Simanaitis Says

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I DONT’ KNOW much about architecture, but I know what I like. In particular, I’ve already celebrated three favorites here at SimanaitisSays: Katsura Rikyu, an imperial villa near Kyoto, Japan, built around 1600; Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre built Thames-side about the same time as Katsura; and Greene and Greene’s Gamble House built in 1908–1909 in Pasadena, California.

Today, I share tidbits about two more favorites: Barcelona’s La Pedrera and New York City’s Chrysler Building. I encourage you to comment about your favorites.

A Home for Pere Milà i Camps. Antoni Gaudí built Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, Catalan for “The Quarry,” on commission from Pere Milà i Camps and Roser Segimon i Artells, a wealthy Catalan couple.

La Pedrera; Passeig de Gràcia, 92; Barcelona. This and the following image from

La Pedrera, built between 1906 and 1910, has a self-supporting limestone structure that’s famed for its undulating surfaces. The building’s upper portion is tiled in white to resemble a snowy mountain. The structure encloses two large, curved interior courtyards.

Curved cast-iron beams link the facade to nine interior levels which are free-standing. That is, interior modifications of La Pedrera layout could be made without affecting the building’s structural integrity.

Antoni Gaudi, 1852–1926, Catalan architect, the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism.

Milà and his wife occupied the 14,240 sq.-ft. ground floor, with the remaining levels designed as apartments. However, their relationship with Gaudí was anything but cordial. As detailed in Wikipedia, “Continuing disagreements led Gaudí to take Milà to court over his fees. The lawsuit was won by Gaudí in 1916, and he gave the 105,000 pesitas he won in the case [$21,000 U.S. at the time, around $506,000 today] to charity, stating that ‘the principles mattered more than money.’

Milà still had to pay the mortgage.

An Appreciation of Art Deco. After stints at ALCO (American Locomotive Company), Buick, and Willys-Overland, Walter P. Chrysler took over and renamed the ailing Maxwell carmaker in 1925. In 1928, he financed construction of Chrysler headquarters at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, New York City. The project was originally envisioned as the Reynolds Building, after William H. Reynolds, best known as developer of Coney Island.

The Chrysler Building, 405 Lexington Avenue, New York City. Image by David Shankbone; retouched by Overand.

The Chrysler Building opened on May 27, 1930. For 11 months prior to its being surpassed by the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building was the world’s tallest with its roof topping off at 925 ft. and antenna spire at 1046 ft. Today, it is the sixth-tallest building in New York City.

I admire the Chrysler Building not for its height, but for its wonderful Art Deco styling, particularly evident in its interior and its upper levels.

William Van Alen, 1883–1954, American architect.

William Van Alen, architect of the Chrysler Building, was hailed as a “Doctor of Altitude” and “the Ziegfield of his profession.” Architect Le Corbusier called the Chrysler Building “hot jazz in stone and steel.”

Above, a hood ornament 31 floors above the street. The roundels to its left have centers echoing hubcaps. Image by Rev Stans. Below, a Chrysler Building elevator door. Image by Tony Hisgett.

According to Wikipedia, “After the building was completed, Van Alen requested payment of six percent of the building’s construction budget ($14 million), a figure that was the standard fee of the time. After Chrysler refused payment, Van Alen sued him and won, eventually receiving the fee. The lawsuit significantly depreciated his reputation as an employable architect.”

Apparently Chrysler’s stiffing him did not significantly depreciate the automaker’s reputation.

What have we learned from this? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. jlalbrecht64
    June 4, 2018

    La Pedrera was one of the first buildings (maybe “the” first?”) not to use the outer walls as structural elements. For this reason, it has huge (for the time) windows and is thus very bright inside. When you look at other European buildings of the same period, the windows are tiny. Gaudi also planned for natural ventilation, which in hot Barcelona 100+ years ago must have been unbelievably valuable. Several other cool features make it one of my favorites as well!

  2. Michael Rubin
    June 4, 2018

    The Chrysler Building lobby is tiny by contemporary standards, especially compared with some other New York buildings with proprietor’s names on them.

  3. carmacarcounselor
    June 15, 2018

    Casa Milà is a prominent setting in Dan Brown’s novel “Origin.”

  4. carmacarcounselor
    June 15, 2018

    The Chrysler Building’s architectural ornament appears to be resting on a circular base, like a radiator cap, and thus might be more accurately termed a mascot.

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