Other than a brief period during the early 80s, when the crew of the Olean, New York firehouse dubbed their new facility the SS Seligmann, for most Americans Werner Seligmann had never become a household name—firehouse or otherwise—the way Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry are widely recognized, even by non-architects. And, yet, during 1965, upon learning about the untimely death of Le Corbusier, the employees of Werner Seligmann developed an only-somewhat-preposterous chain of logic, that concluded that Werner Seligmann was now in line to be the next Le Corbusier—the world’s foremost architect.
It had been a recurring goal of Seligmann, to publish his own works, consisting primarily of drawings, models and photographs, and in an instructive manner that would provide inspiration and guidance for students and other architects. Unfortunately, by the time of his own untimely death, in 1998, that project had barely been begun, and, instead, all of the archival material from the office of Werner Seligmann— ranging from 1954 to 1998—was transferred to the archives of the architecture library at Syracuse University, under the supervision of the author. That left roughly 44 years of projects—of which the author could identify only a fraction—mostly in the form of drawing rolls, and except for the odd exception, none of it digitized, nor suitable for publication, or, at least, without severe intervention.
The collection of drawings and photographs, that follows, represents 44 of the better-preserved and more interesting projects from Seligmann’s prolific output, ranging from early, mid-century houses, to iconic and recognizable, award-winning projects, and to fantastic, grandiose competition entries, that have never before been made public. In addition to a progression of project size, over four decades, there is also a discernible progression of stylistic influences, starting with early projects that clearly indicate an affinity for the structural clarity of Mies van der Rohe, then hybridize through Wright, Aalto, and Le Corbusier, and then, surprisingly, culminate in projects featuring fortress-like walls. This progression will be documented in the form of several descriptions which have been compiled from various sources, including recollections from former employees who were closest to Seligmann during the early years of his practice.
One of those former employees, professor Val Warke, has written an insightful Introduction exploring the significance of Seligmann being both an influential educator and prolific practitioner, a surprisingly rare combination for architects, rather than the norm.
But first, a brief description of “Who was Werner Seligmann?” follows this Preface, although this mostly archival collection does not purport or attempt to be a full biography. The resources are simply not there; too much time has elapsed; and, therefore, making publication of these remaining works even more urgent. The projects that make up this collection are essential for a better understanding of 20th century, modern architecture and one of its most important and passionate protagonists.
The north elevation of the Olean, New York central fire station, better known as the SS Seligmann.