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William Lescaze (1896 – 1969): 10 Things to Know About New York’s First Modernist Architect

The Turett Collaborative is excited to share that our architecture team will be renovating the historic William Lescaze House in the coming months. Aside from its boldly modern exterior and daringly unornamented aesthetic, the 1930’s masterpiece and residence of Swiss architect William Lescaze is a New York landmark, often dubbed the “first modernist residence in New York.” Learn more about the iconic architect in our fact sheet below, and stay tuned to our social pages for updates on the project!

He was born and trained in Switzerland

Born 1896, Lescaze studied architecture in Zurich under radical modernist Karl Moser. After setting up his business in New York in the twenties, he began building in nearby Philadelphia.

With Philadelphia architect George Howe, he built the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building

The structure is known as the first international modernist skyscraper, and was completed in 1932, replacing the bank’s previous headquarters. It is now a luxury hotel.

The Oak Lane Country Day School integrated design and education

Lescaze’s modernist addition to Philadelphia’s school system, completed in 1929 with George Howe, adhered to the school’s philosophies of reform and progressive thinking.

He submitted a design proposal for MOMA

Although his 1930 model of a soon-to-be MOMA did not make the cut, his wood and metal model is owned by the museum, and his work has been shown in fourteen exhibits since the museum’s opening at its current location in 1939 .

“Those who live in glass houses…”

Before the Lescaze House, no New York City residence had ever used glass blocks. The blocks allow light to fill the apartment without allowing those at street level to see inside. After its completion, glass bricks became a symbol of high-style modernism.

The home he built for Alfred Loomis has an air of mystery

In 1937, the Wall Street banker hired Lescaze to build a house for him in Tuxedo Park, in Orange County, New York. Later, it was revealed that Loomis had secretly been experimenting with radar technology at a nearby lab that was later used in World War II. The story, titled “The Secret of Tuxedo Park,” was the subject of a PBS special.

He created a British landmark

Inspired by abstraction, Lescaze brought his celebrated architectural austerity to the United Kingdom.  One of Britain’s most important modernist buildings, Highcross House, in Devon, was home to the headmaster of the Dartington Hall School.

The Williamsburg Houses were his idea

With a belief that only architecture could solve the city’s housing problem, he built the Williamsburg Houses, a 1938 Housing Authority development, now a New York City landmark. The development served as a city-within-a-city, and includes playgrounds, parks, and a school.

He built the 100th tallest building in New York City

1 New York Plaza, a Financial District office building finished in 1969, the year of Lescaze’s death, is 50 stories and currently houses the offices of Revlon and Macmillan Publishers.

His son was a public figure as well

His son, Lee Adrien Lescaze (1938–1996), was an editor at The Washington Post.  His 1980 article about the FBI renting his home to use as a base for a sting operation gained him national attention.


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