ART HISTORY - Rockefeller Center, New York - A City Within a City
The most comprehensive complex of skyscrapers from this period is Rockefeller Center in New York, begun in 1931 and finished in 1939. The center was proposed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to house the Metropolitan Opera Company within a large commercial complex. The original plan, completed in 1932, occupied three city blocks and consisted of fourteen buildings, theaters, and open public spaces, with the tall, slender RCA (now GE) Building, in the center.
After the war, the complex expanded to include twenty-one office buildings. Although the original buildings have elements of Gothic detail, these have been simplified or altogether eliminated in the newer buildings of the 1950s and 1960s. Rockefeller Center is of significance not only for its contribution to harmonious, rational skyscraper design, but even more for its planning concept. Introduced here are large, open areas for pedestrians between the office buildings, many recreational facilities, an elaborate theater (Radio City Music Hall), radio and television studios, a second theater, shops, restaurants, and a skating rink. The rink is placed below street level under a gilt bronze statue of Prometheus by sculptor Paul Manship and, once a year, the famous Christmas tree.
Few, if any, office complexes in twentieth-century American architecture have improved on the total concept of Rockefeller Center. The architects who worked cooperatively on this huge and complicated commission were Reinhard and Hofmeister, with Corbett, Harrison, Harmon and MacMurray, Hood and Fouilhoux. A number of artists were approached (including Matisse and Picasso, though nothing came of it) to decorate the buildings with paintings and large sculpture reliefs. The Mexican painter Diego Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural for the lobby of the RCA Building, but when Rockefeller discovered that the Communist artist's depiction of Man at the Crossroads included a portrait of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the mural was covered up and, ultimately, destroyed.