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Monday, April 1, 2013

The Architecture of PS199

Public School 199
270 West 70th Street between Amsterdam and West End Avenue
Edward Durell Stone 1963

PS 199, officially named the Jesse Isador Straus School, stands stoutly at three stories high in the shadow of the Lincoln Towers Complex.  The school was built in a Title One redevelopment area, which included Lincoln Center and the Lincoln Towers.  The Board of Education commissioned well-known architect, Edward Durell Stone, to design PS 199.  Stone’s first major commission was in 1937 for the Museum of Modern Art, which he designed with Philip L. Goodwin.  

Then, beginning in the 1950s, Stone’s architectural aesthetic changed.  In a “move toward elegance,” Stone broke with the International Style and started designing sleek buildings with classical aspects.  The U.S. embassy in New Delhi was Stone’s first major work after this transformation and it is one of his most intricate and memorable designs.  PS 199, although not quite as elaborate as the embassy, is representative of Stone’s new aesthetic.  The school’s 166 thin, glazed white brick piers are faithful to Stone’s love of repetitive columns and are evocative of a grand colonnade.  

Classical patterning is illustrated in the concentric squares inscribed beneath the roof’s overhang.  Keeping in mind that people would be looking down at the top of the school from the surrounding apartment buildings, Stone tried to make the roof clean and aesthetically pleasing.  He cut out the center of the roof creating an open-air play space on the third floor of the school.  The building’s materials are simple: brick, glass, and metal.  However, the combination of shiny glass, dark brick, and white glazed piers create a striking contrast.  PS 199 has undoubtedly increased in significance because of the fate of 2 Columbus Circle.  

Stone’s 1964 design for the Gallery of Modern Art at 2 Columbus Circle was radical and innovative for the time and unfortunately has been lost.  PS 199 continues the neoclassical spirit of Stone’s unique form of Modernism on the Upper West Side and should be preserved in its own right and in memory of 2 Columbus Circle. 

Thanks to Landmark West for providing this description. 

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