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Howe & Lescaze
(1969)
AIA/T-Square Yearbook, p. 8 (1969)

Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database

Established in 1929 as a partnership by Philadelphian George Howe and Swiss-born and trained William Lescaze, this firm is chiefly known as the designer of the landmark Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building (PSFS) located at 12th and Market streets in Philadelphia. Provoking almost immediate controversy, this building was shut out of the 1932 Architectural League of New York annual exhibition, causing George Howe to lambast the League show as "completely lacking in architectural interest. They are in reality largely trade exhibitions and the League takes no attitude at all toward architecture in theory. The work of almost any one is received with open arms but, like all other institutions which have become traditional, it tends to resist all change." (Interview with George Howe, March 1932, photocopy in Athenaeum biographical files.)

Publication of the building in Philadelphia's T-Square Club Journal (March 1931) had already occasioned a flurry of letters, both pro and con. Often quoted is Elbert Conover's blast that: "The day will come when even in America, we will become skillful enough to meet economic pressure without forcing upon the community such ugliness and such illogical designing . . ." Howe's measured counter followed: "My faltering words are quite unnecessary to the advancement of architecture. The buildings we erect will speak for themselves. Let the future judge of their merits." (13 May 1931)

Prophetic words indeed. In 1939 Howe & Lescaze was awarded the gold medal of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA for the PSFS Building, and in 1969 the building received the "Building of the Century Award" from that Chapter. The PSFS Building is mentioned in every national survey of American architecture published in the United States and included in collegiate surveys of western architecture across the country. Spiro Kostoff commented in his A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals that PSFS was "the first self-conscious effort to apply the International Style to the American skyscraper . . . But it was too coolly self-possessed, too intellectural perhaps, to start a trend. . . ." Indeed, the PSFS Building did not spawn a local trend toward the International Style although the short-lived efforts of Howe & Lescaze would produce a few other attempts in that style: Oak Lane Country Day School (1929); the William Stix Wasserman House in Whitemarsh, PA (1933).

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

 

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