Alexandra Lange | Essays

In Dwell: Platner’s Opulent Modernism

Can't get more fabulous than that, right? The CBS Ground Floor Restaurant, circa 1964.

I am a little obsessed with Warren Platner. Partly because no one else seems to be and I find work like this very hard to ignore. In the tome-like Eero Saarinen catalog, to which I contributed, Platner was mentioned only a handful of times, despite being the hand and eye behind a number of the Saarinen office's most successful interiors. Then he kept practicing, growing progressively wilder and wilder as the decades turned. I see him as a missing link between modernism and post-modernism and another hero of the interior ignored by architectural history.

If you've ever wondered how we got from the 1950s's glass boxes, stainless steel furniture, white walls to the 1970s with their fern bars, wood paneling, and brass everything — Warren Platner is one answer. The career of the New Haven-based architect and interior designer, who died in 2006 at age 86, spans the late 20th century's architectural styles, from streamlining to corporate modernism, sky-high restaurants to postmodern ferries. Not all of his work was good, or even in good taste, but it shows a smart designer trying to avoid stagnation. Even when Platner went over the top (those golden handkerchiefs at the Pan Am Building come to mind) there was always a clear architectural idea undergirding the glittering decoration.
In retrospect much of Platner's work seems perverse. And frankly, some of it from the 1980s and 1990s, like the garish lobbies in the Pan Am Building in New York, or the pastel interiors of ferries Fantasia and Fiesta, is just plain awful. Because he didn't stick to the browns and blacks and tasteful grids of his employers and peers, this heir of Saarinen wasn't easy to pigeonhole and was duly accused of modernist apostasy. But his material and aesthetic wanderlust — those brass-plated rods, those crystal chunks, even the bentwood he turned into a ceiling decoration for the American Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri (1974) — were all part of his search for an appropriate palette for each client.
Read the rest of my argument for Platner's importance in the November 2010 issue of Dwell. Slideshow here. More photos from Platner's Yale archive here.

UPDATE: Someone else who likes Warren Platner: Donald Trump! No big surprise, see his new interview about his modernist-opulent line of glassware in the Times. Would have been nice if they mentioned who actually designed the vessels.

Posted in: Architecture

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