Day 36/365 of Steel – Charles Luckman

Charles Luckman (16/05/1909-26/01/1999) Live your dream!

Charles Luckman was an entrepreneur, architect and civic and international leader who sold soap, designed skyscrapers, shuttled supplies to a hungry postwar Europe and funded campus programs. The kind of self-made man that personified the American dream.

Lever House skyscraper
Fig 1: Lever House skyscraper
Photo: © Courtesy Brookfield sProperties © SOM

He tucked away his 1931 architecture degree from the University of Illinois for 20 years, and got a job designing brochures to sell soap. When he was 27, Time magazine called him the “boy wonder of American business.” By 33 he was president of Pepsodent Co. and by 37 he was president of Lever Bros. Curiously, it was Luckman’s work as head of Lever Bros that led him back to architecture.

When he supervised the landmark Lever House headquarters in New York, he so enjoyed the project that he decided to design buildings. Lever’s steel and glass building was among the first, as well as the most famous, corporate expression of the Modern International style in America.

Madison Square Garden in New York designed by Charles Luckman
Fig 2: Madison Square Garden in New York designed by Charles Luckman
Photo: © Handout

In 2022, architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is renovating the 1950s Lever House skyscraper in an effort to preserve the modernist office building’s “very important legacy”. SOM’s aim for the restoration is to preserve Lever House’s original appearance, while also enhancing its sustainability performance to meet modern-day standards.

Floating Spiral Staircase by Luckman
Fig 3: Floating Spiral Staircase by Luckman
Photo: SDASM Archives

One more thing: in the pictures I included a sensational floating spiral staircase that Luckman designed together with his architectural partner William Perreira. Who wouldn’t stop for a moment in amazement when first seeing this aluminum ramp hanging on stainless steel rods? The Kearny Mesa campus and its impressive lobby area were also the embodiment of the future and Space-Age architecture and how better to attract brilliant young engineers to GD than depicting what they envisioned Southern California to be?

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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