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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Best of From the Floor: Part 5

Today I am in Geneva moderating a panel discussion on workflow in new business operations at the International Underwriting Congress.

You may be wondering what, exactly, I know about this topic.

I know enough to make sure that I talk about something I actually know a little bit about. So in my introductory remarks, I’m speaking about architectural history--to be specific, about Gordon Bunshaft’s Wilde Building and corporate campus outside Hartford, CT.

In the mid-1950s executives at the Connecticut General insurance company commissioned Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill to replace their downtown Hartford headquarters with a new building on a plot of land located several miles outside the city. Bunshaft and his client fundamentally rethought how work was completed in the insurance industry. Working together they designed a building that functioned, in certain respects, as a factory for processing insurance paperwork.

In the process, Bunshaft (along with Florence Knoll who did the interiors and Isamu Noguchi who designed the building’s courtyards and contributed a monumental sculpture for the grounds—seen below) created a new paradigm for thinking about the office and the suburban office park. For complex reason, though, this steel and glass jewel is threatened with destruction today.

Too many examples of modernist architecture are being compromised or destroyed these days. Last October, I attributed this to what I called the “forty year itch.”

Respect and the Forty Year Itch

Related: my remembrance of noted architectural photographer Ezra Stoller (the individual responsible for documenting most of these great mid-century buildings) who passed away last November

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