Albert C. Ledner. Courtesy: Catherine Ledner

Albert C. Ledner (1924–2017)

Architect Albert C. Ledner, known for his modernist buildings that often feature playful design elements such as portholes and ashtrays, died in Manchester, New Hampshire, on November 13 at the age of ninety-three. He designed more than forty projects in New Orleans, where he was raised, as well as the three National Maritime Union buildings in New York (recognized today as the Mack Pavilion of Lenox Hill Hospital Center, Dream Downtown Hotel, and the Maritime Hotel), which incorporated details that referenced the union’s nautical ties.

Born in the Bronx on January 28, 1924, Ledner graduated from the Tulane School of Architecture and then worked as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright for several years. The positive press he received after he designed his first house in 1951—it was featured in House Beautiful—helped advance his career. For most of his practice, he was not part of an architectural firm, which gave him more freedom stylistically to create free-flowing spaces that were not as sober as other modernist structures. The Galatoire House in New Orleans is a perfect example of this: It combines the geometric and material tenets of modern architecture with convent windows from 1866, some of which were installed upside down.

Reusing or salvaging items was another method Ledner favored in his innovative work. For example, he was captured by a couple’s amber ashtrays and integrated them into the design of their home. Known as the Ashtray House, the building had twelve hundred of the ashtrays lining its roof. “I was really lucky, very lucky, to have clients that were very open-minded,” said Ledner in a new documentary by his daughter Catherine Ledner and nephew Roy Beeson, called Designing Life: The Modernist Architecture of Albert C. Ledner.