Examining the Rich History of Architecture in New York

The architecture of New York City is beautiful and complex. While many people enjoy New York’s buildings, few have a full appreciation of the architectural history that sculpted such an intricate landscape. Over the course of four Wednesday evenings in September, instructor Francis Morrone unveiled that history in the lecture series 20th Century Architecture in New York (and the World): An Inclusive History.

Thomas Hastings and Shreve, Lamb & Blake, 26 Broadway, 1921-28

26 Broadway (the Standard Oil Building), 1921-28, designed by Architects Thomas Hastings
and Shreve, Lamb & Blake

The first lecture started the series off with a discussion of the forces that shaped early 20th Century architecture, such as the impact of the garden city movement; the Standard Oil Building, Forest Hills Gardens, and numerous other examples were discussed. Mr. Morrone also spoke about the famous yet nebulously defined Art Deco style of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which influenced many buildings, such as the Chrysler Building, throughout New York City.

The Chrysler Building. Architect: William Van Alen. Francis Morrone discussed its exterior and interior as among the finest in Art Deco design. Note the modern interplay between the Chrysler Building and an adjacent glass curtain wall building, highlighting how the New York City landscape has been altered by a variety of styles and eras.

The Chrysler Building, designed by Architect William Van Alen

The lectures continued to trace the path of New York’s distinctive architecture through the influence of the Bauhaus and the rise of modernism. Major European modernist architects like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier shaped the architecture of New York City, both directly (though buildings such as Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building) and indirectly (through projects such as Stuyvesant Town, which was inspired by Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin). Famed New York architects and their schools of thought, such as the sharply modernist “New York Five” and the more postmodernist and New Classical “Grays”, were discussed alongside examples of their work.

Francis Morrone lecturing

Francis Morrone lecturing

The lectures illuminated a broad selection of buildings, from the myriad forms of churches throughout the city to residences and commercial buildings. Mr. Morrone also discussed the origins and major examples of well-known trends that developed in the 20th century, such as the preponderance of white buildings, the rise of the glass curtain wall, and the elimination of ornament that later gave way to a fascination with experimentation with shapes and form. Throughout the series, he emphasized the role that distinctive coexisting architectural styles, often found together on a single block, play in forming the unique landscape of New York City.

Station Square, Forest Hills Gardens, 1912-16

Station Square, Forest Hills Gardens, 1912-16

Accessible to both experts and enthusiasts, the series drew a large crowd, and students left every class with a greater appreciation of the development of New York’s distinctive architecture.

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