The Most Recognized Language Architecture Essay

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The revival of the most recognized language of Baroque and Renaissance Architecture has been illustrated through some of the major public buildings in the United States. The 20th century has marked architectural significance in adopting classical principles with modern efforts. Rockefeller Center is one of the 20th century's most successful architectural achievements. The success of this major building has been translated as the symbol for the new metropolis, the image of the dream for a healthy and compassionate urban future [1].

The process driving the development of Rockefeller Center works in the manner in which the modernistic style is woven into the ideological and historical fabric of its time[2]. The project had begun as a real estate development predicated on the Metropolitan Opera Company's desire for a relocated new auditorium[3]. After the stock market crash of 1929, the Metropolitan Opera Company decided not to create a new home there[4]. Despite the midst of the depression ongoing, the Rockefeller Center was a project developed by John D. Rockefeller. The project was carried through completion with some concern; however even with speculation the center has changed the face of midtown Manhattan.

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The center's monumentality marks one of the most dynamic spaces in New York City, and serves as a monument to commerce as well as successful urban space. The idea behind the planning does not summarize to "a city within a city," however it was a monumental fragment inserted into a city grid[5]. Raymond M. Hood who was head architect of the project team, was involved with the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design with the Architectural League in New York City. Around the same time period that the Rockefeller project was developing, the setback skyscraper emerged as a potent symbol of modern America[6].

There are recognizable various ways that Raymond M. Hood removes classical vocabulary to achieve the skyscraper is shown through the distant connection between Beaux-Arts and modernism in New York. The formality of the Beaux Arts planning was illustrated as axially oriented and ordered dominated most City beautiful design. Beaux Arts style can be defined through arch and pediment doors, statuary, flat roof, rusticated raised first story and classical details and emphases on order, dignity and harmony. At the end of World War I, this Beaux Arts style started having competitors among the modern and international style architecture. The presence of the Ecole studies revitalized a new manner with traditional training[7].

This project incorporated landscape, city planning, architecture and art at a level that any other project has yet to overcome. The true distinctness of Rockefeller Center was read easily through the quality of its public space, which has contributed greatly to the strength of Mid-town Manhattan. The irony is that the public spaces also inaugurate the internalization of public open space that has come to characterize the American city since the World War II[8]. This privatization of public space has done so much to weaken the integrity of the traditional street. The concept behind the public plaza did not belong to Hood's original plan[9]. Hood followed the idea that the height of urban towers should be accompanied by a increase in number of streets, and the height of towers should be dictated by the amount of street frontage[10]. The urban gesture of the plaza represented the solid statement of metropolitianism, it was a public urban space as well a monument.

The urban planning development of the 20th century has emerged out of City Beautiful Movement. The movement launched by Daniel Hudson Burnham evolved due to the city's shapelessness, as an effort to improve these cities there was concern beyond the façade but the quest for aesthetic paralleled with the search for functionality of a humane city[11]. The planning of this complex was done in a very distinct manner, every placement and connection was executed thoughtfully. Fifth Avenue entertained the low rise buildings because at the time of planning, fifth avenue was a low rise street[12]. The core of the complex is where the previously proposed opera house was suppose to be placed, so ideally that is where the design team planned to place the largest office building. Surrounding the core was the smaller office buildings, and shops offered on the street and underground level that would connect pedestrian to the new subway being built at sixth avenue[13]. The entry to the plaza begins at the grand promenade. The promenade took dimensions of a traditional street width, so the Rockefeller Group took great efforts to developing this axis with fountains and gardens. The width of the promenade was significantly large, so the logic of placing landscape caused the visitor to become intimate with the windows of the shops, encouraging business[14]. The sequence of the plan held a transitional quality yet sophisticated. The sequence at fifth avenue would bring one down a major promenade where all sorts of shops are located, leading to the sunken plaza. The sunken plaza today exists as a skating rink, but was intended to be a shopping plaza.

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The symbolism of the New York skyscraper of the 1920's does lend itself to American capitalism in its most active phase, so therefore Rockefeller Center design intention was to rebuild that self-confidence after the stock market crash[15]. The mind behind the design was lead by senior architect Raymond M. Hood. The planning involved the pedestrian plaza, roof gardens and the center succeeded in integrating the goals of the American Renaissance but also reshaping those goals to meet the challenge of European modernism[16]. Hoods architectural impact can be seen in the massing of the RCA building of the plaza. The RCA building was the first building to be erected for the Rockefeller plaza. The exterior vocabulary reflect the stripped classical language similar but not identical to those of the News Building, but flatter, establishing monochromatic vocabulary with grey tones. The exterior refined façade is clad with limestone and aluminum spandrel panels[17]. Hood developed on the sense of the form as a dense mass. Stern explains this denseness as "..not so much like that of a mountain as the News Building appeared to be, but a colossal domen; not hollow or volumetric as the McGraw-Hill Building, but rather a vast cliff upon which people might climb to secret cities at the level of rooftops."

