to more than one floor or area of the building. Titles here are often identical to the title as written on the plan; in some cases, however, titles have been supplied to help provide a clear sense of what may be found on a particular drawing.

Series II. Alterations to original building (Mayer and Whittlesey Architects), 1939-1940, 1950, represents two periods of renovation and alterations to the original building. All of the drawings in this series consist of construction blueprints and are arranged chronologically by period of alteration.

Series III. Expansion project (Mayer, Whittlesey and Glass Architects), 1955-1959. The second largest group of materials in the collection, this series is comprised of drawings documenting the construction of the two new buildings built adjacent to the original site, as well as alterations made to the original building to form the three-building complex. All drawings in this series consist of reproductions--largely in the form of construction blueprints. There are no design drawings in this series.

Series IV. Later alterations and additions, 1962, 1966-1969, 1986. The proposals and plans in this series were produced by various architects for upgrades to the three-building complex. Both proposals and executed projects are present. Arranged chronologically by period of alteration.

The collection includes almost no correspondence (there are two letters in Series IV regarding proposed alterations to the auditorium). Neither does the collection include presentation drawings or photographs of either the original 66 West Twelfth Street building or of the later buildings. Almost no mention is made within the materials of the murals that were created at the time the original building was under construction. See the Related Materials note below to find sources of information on the murals, as well as for presentation drawings, photographs, fundraising and promotional documents, reports, and other materials related to the 66 West Twelfth Street complex.

Access Restrictions

Original plans and drawings unavailable if digitized. For access to records available in digital form, researchers must consult the digitized versions, which are publicly accessible online. Researchers wishing to consult the original plan or drawing should write to archivist@newschool.edu, stating the reason for the request.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu

Historical and Biographical Notes

For the first decade of its existence, the New School for Social Research operated out of six renovated brownstones on West 21st Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. In 1931, the school moved to a more central location at 66 West Twelfth Street. The seven-story structure was a new construction designed by architect and theatrical designer Joseph Urban (1872-1933). Celebrated by some as the first example of International Style architecture in the United States, 66 West Twelfth was first in a future three-building complex at the site. In 1968, the school's Graduate Faculty expanded into a renovated department store at 65 Fifth Avenue, and since then the school has leased and acquired other sites in the area. The 66 West Twelfth Street complex still functions as the heart of the campus.

In 1930, Alvin Saunders Johnson (1874-1971)--co-founder of the New School for Social Research in 1919 and leader of the institution from 1922 through 1945--arranged for the purchase of three adjoining lots that, together with a fourth added soon afterwards, combined to form the footprint for a new structure. Situated close to multiple transportation hubs, the school's new home afforded Johnson the opportunity to express the school's mission to provide an environment for the exercise of free inquiry and egalitarian learning in a physical structure that also supported the needs of a busy adult student population. Charles and Albert Mayer--brothers to New School trustee Clara Woolie Mayer--introduced Johnson to architect Joseph Urban, who accepted Johnson's challenge. (The Mayer family held a long association with the New School. Clara came as a student in 1919 and stayed for many years, first as a trustee and eventually as vice president, dean of the School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts, and dean of The New School. Clara's brother, Charles, served as engineer on New School building projects for four decades, including the original building. The family also contributed $100,000 toward the 1930 building and the auditorium was originally named for their father, real estate developer and philanthropist Bernhard Mayer. And, in the 1950s, Albert's firm would serve as principal architect on the expansion project.)

When Urban's building on West Twelfth Street opened in 1931, the exterior--its black and white brick interspersed with bands of uninterrupted windows accenting the building's horizontal lines--stood in marked contrast to the nineteenth century brownstones surrounding it. The building received a great deal of attention in the press and among architects and critics. Hailed by some as a paragon of modernist architecture, an achievement of form meshed with function, and the first example of International Style architecture in the United States, detractors noted that while the building incorporated modernist design elements, especially in its façade, the interior did not reflect the design principles or philosophy associated with the International Style.

The auditorium and lobby were the most dramatic spaces in the new building. Johnson had stressed his wish for Urban to find an architectural solution in the auditorium that would encourage easy interaction between lecturers and students. Urban responded with an egg-shaped space that, with its wide, arched bands and soft, reflected light, produced a strikingly intimate space that downplayed the distance between stage and spectator.

With the design of 66 West Twelfth Street underway, Alvin Johnson invited two artists to paint murals in the building. José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) created five thematically-linked frescoes, which covered all four walls of a general dining room on the fifth floor, as well as the wall outside the room's entrance. (The floors were renumbered following the expansion project in the 1950s; at this time the fifth floor became the seventh.) The nine panels of Thomas Hart Benton's murals, created in egg tempera, were located in the Board of Directors' room on the third floor. While the 1950s expansion saw the space converted to a classroom, Benton's murals remained in place until 1984, when they were sold to the Equitable Life Assurance Society. Orozco's mural cycle has undergone two major restorations since its creation. It still resides in its original space, renamed the Orozco Room and no longer as a dining hall, but primarily for meetings and special events.

After World War II, an influx of new students created a pressing need for more space, and by 1953 the school, now under the direction of Hans Simons, had initiated a campaign to raise the $2.5 million that would ultimately triple the campus size. Designed by Albert Mayer of Mayer, Whittlesey & Glass, construction took place between 1956 and 1959. One of the two new buildings attached directly to the original 66 West Twelfth Street building, and the other faced Eleventh Street and was connected to the others by a sculpture courtyard and footbridge above. The new buildings were named the Jacob M. Kaplan Building (West Twelfth Street) and the Albert A. List Building (West Eleventh Street) for the trustees largely responsible for funding their construction. When the complex opened, the original building at 66 West Twelfth was christened the Alvin Johnson Building.

