Pict0336.jpg (135135 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Soho

Scholastic Building


Aldo Rossi


557 Broadway 








Office Building




aldo rossimetropolis observed



"Rossi loved New York's skyscrapers and its orderly grid, but he also had an eye for the city's accidents and mysteries..."

by William Higgins

ate last summer, Aldo Rossi's design for a new office building in Soho received its final city approvals. Within a few weeks, the architect was dead, following a car accident near his home on Lago Maggiore in northern Italy. Rossi will be missed by all who know his work, and especially by those who knew the man.
I came to know Aldo Rossi through our work together on his only New York project. My memories of him are grounded in many months of meetings, conversations, presentations, drinks, and meals--the close interactions that ultimately result in buildings, and occasionally in friendships. Like his buildings, Rossi was at once serious and whimsical, magisterial and accessible, popular and retiring. Although an influential teacher and theoretician, he was at heart an artist and a visual poet, and that is the way he designed his buildings.

Rossi's Soho project, an extension of Scholastic Publishing's headquarters on lower Broadway, is a case in point. The building's columnar Broadway facade, in steel, terra-cotta, and stone, echoes the scale and the formal, Classical character of its commercial neighbors. The rear facade, on Mercer Street, extracts a gritty essence from its more utilitarian surroundings of plain cast iron and weathered masonry. Paul Goldberger has praised the Scholastic design as "a building that will teach generations of architects the proper way to respond to historic contexts." True enough, but it will teach more than propriety. It will teach poetry as well.

Rossi loved New York's skyscrapers and its orderly grid, but he also had an eye for the city's accidents and mysteries, for the New York of unfinished lot-line walls, dark side streets, and rusting fire escapes. One of the architect's best sketches for the Soho building shows the Broadway facade in mist and shadow, under the kind of irregular light that might have filtered through nineteenth-century coal smoke. Rossi's mind was in this time and place when he first conceived the building. I remember him at an early meeting in his studio on East 20th Street, when he looked out a rear window toward a chance landscape of common brick walls, asphalt roofs, and wooden water tanks. The towers of Madison Square and Midtown were visible, but only at a distance. He said simply, "This is the New York I love."

Publicly and privately, Rossi always said it would be an honor to have a building in New York, and especially on Broadway. There was a real, unforced humility in this. Rossi had built all over the world, and had received the highest praise for it; but he talked about the Scholastic building with the enthusiasm of a young architect celebrating his first big commission. After years of design and review, it finally looks as though there will be an Aldo Rossi building on Broadway. Sadly, the honor will come posthumously for Aldo, but his building will be an honor to New York for as long as it stands.