Some would argue that regardless of Hood's training, the Rockefeller project has been removed from classicism, while Vincent Scully has stated "the arrangement is pure Beaux-Arts, a little stolid perhaps, but axial, focused and firm, shaping a shopping street with places to sit and a small square in which it is possible to do something or to watch people doing things"[18]. The plan which is French inspired has reflected the Beaux Arts planning. The entry of international building displays ornamentation of the traditional symbolic idea behind Rockefeller[19]. The ornament shows the grand promenade being on axis with the ornament of wisdom, as shown in image 4.1. The Rockefeller's had a great interest in education and world trade, therefore the ornament was given a prominent placement in the complex. The interest of world trade is very evident at the symbol represent Old and New World, North and Southern Hemispheres. The clock at the top represents the sun, the sun is shining on mercury, the god of commerce. On both sides of mercury are four elements; wind, air ,fire and earth. Below mercury lies the symbol of technology and industry[20]. Bordered on each side of technology and industry are symbol of Old world with a mosque, and the New world image of Aztec and Mayan temple[21]. Underneath is the ship of exploration, placed between the castle of Europe and the Americas. And below that is the images of four races representing the diversity of the complex[22]. This ornamentation does not only suggests a entry, but embraces the importance of the complex as a monument and the symbolic rhythm the exists through the movement of the complex.

As Dennis Sharp stated in Twentieth Century Architecture: A Visual History,

"...Situated on a block that lies between New York's busy 5th and 6th Avenues and 48th and 51st Streets, the development represents the culmination of pre-war skyscraper design and comprehensive planning. Public and private activities are brought together in the scheme and the whole design creates an atmosphere that is a direct and positive contribution to urban life. The great RKO motion picture theatre was the first building completed (designed by the main architects with Corbett, Harrison) and MacMurray, Hood and Fouilhoux) and opened in 1932. It seats over 3,500 patrons and has a full stage." [23]. The planning of the complex starts to include all levels of complexities in which were successful solved. The issues of traffic, commerce and pedestrian volume were all considerations. The most dramatic element of the complex is the RCA building, the tallest building of the organization and even though it is separated by a significant distance from the plaza, the continuum never loses its connectivity to the complex.

WORK CITED

  • Dolkart, Andrew. "The Architecture and Development of New York City."Skyscraper City(2004): n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  • Balfour, Alan.Rockefeller Center. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978. Print.
  • Fletcher, Tom. "GE Building, originally RCA Building." n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  • Frampton, Kenneth.Modern Architecture. 4th. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007. 221. Print.
  • Stuart, Jewel.Ely Jacques Kahn, Architect Beaux-Arts to modernism in New York. 1st. New York: W,W Norton & Company, 2006. 30. Print.
  • Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 15. Print.
  • Sharp, Dennis.Twentieth Century Architecture A Visual History. Images Publishing, 2006. 257. Print.
  • Hines, Thomas. "Architecture: The City Beautiful Movement."Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society., 2005. Web. .
  1. Balfour, Alan.Rockefeller Center. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978. Print.
  2. Frampton, Kenneth.Modern Architecture. 4th. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007. 220. Print.
  3. Frampton, Kenneth 220
  4. Frampton, Kenneth 221
  5. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 15. Print.
  6. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 15. Print.
  7. Stuart, Jewel.Ely Jacques Kahn, Architect Beaux-Arts to modernism in New York. 1st. New York: W,W Norton & Company, 2006. 30. Print.
  8. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 14. Print.
  9. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 15. Print.
  10. Stern, Robert 15
  11. Hines, Thomas. "Architecture: The City Beautiful Movement."Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society., 2005. Web. .
  12. Dolkart, Andrew. "The Architecture and Development of New York City."Skyscraper City(2004): n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  13. Dolkart, Andrew. "The Architecture and Development of New York City."Skyscraper City(2004): n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  14. Dolkart, Andrew 2
  15. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 14. Print.
  16. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 14. Print.
  17. Fletcher, Tom. "GE Building, originally RCA Building." n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  18. Stern, Robert.Raymond M. Hood. New York: Rizzoli International, 1982. 15. Print.
  19. Dolkart, Andrew. "The Architecture and Development of New York City."Skyscraper City(2004): n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  20. Dolkart, Andrew. "The Architecture and Development of New York City."Skyscraper City(2004): n. pag. Web. 12 Dec 2009. .
  21. Dolkart, Andrew 2
  22. Dolkart, Andrew 3
  23. Sharp, Dennis.Twentieth Century Architecture; A Visual History. Images Publishing, 2006. 257. Print.
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