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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Skyscraper City The International-Style Skyscraper
The Long Hiatus
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The International-Style Skyscraper
The Long Hiatus
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Now Rockefeller Center was built during the Depression, when very little new construction was occurring in New York. So with the exception of the center's buildings, there was a long hiatus in the construction of commercial buildings in New York, first because of the Depression and then because of World War II. During the 1930s many of the great modern masters of Europe came to America. When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in Germany, many of the Bauhaus masters, like Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, came to America and began teaching at architectural schools. By the late 1940s there were many graduates of these schools who were no longer interested in art-deco ornament or in the planning of the École des Beaux-Arts, but they had been inspired by European Modernism. So when building begins again in New York, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the older ideas are no longer satisfying.

Now European modern ideas come to the forefront. One of the ironies is that, at the Bauhaus in Germany, much of this modern design was used to further a socialist agenda. A lot of it was for reform housing, for the creation of household arts that would be industrially made and beautiful and affordable to the people. But in America, where this becomes popular in about 1950, Americans could not have cared less about the philosophy behind the Bauhaus ideas. Instead of being a vision for a socialist future, it becomes a vision for a corporate future. The modernist, or international, style becomes synonymous with American corporate towers, and some of the most beautiful modern buildings are built as the headquarters for American corporations. Interestingly, though, the two greatest early monuments of modernism in commercial architecture in New York were built not by American corporations but by an Anglo-Dutch corporation (Lever House) and a Canadian distilling company (Seagram). Yet they become symbols of New York, and its modern outlook, as a great city moving into the future.

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