Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Architecture in the Gilded Age

My friend Paul Ranogajec is organizing a great symposium entitled New Perspectives on Architecture in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. It will be held at the CUNY Graduate Center on Friday, October 16th, from 9am-1pm. The symposium is free and open to the public. Speakers include David Van Zanten, Michael J. Lewis, Gail Fenske, and others. Here's the official write-up on the event: "This half-day symposium will explore some of the new ideas that have emerged about late 19th- and early 20th-century American architecture. Established and emerging scholars in the field will present their work and suggest new directions for future scholarship on this important but often maligned period of building. The demise of the canonical modernist paradigm has given scholars new opportunities to appreciate and critically examine this architecture; this symposium will explore some of the implications of this recent historiography and the new paradigms of thinking. Panelists will also suggest the interdisciplinary aspects of the field of architectural history by situating this work within its broader cultural, political, and social contexts in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era." For more information on the symposium, send an email to pranogajec@gmail.com.

Paul's dissertation is on the development of classicism in NYC architecture and urban planning at this time. This was an era of many important civic buildings like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. All of these buildings were constructed with classical elements that still carry in our minds semiotic associations with democracy and civilization. One such example was the second version of Madison Square Garden, which you see above in a historic picture (image courtesy of A Digital Archive of American Architecture, Boston College). This building was located on Madison Square (Madison/4th Ave. and 26th/27th Streets). It was designed in 1889-90 by the architect Stanford White in a Renaissance palazzo style. Crowning the 304-foot tower was the very modern-looking 14-foot bronze statue of Diana (left) by the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, now owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sadly, White's building was demolished in 1925, which is in fact part of the devastating legacy of these amazing buildings, that so many were torn down for the sake of "modern" construction. Note that the present MSG sits on top of Penn Station, another eyesore that was built after the original exquisite train station designed by McKim, Mead, and White was demolished in 1963. As an aside, one scandalous bit still holds on in the history of all this: White lived in one of the towers of his version of MSG, and in 1906 he was killed during a musical performance by his mistress's husband.

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