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Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art,…

Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in…

by Mosette Broderick

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Having a special interest in the work of McKim, Mead & White and the kind of architectural design at which they excelled, I had high hopes for this book, the first full-length study of the firm since the early 1980s. The trouble, though, starts with the title--the brilliantly concise and appropriate heading title is followed by the awkward subtitle. It is a frustrating book on many counts, especially in its uneven writing and meandering passages. The editor should have required several more rounds of rewrites and consolidation. Most disturbing for me is the palpable disdain for the civic classicism the firm pioneered--a form of classicism that became a template for urban architecture at the turn of the twentieth century, what one writer long ago called the "last lingua franca" of American urbanism. Furthermore, the author's speculations about the sexuality of the partners and others in their social and artistic circles is interesting and new, but it relies on scant evidence--mostly voids in the archival record rather than specific evidence.

The author's insistence on reading the firm's architecture as signs of its social standing and place within bourgeois culture comes in the form of mini-biographies of their patrons and the social networks through which they moved. This approach certainly supplies a useful compendium of the firm's patrons, but it does little to contextualize or theorize the importance of the firm's patterns of patronage and its larger import for American architecture of this period. In other words, although it fills in details, the book doesn't really advance our understanding of architectural patronage in the Gilded Age. Nor does the book advance our understanding of architectural design. Broderick gives only a few pages to the firm's important clubhouses in New York and only three pages to the establishment of the American Academy in Rome. Leland Roth's monograph on the firm remains the standard for understanding the firm's architecture.

Broderick's book is clearly intended as a popular history, but that genre at its best makes the subject new and compelling for a wide audience. Unfortunately, the author did not settle the questions of the book's audience or focus--a nearly fatal double blow to what could have been a nice written parallel to the economy and elegance that mark the best of the firm's architectural work.
  pranogajec | Dec 4, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394536622, Hardcover)

A rich, fascinating saga of the most influential, far-reaching architectural firm of their time and of the dazzling triumvirate—Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White—who came together, bound by the notion that architecture could help shape a nation in transition. They helped to refine America’s idea of beauty, elevated its architectural practice, and set the standard on the world’s stage.

Their world and times were those of Edith Wharton and Henry James, though both writers and their society shunned the architects as being much too much about new money. They brought together the titans of their age with a vibrant and new American artistic community and helped to forge the arts of America’s Gilded Age, informed by the heritage of European culture.

McKim, Mead & White built houses for America’s greatest financiers and magnates: the Astors, Joseph Pulitzer, the Vanderbilts, Henry Villard, and J. P. Morgan, among others . . . They designed and built churches—Trinity Church in Boston, Judson Memorial Baptist Church in New York, and the Lovely Lane Methodist Church in Baltimore . . .

They built libraries—the Boston Public Library—and the social clubs for gentlemen, among them, the Freundschaft, the Algonquin of Boston, the Players club of New York, the Century Association, the University and Metropolitan clubs. . . .

They built railroad terminals—the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City—and the first Roman arch in America for Washington Square (it put the world on notice that New York was now a major city on a par with Rome, Paris, and Berlin). They designed and built Columbia University, with Low Memorial Library at the centerpiece of its four-block campus, and New York University, and they built, as well, the old Madison Square Garden whose landmark tower marked its presence on the city’s skyline . . .

Mosette Broderick’s Triumvirate is a book about America in its industrial transition; about money and power, about the education of an unsophisticated young country, and about the coming of artists as an accepted class in American society.

Broderick, a renowned architectural and social historian, brilliantly weaves together the strands of biography, architecture, and history to tell the story of the houses and buildings Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White designed. She writes of the firm’s clients, many of whom were establishing their names and places in upper-class society as they built and grabbed railroads, headed law firms and brokerage houses, owned newspapers, developed iron empires, and carved out a new direction for America’s modern age.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:06 -0400)

Traces the story of the Gilded Age architectural firm, describing its partners' shared vision about the role of architecture in shaping America and establishing an architectural practice that would set an international standard.

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