Q: In reading your article in the Arts and Ideas section in the Sunday Morning Call on the artist Alexander Archipenko and the relief sculpture he did around the PPL Tower building, you give Wallace K. Harrison credit as architect for the building. My research shows that Harvey W. Corbett was the architect and that Harrison, who was his assistant, did not design any building until 1929. Could you explain?
A: Dave, thanks for your e-mail. That bit of information about Corbett was accidentally dropped from my story after I wrote it. In the original version, Corbett was given credit as being the building's primary architect with Harrison being the architect who oversaw Corbett's design in Allentown.
In my conversation with Harrison in 1981, shortly before his death, he told me he was present in Allentown during at least a part of the PPL building's construction. He also talked about working with Archipenko in Allentown during the construction. Thanks also for the information about Harrison, pointing out that it was Corbett who selected Archipenko for the work.
You are correct in naming Harvey Wiley Corbett as the PPL building's primary architect. He took on Harrison as a junior partner in 1926 and helped make him the architect that he became. The firm was Helme & Corbett, the other partner being architect Frank Helme.
As you pointed out in another e-mail, Harrison never took credit for being the PPL's designer, calling it ''Harvey Corbett's great building.'' It was completed in 1928.
Your e-mail gives me a chance to share with our readers some information about the architect of Allentown's best-known building.
Corbett was born in San Francisco in 1873. His education included a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1895, and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, receiving a diploma in 1900.
Corbett entered the firm of architect Cass Gilbert as a draftsman in 1901. Gilbert was later the designer for the Woolworth Building in New York City, built in 1913, which for a number of years was the world's tallest. Corbett also worked for a time with F. Livingston Pell and Helme.
Perhaps Corbett's best-known contribution to the profession came in 1916. Changes in the New York zoning laws that year had architects wondering exactly how these new rules would work. He hired Hugh Ferriss, an architect who was skilled in the creation of renderings, to draw four perspectives demonstrating how architects could use these regulations with their designs. Corbett was later to use this style for the modern skyscraper of which the PPL tower was a model.
Corbett's first skyscraper was the Bush Terminal Tower in New York. Built between 1920-24, ''its prominent position and slight setbacks in buff, white and black brick,'' says the Grove Dictionary of Art, ''marked his debut as an influential skyscraper designer.''
Along with being a practical trained architect, Corbett was a visionary. In the mid-1920s he imagined a Manhattan with elevated highways to keep traffic flowing. From 1907 to the mid-1930s he lectured at Columbia School of Architecture and influenced a generation of architects.
Corbett died on April 21, 1954.
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