Monday, March 22, 2010

Compared to "the falling blade of a guillotine"

Thanks to the punishingly high standards he set for himself -- not to mention a less-than-sunny way with potential clients -- Abraham, who was born in Austria and moved permanently to the United States in the mid-1960s, completed few buildings in his long career. He was far better known as a teacher and the creator of primitive, hauntingly powerful architectural drawings.

But his modest output did include one truly remarkable building: the Austrian Cultural Forum, a knife-thin, 24-story tower that opened in 2002 in midtown Manhattan as an outpost for exhibitions and discussions about Austrian culture and politics. Abraham's design for the Forum prevailed in a competition that drew entries from 226 Austrian firms -- essentially "every born Austrian architect who could walk," as Abraham put it at the time. It called for a tough, unforgiving piece of architecture: a 280-foot-tall, 25-foot-wide building squeezed between taller neighbors on East 52nd Street. Abraham famously compared its sharp-edged facade to the falling blade of a guillotine.

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