One Chase Manhattan Plaza

  • Client Chase Manhattan Bank N.A.
  • Expertise Commercial
  • Region North America
  • Location New York, New York, United States

A high point of urban transformation during the 1960s, this 60-story skyscraper was the first International Style building in Lower Manhattan and introduced a public plaza with iconic works of art.

Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 1961
  • Size Site Area: 2.50 acres Building Height: 813 feet Number of Stories: 60 Building Gross Area: 2,240,000 square feet
  • Collaborators
    Chermayeff & Geismer Associates Dan Kiley Landscape Isamu Noguchi Jaros, Baum & Bolles Weiskopf & Pickworth Otis Elevator Company Meyer, Strong & Jones
Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 1961
  • Size Site Area: 2.50 acres Building Height: 813 feet Number of Stories: 60 Building Gross Area: 2,240,000 square feet
  • Collaborators
    Chermayeff & Geismer Associates Dan Kiley Landscape Isamu Noguchi Jaros, Baum & Bolles Weiskopf & Pickworth Otis Elevator Company Meyer, Strong & Jones

Reshaping Lower Manhattan

When Chase National Bank and the Bank of Manhattan merged in 1955, the newly-formed Chase Manhattan Bank had a workforce of 8,700 people spread across different offices throughout New York City. The company’s Executive Vice President for Planning and Development, David Rockefeller, and SOM put forth a forward-looking vision for its future headquarters, with plans to bring modernism and open space to the Financial District. The tower was not only the first International Style building in Lower Manhattan, but also one of the first major buildings to be erected in the Financial District since the Great Depression. At the time of its completion, its rectilinear shape stood in stark contrast to the earlier spires of downtown, and its expansive plaza provided vast outdoor public space within one of America’s densest neighborhoods.

These are ambitious structures of character and quality, surrounded by the most expensive urban luxury money can buy—space. In a remarkable duality of purpose, reconcilable only in this commercial age, they aspire to the dual role of company trademark and work of art.

A modernist icon, and a good neighbor

Clad in aluminum and tinted glass, the tower made a shimmering addition to the masonry skyline of Lower Manhattan. Like the Inland Steel Building under construction in Chicago at the time, the building expressed its structure—placing the aluminum columns at the perimeter to create flexible, 30,000-square-foot floor plates and exhibit a sense of verticality. The open office areas are positioned around a central core, with the columns located outside the exterior wall and also within the core. Short ends of the floors are cantilevered beyond the end columns. On the ground, the columns touch the plaza in front of a recessed lobby to form a freestanding colonnade and shaded outdoor space.

Looking out onto Lower Manhattan from an upper floor. Courtesy of Electa
Inside the main lobby. Courtesy of Electa

In addition to its distinct banking room, the building’s multilevel basement includes a branch bank, a restaurant and cafeteria, shops, a trucking level, mailroom, storage, a print shop, mechanical equipment rooms, check-handling equipment, bank vaults, and parking.

Enhancing the public realm

The tower occupies just 30 percent of the site to create 2.5 acres of sunlit public space for the neighborhood. A circular opening in the plaza admits light to Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Garden—an outdoor court of fountains and basalt rocks selected from the bed of Japan’s Uji River—and the curved glass that covers the original banking room below. 

Jean Dubuffet's "Group of Four Trees" hovers above the banking hall and its Isamu Noguchi "Sunken Garden." © Ezra Stoller | Esto

The plaza also features the exuberant Jean Dubuffet sculpture, Group of Four Trees, bringing the contemporary art collection housed in the office floors to the outdoors. With the tower’s small footprint, and the intention to leave the majority of the site for public use, the city also widened Nassau, Liberty, William, and Pine Streets that surrounded the superblock site. 

Enhancing the public realm

How Lower Manhattan got its “Trees”

Having established itself as an architecture firm that prioritizes total design from facade to interiors to sculpture, SOM’s contract for One Chase Manhattan Plaza covered every detail down to desk accessories. Through this arrangement, the bank also sought SOM’s expertise to create a comprehensive program for the acquisition and placement of art for the project and other Chase buildings.  

The Chase Manhattan Bank art committee was formed in 1959 and included Gordon Bunshaft (lead designer of the bank’s headquarters), David Rockefeller (then-president of the bank), Alfred Barr (the first director of the Museum of Modern Art), and Dorothy Miller (MoMA senior curator), among others. Thousands of pieces were acquired for the groundbreaking corporate art collection, with a focus on works by emerging artists, Americana, indigenous art, and photography. But the greatest challenge for the committee early on was picking the right sculpture for the downtown headquarters’ generous public plaza. 

Street level view of skyscraper and sculpture
Wolfgang Hoyt | Esto
Two men in suits look at two men holding a study of a sculpture
The artist (far right) and David Rockefeller look over at a study of "Four Trees" being carried inside a studio. Jan Jachniewicz | JP Morgan Chase Archives

While Isamu Noguchi’s tranquil pool with weathered granite rocks, cobblestones, and water jets was settled upon rather quickly, the second piece took a full decade to resolve. Six major sculptors (Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Dimitri Hadzi, Henry Moore, Noguchi, and William Zorach) were asked to make submissions for the committee to consider but none were selected. During this period, Bunshaft saw an exhibit of large sculptures by Jean Dubuffet – one of the architect’s favorite artists – during a visit to Paris. Upon his return to New York, he suggested the artist’s work to the committee for consideration. After receiving their approval, the architect asked Dubuffet for multiple concepts and then picked five of them to ship back to New York. 

Rockefeller saw another piece on a separate visit to Dubuffet’s studio and asked that it also be included for consideration. It received unanimous approval from the committee. SOM then sent frequent consulting engineer Paul Weidlinger to Paris to work with Dubuffet on the design of the structural framework of the 42-foot-high piece made of epoxy and fiberglass, and to participate in its disassembly for shipment.

Jean Dubuffet's "Group of Four Trees". © Ezra Stoller | Esto
Workers install a large sculpture
Arthur Lavine | JP Morgan Chase Archives

“Group of Four Trees” was officially installed in 1972. Painted in white and black, its twisting forms are unmistakably by the artist who once told the New York Times during a site visit, “I hope it will cause people to think all kinds of extravagant, mad and uncanny thoughts.” 

More recently, SOM returned to the since-landmarked project—renamed 28 Liberty—to lead a comprehensive adaptive reuse and renovation for the 21st century. Historic elements such as the parapet surrounding the plaza, public art within the plaza, and amenities such as benches and planters have been restored. Over 200,000 square feet of former banking area below the plaza has been repurposed for retail and the tower has been repositioned for new office tenancy. New pavilion entrances and grade-level storefronts breathe new life into the building and a Financial District that has evolved into a 24-hour neighborhood.

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