VMoA at Philip Howard

Valentine Museum of Art is a  5,000 square feet private museum. The museum sits at the south east base of the architect Philip Birnbaum designed building Philip Howard Apartments. The building boast 643 luxury apartments when it was completed and opened in 1964

Philip Birnbaum, 89, Builder Celebrated for His Efficiency


Published: November 28, 1996


Philip Birnbaum, the almost anonymous architectural hand behind many of the most imposing

apartment towers in New York City, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.


Unlike his contemporary, Philip Johnson, Mr. Birnbaum enjoyed no public celebrity and little critical acclaim; ''banal'' was among the kinder words used to describe his work. But his output exceeded that of Mr. Johnson -- and just about any other architect in recent decades -- and his buildings are familiar to New Yorkers, even if they do not know who gets the credit.


What made him so popular among developers was the efficiency of his apartment layouts. There was virtually no wasted floor space in his units, meaning that builders could fit more apartments on a floor. Because he tried to eliminate interior hallways, occupants also got more usable room. He said he designed for the people who lived in his buildings, not the elite.


Among some 300 buildings designed by Mr. Birnbaum, alone or in association with others, were One Lincoln Plaza, also known as the Ascap Building, at Broadway and 63d Street (1971); the Galleria, 119 East 57th Street (1975); 1001 Fifth Avenue, near 82d Street (1979); the Hotel Parker Meridien, 118 West 57th Street (1981); and, cater-corner across Third Avenue, the Savoy, 200 East 61st Street (1986) and Trump Plaza, 167 East 61st Street (1984).


''Most people don't know Philip Birnbaum, yet he probably designed more buildings in New York than anyone else,'' Donald J. Trump said yesterday. ''Not all were great but they all made money. And some were, in fact, very good.''


''Whereas many people would design a building from the outside in, he would design a building from the inside out,'' Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. Birnbaum was responsible for the apartment plans in Trump Tower.


Layouts were not his only trademark. Mr. Birnbaum also counted the rooftop swimming pool among his innovations. His daughter, Dara Birnbaum, a video artist in Manhattan who originally followed her father into architecture, said the idea was that ''people need to have their own open space, even in a city of high-rises.''


''He would say, 'Let's use the roofs for the common good,' '' Ms. Birnbaum said. She traced this concern to a youth spent in railroad tenements so dark he would study outside by streetlight.


Mr. Birnbaum grew up in Washington Heights, attended Stuyvesant High School and earned his architectural degree at Columbia. He was accepted at Princeton but was cautioned in a letter from the university that, as a ''Hebrew,'' he might not fit into the environment. Mr. Birnbaum carried that letter around for many years, his daughter said.


In the building boom following World War II, Mr. Birnbaum did a great deal of work in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, Queens, much of it for the developer Alfred L. Kaskel. Over the years, his practice was known as Philip Birnbaum, the Office of Philip Birnbaum or Philip Birnbaum & Associates.


For Mr. Kaskel, Mr. Birnbaum designed the Doral Beach Hotel in Miami Beach and the Doral Country Club in Miami, but most of his major projects were in Manhattan. The 47-story Excelsior, at 303 East 57th Street, was for a time New York's tallest apartment building.


Other significant apartment towers included 45 East 89th Street, at Madison Avenue; Manhattan Place, 630 First Avenue, at 36th Street; the Bromley, 225 West 83d Street; Le Chambord, 350 East 72d Street; the Promenade, 530 East 76th Street and the Horizon, 415 East 37th Street.


Whatever the merits of his layouts, Mr. Birnbaum's facades typically had few distinguishing features, reflecting developers' quest for economy. Plain in material and monotonous in composition, the effect could be particularly deadening since the towers tended to be so large.


There were some notable departures, like the swooping, boomerang-shaped Trump Plaza, on the west side of Third Avenue. When Mr. Birnbaum was commissioned by another developer to build a tower on the east side of the avenue, he saw an opportunity to create a monumental gateway and designed a near twin. But Mr. Trump sued and won a settlement in which the design of the Savoy was modified. In recent years, his health failing, Mr. Birnbaum curtailed his practice, although he continued to work as a consultant.


Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, Dr. Robert J. Birnbaum, of Cambridge, Mass.


—The New York Times, 1996

Eighteen years ago in 1997, Mr. Roberts and two other resident shareholders Keith Mahoney and Thomas

Glover, had the vision of presenting fine art exhibits in the community, when they founded the Philip Howard Education & Cultural Institute. The building already housed a 5,000 square foot art gallery space, that was never used for that purpose until the Institute partnered with Michael Valentine to produce two of the most successful private fine art exhibits in Brooklyn at that time. In addition to filming a documentary on the featured artists in the second show, Michael Valentine was recognized by the mainstream art media for these exhibits as the curator to watch. Following the exhibits, the Institute went on to produce a series of summer programs, which included museum visits for the children living in Philip Howard and the surrounding neighborhoods. After many conversations with Keith Mahoney over the years and in an effort to expand on the past success of the Institute, in early 2014, Don Roberts and another Philip Howard shareholder, Cresta Mentor, approached Mr. Valentine about working together again at the Philip Howard to develop a series of thought provoking and cutting-edge art exhibitions. Valentine Museum of Art graciously accepted the opportunity to continue presenting fine art at the Philip Howard and went right to work.


A true collaboration, the Valentine Museum of Art at the Philip Howard aspires to produce best in class exhibitions for the residents and to the world. Please enjoy our largest exhibit offering, a Retrospective of photographer Hugh Bell. Thank you for supporting the exciting launch of the newest publication from Michael Valentine, Breuckelen Magazine, and the Valentine Museum of Art.

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