Wong Family Association, Chinatown, NYC

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Currently at the Museum of Chinese in Americas is an interesting exhibition that showcases the work of a little known architect, who designed in both NYC and China, Poy Gum Lee. Lee married traditionalist elements with modern building techniques to create designs that speak to both the heritage of the Chinese community as well as what was possible with new building materials. The exhibit takes visitors through Lee’s entire career and highlights numerous buildings including several still standing in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

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One of Lee’s last buildings is also one of his most overtly modern. Dating from 1964, the Wong Family Association is a relatively small building in a row at the bottom of the Bowery. Family associations are a traditional structure of ownership in Chinatown and many properties are owned by the associations. As the exhibit text states about the Wong Family building, “The very straightforward–almost corporate –mid-century modern facade employed the second story balcony, one of the family association building typologies in the neighborhood, but otherwise exhibited no overt Chinese decorative references.”

The decorative concrete balcony railing is now gone and some of the paneling has been slightly altered, but otherwise this building remains intact. Chinese Style: Rediscovering the Architecture of Poy Gum Lee, 1923-1968, is open at the Museum of Chinese in Americas until January 31, 2016, and is definitely worth a visit.

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