Artwork Details

Paul T. Frankl


Skyscraper Bookcase Desk
c. 1927 – 1928
California redwood and black lacquer
86 1/2 x 64 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches
Level 3
Accession Number
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John Halick in honor of Joseph Brewer

About the Artwork

Paul Frankl trained as an architect in Berlin, Germany and Vienna, Austria before moving to the United States in 1921. He brought with him an outsider’s fresh perspective and an enthusiasm for forging a uniquely American design aesthetic. He quickly established Frankl Galleries in New York City and became a spokesman for Modernist design inspired by the American scene. The concepts of this emerging style were embodied in the skyscraper, which represented a sense of power, prestige, and glamour while also epitomizing civic pride and industrial prowess. 

Frankl designed his first skyscraper bookcase as a solution to his own impractical shelving. To straighten things out and bring order out of chaos, I went after some boards and with a saw set to work fitting the case to the books, since the books would not fit a case.” Playing off of the tall, oddly shaped shelving and the spirit of the times, he added a step-like quality to the top of his bookshelves, referencing a 1916 city ordinance in New York that required all buildings over a certain height and width be set back from the street in order for sunlight to reach lower structures.

Additional units in Frankl’s skyscraper series continued to be custom made, with the practicality of their design at the forefront. GRAM’s desk was commissioned by Joseph Brewer, a Grand Rapids native and the president of the New York publishing house, Brewer & Putnam. In 1928, Brewer worked with Frankl to publish New Dimensions, the Decorative Arts of Today in Words & Pictures—a bestseller and the first book on the decorative art movement in America. It is likely that Brewer commissioned this Skyscraper Bookcase Desk while working on the publication. 

Frankl discontinued the line during the Great Depression in 1932, citing the skyscraper motif as, but a tombstone on the grave of an era that built it.”