Learning Curves

“There’s one point of agreement between conservatives and the avant-garde alike—the First Presbyterian Church on Bedford Street, designed by Wallace K. Harrison, is a sui generis modern marvel.

Tucked into a slope, the 1958 building from afar can seem like one of those oversized boulders strewn along Stamford’s backcountry roads, owing to its beveled gray surface, which in parts is shingled in bluestone.

Inside, though, awaits an explosively different sensory experience. Embedded in walls that are angled like a tent’s is a startlingly vivid array of 20,000 red, green and blue glass chunks that, when the light is right, give you the impression of standing inside a finely cut, sixty-foot-tall jewel.

Such a radical rethinking of how walls and windows should relate was a trademark of Harrison’s. His Hall of Science for the 1964 World’s Fair has eighty-foot walls spangled with rows of blue-glass shards. Having also designed the Buck Rogers–inspired Trylon and Perisphere exhibits at the 1939 World’s Fair, also in Queens, Harrison could be said to have created the two bookends of the Modernist movement.

Still, Harrison, who also worked on the United Nations building, called the Presbyterian Church his favorite work, according to Victoria Newhouse’s 1989 book Wallace K. Harrison, Architect, which also debunks a popular myth: Though known as the “Fish Church” for its piscine silhouette, that wasn’t Harrison’s intention.”

Text Reference: (2011) C. J. Hughes Learning Curves Stamford Magazine, Jan.-Feb. Issue