Albert Ledner, Architect With a Quirky Sense, Dies at 93

Consulting with another New Orleans client, a couple who smoked, he was struck by the amber glass ashtrays they used. The home he designed for them, often called the Ashtray House, in the Park Island neighborhood, uses 1,200 of them along the roofline as an exterior ornament.

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The south side of the building designed by Mr. Ledner for the National Maritime Union in Lower Manhattan. Its scalloped overhang evoke portholes. It became the O’Toole Medical Services Building of St. Vincent’s Hospital and is now known as Lenox Health Greenwich Village.

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Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

“I was really lucky, very lucky, to have clients that were very open-minded,” Mr. Ledner says in the documentary, “Designing Life: The Modernist Architecture of Albert C. Ledner,” which was made by his daughter and her cousin Roy Beeson.

Albert Charles Ledner was born on Jan. 28, 1924, in the Bronx. His father, Charles, was a furniture salesman, and his mother, the former Beulah Levy, became a well-known baker in New Orleans after the family moved there when Albert was a toddler; she operated a tearoom near Tulane University for a time, among other establishments.

Mr. Ledner served in the Army from 1942 to 1945, then graduated from the Tulane School of Architecture in 1948. After graduation he struck out for Wisconsin, where Frank Lloyd Wright was teaching apprentices at his estate, Taliesin.

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A second building that Mr. Ledner designed for the Maritime Union in 1966 is recognizable by its porthole windows and a facade that slopes back from the sidewalk.

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National Maritime Union

“I packed some drawings and a little model I had made and my tools, and I got in my car and drove on up to Wisconsin,” he says in the documentary. Wright admitted him, but he stayed only long enough to absorb some of Wright’s precepts, not to become an acolyte.

“Many people who come out of Taliesin are so awed by Wright that they’re trying desperately to figure out how to be respectful and to be little Wrights, which rarely works very successfully,” Barry Bergdoll, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University and a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, says in the documentary. “But where I think Ledner becomes incredibly interesting is that he’s part of a group that goes through Taliesin and they find freedom in the lessons of Wright.”

Mr. Ledner, back in New Orleans, designed his first house in 1951, and it received some attention from House Beautiful magazine, which led to more work. For virtually his entire career he was an independent, not part of an architectural firm, and he was not easily pigeonholed stylistically.

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The Galatoire House in New Orleans includes windows from an 1866 convent, some of which Mr. Ledner installed upside-down.

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Albert Ledner

His homes generally featured free-flowing interiors with few right angles — the idea wasn’t so much to group a collection of individual rooms but to view the house almost as an organic, living entity. His public buildings tended to reflect his interest in geometric shapes and circular forms and not to be as stoic as many Modernist structures.

Certainly the circles are among the things that stand out in his three New York buildings. The first, a six-story headquarters for the Maritime Union on Seventh Avenue stretching from 12th to 13th Streets, was completed in 1964 and features scalloped overhangs that evoke portholes. Ada Louise Huxtable, the architecture critic for The New York Times, while expressing some hesitancy about the building, praised the union for not merely commissioning a drab box.

“It decided, instead, to go for architecture,” she wrote in her 1964 review. “Whatever reservations may be held, New York needs more of those.”

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An interior view of the Galatoire House, a private home in New Orleans. It is among Mr. Ledner’s best known works.

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Albert Ledner

Called the Joseph Curran Building at the time, after the union’s founder, it was later the O’Toole Medical Services Building of St. Vincent’s Hospital. A decade ago, the hospital wanted to demolish it and replace it with a tower, a plan that generated opposition in the neighborhood and among preservationists. After St. Vincent’s closed in 2010, the building was instead renovated into a medical and emergency care center, now known as Lenox Health Greenwich Village.

Two years later, a second building Mr. Ledner designed for the union was completed between 16th and 17th Streets at Ninth Avenue, an 11-story structure with more than 100 porthole windows and a facade sloping back from the sidewalk.

“When completed,” The Times once wrote, “the white tile facade burst out from its low-rise tenement surroundings like a storm wave over the bow.”

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Mr. Ledner used 1,200 amber glass ashtrays along the exterior of a house in New Orleans, often referred to as the Ashtray House.

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Albert Ledner

It was converted into the Dream Hotel in 2007. The third Ledner building, next to it and also with portholes, was completed a few years after the second was built. It is now the Maritime Hotel.

Mr. Ledner was married to the former Judy Ferguson for 61 years. She died in 2013. In addition to his daughter and his son David, he is survived by another son, Robert; two grandsons; and a great-granddaughter.

Among Mr. Ledner’s most interesting houses was the one he designed for himself in the Lakewood South subdivision in New Orleans in the mid-1950s. A geometric grab bag both inside and out — two circular wings; a 12-point star of a roof; an endless procession of odd angles and shapes — it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But after a lengthy renovation, the Ledners were able to move back in late in 2006. Certainly the children who were raised there were glad to see it saved.

“I totally took this for granted growing up,” Robert Ledner says of the house in the documentary. “I just thought this was how everybody lived. The aesthetics and the geometry are so rich. As a kid you would never even realize it, except that all your friends would comment that you lived in a flying saucer.”

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