CBS Headquarters:
A Modern Concrete Skyscraper

Tue, Aug 15, 2023
Image courtesy Eero Saarinen Collection (MS 593). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Designed in 1960 and completed in 1965, the CBS corporate headquarters, known as Black Rock, was New York's first concrete office tower. Architect Eero Saarinen envisioned a sober granite-clad monolith – rising from a sunken plaza on a full Midtown block on Sixth Ave. from 52nd to 53rd streets – a form that contradicted the modernist paradigm of the gleaming glass boxes of Park Avenue. The engineer Paul Weidlinger likewise defied the standard approach of steel-frame construction and proposed a structure of reinforced-concrete columns, based on his experience in Washington DC and his background in France and Bolivia.

Matthys Levy, who as a young engineer worked with Weidlinger on Black Rock and later became a founder of WAI, Consulting Engineers, will discuss their work on this unique skyscraper and compare it to contemporary towers in New York and other US cities.

Matthys Levy

Matthys Levy – a founder of WAI, Consulting Engineers, which in 2015 became a part of Thornton Tomasetti – served as structural design engineer for hundreds of building and bridge projects. Among them are the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the Javits Convention Center, and the Marriott Marquis Hotel, all in New York City; the Georgia Dome in Atlanta; La Plata Stadium in Argentina; and the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Levy is author of a series of classic books on structural engineering: Why the Wind Blows: a History of Weather and Global Warming and co-author with Mario Salvadori of Why Buildings Fall Down; Structural Design in Architecture; Earthquakes, Volcanoes, & Tsunamis; and Engineering the City: How Infrastructure Works, with Richard Panchyk. He is also a novelist. His first novel, a thriller, Building Eden, was published in 2018. His second, the dystopian HEAT: A Tale of Love and Fear in a Climate-Changed World, was published in 2022 and this summer seems more forecast than fiction.


Matthys Levy's presentation begins after introductions by Museum Director Carol Willis and Prof. Thomas Leslie, who afterward engages in conversation with Levy.