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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 European Modernism in New York
McGraw-Hill Building
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European Modernism in New York
McGraw-Hill Building
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You are looking at Raymond Hood's McGraw-Hill Building from about 1931, just a year after the Starrett-Lehigh Building was begun. It, too, has these horizontal ribbons of windows—steel windows—and they alternate with bands of green terra-cotta. The blocks below the windows are industrially made terra-cotta that is glazed green. (Raymond Hood was very interested in the use of color in architecture.) So this is a very modern building; even the setbacks that were required by the New York zoning law are kept at a visual minimum. Rather than cascading setbacks, as on the Chanin Building or the Fred French Building, these setbacks are very strongly horizontal. So if you are actually standing in front of the building, you are supposed to think that there are no setbacks, because the setbacks are done in this very subtle manner. And it is not until the top of the building, which had a giant sign that said "McGraw-Hill" on it, that you get to something that is very much of the New York of the late 1920s and early 1930s, because it was used as an advertisement for the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. And, although it was originally bright orange and was very visible, the words McGraw-Hill are still there. They have been painted out, but if you look at the top of the building very carefully, you can see the original sign is still there.

The McGraw-Hill Building is located on Forty-second Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues. So it is further west than that core of office buildings that had been built and was being built in the area around Grand Central Terminal. The reason for this is in another part of the zoning law of 1916, which established separate-use districts in New York. There was an office-use district, and there were residential districts and manufacturing districts. And the McGraw-Hill Building was both the offices of the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company and a place where they actually did publishing, where they actually did printing. So it had to be located in an area that was zoned industrial, and that had to be west of Eighth Avenue. That is why Raymond Hood designed a building for a site that was so far west, and it remains one of the only skyscraper office buildings that is west of Eighth Avenue.


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