CHAPTER 5. CONTEMPORARY EASTERN PRECEDENTS: NEW YORK AND RICHARDSON

Richard Morris Hunt, Study for the New York Tribune Building, New York, 1873. (online)

In the last chapter, I started with Root at his drawing board, mulling over ideas and precedents he might use in the design of the Grannis Block.  I then reviewed the historical precedents he could have used for inspiration.  In this chapter I will review buildings and designs by his contemporaries that were recently completed or published.  As the economy had begun to improve from the 1870s depression first in the East, he would find a number of new ideas and ten-storied buildings that might provide him with inspiration.

5.1. THE HEIGHT OF THE SECOND EMPIRE: THE EQUITABLE AND THE WESTERN UNION BUILDINGS

George Post, Western Union Building, New York, 1872. (Silver, Lost New York)

In 1867 when Equitable had staged its competition, there was nothing more fashionable than Napoléon III’s Second Empire, hence, Kendall and Gilman had produced a solid Second Empire massing scheme.  I have already noted, however, that the body of the building was efficiently designed as a repetitive rectangular grid of piers and spandrels, one that achieved a maximum of daylighting for the interior rental spaces, for which George Post had been hired to engineer an iron interior structure.  In his 1872 design for the Western Union Building, Post had simply extruded the body of the Equitable and added a gratuitous tower.   We find the seeds for architectural change, following the defeat of the Second Empire in 1871, in Richard Morris Hunt’s first design for the New York Tribune.  During his education in Paris during the 1850s, Hunt had been exposed to the Néo-Grec movement set off by Henri Labrouste’s design of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, that may have provided the precedent for him to try something different in his monochromatic proposal of his first skyscraper.

5.2. HUNT AND THE LAYERED-ARCADE ELEVATION

Richard Morris Hunt, Delaware and Hudson Canal Company (Coal and Iron Exchange) Building, New York, 1873. Original design. (Landau and Condit, New York)

Prior to getting the commission for the Tribune Building, Hunt was commissioned earlier in 1873 to design a nine-story building in New York on the southeast corner of Cortlandt and Church for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company (later its name was changed to the Coal and Iron Exchange Building). Similar to Post’s elevations in the Western Union, Hunt’s original design treated the building as a series of horizontal layers.  The facade comprised a rusticated base and a dormered Mansard roof that bounded the three middle layers, each one comprised of two stories.  Hunt’s elevation revealed his mastery of design composition in that it did not have the unresolved conflict between horizontal and vertical forces that plagued Post’s middle zone of the Western Union.  Hunt detailed each of the three layers as a two-story arcade by recessing the spandrel in the intermediate floor.  In between the brick piers he placed triple windows, imparting a large sense of openness to the facade that would have surely flooded the interior with daylight.  The end bays were detailed as corner pavilions/buttresses and articulated as such with only two windows.  Before construction began, however, the company eliminated two floors in the building and so Hunt had to rework the final elevation accordingly. He was forced to replace the lowest two-story layer with single story arches and the third two-story layer with a compromised single story of flat lintels that kept the same window spacing.  

Richard Morris Hunt, Delaware and Hudson Canal Company (Coal and Iron Exchange) Building, New York, 1873. (Online)

Nonetheless, Hunt’s design of the Coal and Iron Exchange Building was never as “rationally” derived from its structure as had been Post’s Western Union.  Hunt was pursuing a more traditionally composed or “formal” facade, one that still incorporated the age-old motif often used in multistory structures: a collection of superimposed or stacked arcades.

5.3. DETLEF LIENAU AND THE “FIRST” ARCADED-PROGRESSION ELEVATION

Detlef Lienau, Noel and Saurel Building, New York, 1864. (JSAH, May 1952)

Hunt’s precedent for the superimposed arcades, as well as for the detailing of the brick piers and stone impost blocks, was most likely the Noel & Saurel Building on Crosby Street, designed by Detlef Lienau in 1864.  Danish-born Lienau had been educated in Germany and had then worked in Paris with Henri Labrouste during the construction of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève before immigrating to the U.S. in 1848.  Therefore, Lienau had been the first to bring Labrouste’s ideas and designs to the U.S. (Hunt would not return from Paris until 1855.)  Lienau’s four-story brick facade had not only incorporated the same broad, segmental arches over the first floor bays that Hunt would detail in the Coal and Iron Exchange, but even went so far as to suggest a tripartite division of openings in its elevation with a 1:2:6 progressive order.  Lienau had extended the primary piers of the ground floor into the two upper layers, thereby creating a primary rhythm, or using a musical term, a “measure.”  The top three floors that surmounted the lower wider bay, contained paired windows that were separated by a stone pier.  This contrasted with the brick primary pier, thereby creating an alternating A:B:A rhythm in each bay in this layer.  He carried this alternating rhythm into the third layer that comprised of a pair of vertical projections that alternated with single projections.  Between these projections he detailed three small openings, creating a 1:2:6 vertical progression.  Leinau had also avoided a monotonous repetition of piers by increasing the width of the first interior pier in from each corner by locating only one window above the ground floor.  This, in effect, had not only created flanking corner pavilions, but also, appropriately resulted in a thickening of the corner piers to buttress the end thrusts of the arcades. (If one looks carefully at Lienau’s elevation, one can find the skewback impost block detail for which Furness would become known.)

Amiens Cathedral, Nave Elevation. Note the progression of openings from 1:2:4. (Online)

Similar rhythms had been used throughout history, the most analogous application being the nave elevations of Gothic cathedrals, such as Amiens Cathedra as it also had a 1:2:4 progression in its openings.  If we ignore the use of geometric progressions, however, we can take the use of stacked arcades all the way back to the Roman aqueducts, probably the most often quoted example being that of the Pont du Gard in Remoulins, France. 

Pont du Gard, Remoulins, France, 19 BC-50 AD. (Online)

FURTHER READING:

Hamlin, Talbot, “The Rise of Eclecticism in New York,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, May 1952, p. 8.  

Kramer, Ellen W., “Detlef Lienau, An Architect of the Brown Decades,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, March 1955, pp. 18-25.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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