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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Birth of the Skyscraper Romantic Symbols
The Woolworth Building
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The Woolworth Building
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This development of taller and taller buildings continued with the construction of the Woolworth Building, which began construction in 1911, two years after the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building was completed. And like the builders of Singer and Met Life, Frank Woolworth decided that he wanted the world's tallest building. His architect, Cass Gilbert, worked with him, redesigning the building as Woolworth decided that he wanted the world's tallest building. They chose Gothic for the style of the building because Woolworth saw himself as being in the tradition of the great medieval merchants with their Gothic houses, and so he saw this style as appropriate for his headquarters building. Woolworth actually only occupied a floor and a half of this building when it was completed, so this was a speculative office building—Woolworth hoped to make a profit on this building. He hoped that he would be able to rent all the floors and that he would make as much profit from this building as he was making from his five-and-dime stores. Cass Gilbert, another very talented architect, designed a building that is a spectacular structure on the skyline. This building, with a massive base and a slender tower, becomes a model later in the twentieth century for other skyscrapers. This was another building, like the Singer Building, that was so noticeable on the skyline that as soon as you saw it, you thought "Woolworth" and you went off to your local five-and-dime to spend money. You did not go and shop here at the Woolworth Building, however. There was never a Woolworth's store in this building, it was much too high class to have a Woolworth's store in it. But this was the symbol of the Woolworth company and it was designed in that traditional New York style, using traditional architecture—in this case Gothic—on the façade. The entire façade is clad in terra-cotta. It is blocks of molded clay hung on a steel frame. Most of the terra-cotta is glazed white to make it look like white limestone. It has very subtle polychrome terra-cotta ornament underneath the windows in blue, green, and other colors. They give it this kind of pizzazzy feel when the sun hits the building.


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