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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Public Realm Civic Buildings
A City Hall to Rival Philadelphia's
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Civic Buildings
A City Hall to Rival Philadelphia's
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Civic buildings were important from the very, very beginning in New York. The Dutch built a very impressive stadt house (or government building), which was built right on the waterfront and was a building that was larger and taller than all of the buildings around, a symbol of the importance of the government in New Amsterdam. And the same thing occurs through the colonial period. Federal Hall, or what later becomes Federal Hall, is built as an early government building on Wall and Broad streets. It is built at a very important site where it could catch the vista up Broad Street to Wall Street.

And even in the early Republic, as New York was beginning to grow into the largest and wealthiest city in North America, civic government buildings were very important. And in the early nineteenth century, when New York was still not the largest city in America, when Philadelphia was still a larger city, a new city hall was needed. And New York civic leaders decided that New York needed to have one of the great civic buildings of America. They wanted to build a new city hall that would rival any government building in Philadelphia.

And so a competition was held in the first years of the nineteenth century for a new city hall, which was to be built in the commons. And this was the first public building in America that was built within a landscaped setting.

So right away the building was set off with a large open space in front of it, so it would be especially prominent.

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