In 1968, the New School's Graduate Faculty offices and classrooms were moved into a large renovated department store at 65 Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth Street. By the 1980s, the Albert A. List Building had become the home for the New School's four-year liberal arts undergraduate program, Eugene Lang College. Today, while the campus has expanded to a number of other sites, the New School still occupies the Eleventh and Twelfth Street complex. Urban's original auditorium and lobby at 66 West Twelfth Street were landmarked in 1993, and continue to be used for university events and public programs. The 66 West Twelfth Street complex remains a core part of the university, home to academic departments, classrooms, and administrative offices, including the offices of the President and Provost.

Joseph Urban

Austrian-born Joseph Urban (1872-1933) built a flourishing career as a young architect in Vienna, while also establishing a reputation as a children's book illustrator and, importantly, as a theatrical designer. In 1911, Urban immigrated to the United States to become art director for the Boston Opera. When the company folded in 1914, he moved to New York City and began designing productions for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Metropolitan Opera, among many others. Urban gained particular reknown for his skill in manipulating color and light to produce striking emotional effects in a space. (Rosco Laboratories named a stage lighting filter after the designer that is still in use: Roscolux Urban Blue #81.) Only a few of Joseph Urban's buildings remain standing in the United States. These include Mar-A-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida; the base of the Hearst Tower in New York City; and 66 West Twelfth Street. Urban died just two years after completing the New School building.

Albert Mayer

Albert Mayer (1897-1981), a civil engineer, architect, and city planner, was principal of the firm responsible for renovations to the original building at 66 West Twelfth Street in the 1940s, and in the the 1950s was architect for the two new buildings adjacent to 66 West Twelfth Street and for further renovations to the original building. Mayer earned his engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1919, and later went on to become a registered architect. He worked with his brother as engineering contractor for the original New School building in 1930, later becoming a lead member of an architectural workshop and discussion group held at the New School. Mayer went on to found the Housing Study Guild with Henry Wright and Lewis Mumford, and was deeply engaged throughout his life with the relationship between physical structures and the community around them, with a particular focus on public housing. During the period in which Mayer worked on the New School building project in the 1950s, he was also involved in national and international urban planning and housing projects, including completing a decade of work as an advisor on a rural development project in India. Later in life, Mayer was recognized for his pioneering work in applying the principles of social research to urban development issues.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in four series: I. Original construction (Joseph Urban, Architect), 1929-1931 II.Alterations to original building (Mayer & Whittlesey Architects), 1939-1940, 1950 III.Expansion project (Mayer, Whittlesey & Glass Architects), 1955-1959 IV.Later alterations and additions, 1962, 1966-1969, 1986

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the Kellen Design Archives (later, New School Archives & Special Collections), from the Department of Facilities Management, 2009.

Related Materials

Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library Collections houses the Joseph Urban papers (http://findingaids.cul.columbia.edu), which document Urban's career and include nineteen watercolor and pencil renderings, as well as photographs, for the 66 West Twelfth Street project.

The papers of architect Albert Mayer reside at the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center (http://rmoa.unm.edu), and a collection related to his planning project in India is located at the University of Chicago Library, Department of Special Collections (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu).

Photographs, promotional materials, and event announcements related to the 66 West Twelfth Street building and expansion projects may be found elsewhere in the New School Archives and Special Collections. In addition, the Archives has materials documenting Thomas Hart Benton's and José Clemente Orozco's murals created for 66 West Twelfth Street. For information, email archivist@newschool.edu.

Bibliography

A number of print and electronic sources were consulted in the writing of this collection guide that may be of use to researchers investigating the history of the New School's campus. Please note that this is far from an exhaustive list of sources. Indeed, if you find useful sources that are not listed here and would like to share them, please e-mail archivist@newschool.edu so that we may include them in future editions of this guide.
  • Aronson, Arnold et al. "Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban," published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name held in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, October 10-December 16, 2000. Accessed July 2, 2012. www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/archives/rbml/urban/architectOfDreams.
  • Johnson, Philip. “The Architecture of the New School,” Arts vol. 27, no. 6 (March 1931), 393-8.
  • New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. [Designation Report]. Accessed June 26, 2012. www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/newschlint.pdf
  • Rutkoff, Peter M., and William B. Scott. New School: A History of The New School for Social Research. New York: The Free Press, 1986.
  • White, Norval, and Elliot Willensky. AIA Guide to New York City. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Note on Terminology

Design drawings. Sketches made by the architect or by members of his team during the design phase of the project, generally before construction has begun.

Construction drawings. In this collection, the term refers to all measured working plans and drawings available for the project, including architectural plans and details.

Shop drawings. In this collection, refers to plans produced by contractors and specialty subcontractors, detailing materials and plans for building elements and infrastructure.

Full-color Presentation drawings. No presentation drawings are included in this collection--these may be found in the Joseph Urban papers at Columbia University.

Title
Guide to the Architectural plans and drawings for the New School at 66 West Twelfth Street
Status
Completed
Author
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
Date
October 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • June 2017: New School Archives staff updated location information.