People A-Z / Max Abramovitz
Max Abramovitz was born in Chicago in 1908, the son of working-class Romanian Jewish immigrants. He attended the University of Illinois and received a BS degree, in architectural engineering in 1929. At Columbia University in New York City, he gained a Master’s degree in 1931 and began working for Wallace Harrison. After completing a fellowship at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1932, he rejoined Harrison, rising to an Associate in 1935. During the 1930s he worked on various competitions and the New York World Fair, as well as projects for Nelson Rockefeller. He was named a partner in the form in 1941. Over the next three decades, Harrison and Abramovitz, worked on numerous projects including the Corning Glass building at 717 Fifth Avenue, the United Nations complex, three chapels at Brandeis University, several United States embassies and the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. Max Abramovitz is most associated with Avery Fisher Hall, formerly Philharmonic Hall, now David Geffen Hall, part of the Lincoln Performing Center in New York City. He received many honors during his lifetime. In 1961, he won the Rome Prize and was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Illinois in 1970. He died in 2004 at the age of 96.
Max Abramovitz designed Temple Beth Zion as an outward leaning structure that represented arms raised in prayer. He completed the building in 1967. At each end of the sanctuary, two stained glass windows anchored the building and provided focal points. The walls rise 45 feet from the Delaware entrance, to 60 feet at the ark and platform. Special forms were created for the concrete that were bush-hammered to give a mottled aged effect. The holes from the original forms were left unfilled to promote an increased acoustic effect. His design was complemented by windows and structures designed by Ben Shahn. He designed the two windows, a free-standing menorah and the Ten Commandments tablets that rise from the bimah. Each tablet is thirty feet high with mosaic and gold leaf letters representing the first Hebrew letter of each commandment. The stained-glass window over the Delaware Avenue entrance has the text of the 150th Psalm that calls worshippers to praise God. The larger window features iridescent swirls of violet, blue, green and yellow represents Job in the whirlwind.
Max Abramovitz drawings and archives are held by the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, New York City.
Max Abramovitz in his own words
Max Abramovitz discusses his career from the Trylon and Perisphere for the New York World’s Fair (1939) to his decades later work for U.S. Steel and other buildings. The League’s Digital Archive Project is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.