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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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The Irving Trust Reception Hall
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The Irving Trust Reception Hall
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Now the Irving Trust Company Building was not a savings bank like the Bowery Savings Bank, where poor immigrants came to do their banking. This was where corporate presidents came, and enormously wealthy people had accounts at Irving. So you would walk into this palatial room, you would sit, and you would meet with a receptionist here before you were ushered upstairs to meet with your private banker. This room was designed by Ralph Walker with a very important artist of the era, Hildreth Meiere, who had worked with many architects in designing the ornament on buildings. She worked very closely with Walker to come up with one of the most dramatic mosaic spaces in America. This room has a red marble wainscoting and red marble columns. Then, above the marble, the room is entirely in mosaic. It starts with deep red, with a web of gold going through it, at the base. And as you go up the colors get lighter and lighter, the web of gold gets more intense, and this makes the room appear much taller than it actually is—until you get to this angled and faceted ceiling of orange and gold. There you have natural light and indirect, artificial light coming in and bouncing off of the mosaics to create this spectacularly scintillating space. The tesserae (the individual mosaic pieces) are all different shapes and all different textures so that the light will bounce off of them in different ways. And the mortar actually changes color, from black to blue, as it goes up. These glass mosaic pieces were made in Berlin at the Ravenna Mosaic Works, which was the leading mosaic company in the early twentieth century, so named because Ravenna was the site of the great early Christian mosaics. And they were assembled in Long Island City in Queens, where they would assemble huge pieces of the mural. They would assemble them on the floor of a warehouse. They would glue all the pieces onto paper. Then they would bring them to the site, and they would put cement on the wall, and they would put the entire piece up on the wall. Then they would pull off the paper, and they would wash off the glue. So this was preassembled very carefully—it was not done piece by piece on site. And they were able to do this with relative rapidity.

This room is still intact. Unfortunately, the main lobby, which had abstract murals that Hildreth Meiere also worked on, is no longer extant. Nonetheless, this remains one of the great buildings of its era. On the top of the building is this observation room, which had to be even more dramatic than the public room at the base. It had Aztec-inspired fabrics on the walls, carefully designed furniture, and a ceiling that is angled and faceted, and gets the light coming in through these huge windows. The light bounces off a Philippine cap of shells. These are seashells, imported from the Philippines, that have this shiny, white quality to them. The whole thing is alive with light bouncing off the space.

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