The Lever House was designed by Gordon Bunshaft for the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and completed in 1952. It was built as the international headquarters for Lever Brothers Company, a manufacturer of commercial soaps and detergents.
The New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Lever House as an official landmark in 1982, observing a requirement that a building must have existed for 30 years. The landmark designation of November 9, 1982 stated: "Lever House has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage, and cultural characteristic of New York City....it is among the first, as well as the most famous, corporate expressions of the Modern International style in postwar America....is widely recognized as a key monument in the evolution of the International Style and has assumed an important role in the literature of modern architecture, and that lever House remains outstanding for its spatial clarity, scale, and beauty of form."
The building was purchased in 1998 by RFR Holding LLC who began a capital improvement program to restore the building's distinctive curtain wall, stainless steel mullions, and public spaces. The renovation project included the addition of marble benches designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi
for the building's plazas, which were elements in Bunshaft's original 1952 plans for Lever House but were never realized.
Since the completion of the Lever House renovation, the building's outdoor plaza and glass-enclosed lobby have been used as an exhibition area for the ambitious and contemporary Lever House Art Collection. This program commissions artists to create works specifically for the Lever House space, responding to the architecture, atmosphere, street, and pedestrian traffic in innovative ways. The artworks are then purchased for the collection.
In recent years, an exciting and diverse number of paintings, sculptures, and light installations have been featured. The purpose of the Lever House Art Collection is to form an inventive and impressive collection of art created in the early twenty-first century that recognizes outstanding artists of aesthetic significance, and simultaneously enhances the artistic environment of New York City.