1300 Lafayette East is a masterpiece of mid-century design. The building is the work of Gunnar Birkerts, one of the most prominent architects practicing in this country. Birkerts was born in Riga, Latvia in 1925. After immigrating to the United States in 1949 he worked with both Eero Saarinen and Minoru Yamasaki. His design for 1300 – Birkert’s only residential building – helped launch his career when the apartment tower was completed in 1964. By his own description, he lavished the kind of attention on 1300 that a young practitioner might lovingly bestow on his first job.
Birkerts is noted for his meticulous care with materials, for his bold geometric designs, and for his inspired use of light. “Light should be reflected, deflected and otherwise borrowed into spaces.”
Light illuminates and animates the variegated concrete and metal facade of 1300, transforming the building into a sculptural masterwork, always changing with the time of day and the passage of seasons.
1300 occupies a distinctive address in Lafayette Park, which is a model of enlightened urban design, bringing together with Birkerts the work of planner Ludwig Hilberseimer, landscape architect Alfred Caldwell, and architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Birkert’s design for 1300 provides a lively commentary on the square bulk of the apartment blocks that Mies developed. At 1300, Birkerts has skillfully contrived to create a sense of lightness and slim elegance. He has narrowed the columns supporting the building as they rise; he has offset the two parallel banks of apartments to accentuate the slimness of the structure. Birkert’s 1300 soars, elegantly, in counterpoint to the gridded bulk of Mies.
Researched and written by Jerry Herron, Ph.D.