New York Architecture Images- Midtown

885 Third Ave. "The Lipstick Building"


Philip Johnson & John Burgee


885 Third Ave., between East 53rd and East 54th Streets






The 143 m tall building consists of four oval-shaped cylinders placed above each other, each smaller in diameter than the one below, creating the building a set-back appearance. On the 36-storey facade, red granite spandrels alternate with the shiny steel of horizontal window bands.
The elliptical lobby has a colonnade of steel-banded and round pillars along the glassed outer wall line, and the columns double on the outside, forming a narrow arcade there.


Office Building





The Lipstick Building is Johnson's second postmodern contribution to the Manhattan skyline, following his nearby AT&T Building two years earlier. This time the unusual shape, which has given the building its nickname, was a requirement of the developer, to make the building stand out and compensate for the less fashionable location of Third Avenue. The elliptical shape also claims to make all the exterior offices "corner" offices.

Johnson has reportedly claimed that the oval shape and surrounding colonnade is reminiscent of Italian baroque architecture - though this is unlikely to be the first observation of a casual visitor.

The power of the distinctive shape, and indeed the temptation of it, can be seen most clearly from slightly further up Third Avenue, from where the Lipstick Building can be contrasted with its earlier neighbor, the aggressively square, modern and bleak Post Office building.


How to visit

The Lipstick Building is on the east side of Third Avenue at 53rd Street. The lobby is open to the public.




Philip Johnson, born in 1906, is one of the most talented and controversial architects from the seventies to present. Such buildings -among many others- like the IDS Center, Minneapolis (1972), breaking with the Miesan dictature, the Pennzoil Place Bldg, Houston (1976), sharp and pure as a quartz crystal, the Post Oak Central Bldg, Houston (1978), directly inspired by the rounded Look Bldg's horizontal strips, the AT&T Bldg, NY (1984), genuine and prodigious manifesto of the Postmodernism, the 33 Maiden Lane Bldg, NY, with its pink medieval crenellated towers, or these incredible all-glass gothic revivals that are the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Bldg and the NationsBank Center, Houston (1984), certify the wild imagination, the humanism, the fine intelligence, in a word -the genius- of this true visionary. Rounded, elliptical or undulating shapes were not innovative when the Lipstick Bldg was conceived [remember the famous Marina City, Chicago (Bertrand Goldberg, (1964), the Lake Point Tower, Chicago (Schipporeit & Heinrich, 1968) or the shiny John Portman's Peachtree Plaza Hotel, Atlanta (1976)], but it was, for New York, a very unusual response to zoning requirements in a totally square environment, breaking the orthogonal street grid. The tour de force resides in the extreme simplicity of the shape -three diminishing and asymetrically superimposed elliptical volumes-, and in the exterior polished treatment -horizontal glass, red granite and thin aluminum strips. "Lipstick" is just a nickname because the building has, effectively, a strong resemblance with a retractable lipstick tube. Sometimes, it is compared to a Claes Oldenburg's sculpture, but the reference is excellent. In the two-story lobby, the elevators core is bordered by massive red granite, metal-stripped columns. 
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