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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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This was also the period of the great expansion of educational institutions. And so the city established its own university system, a way of training men from the working class, and it was a free institution, and it was specifically planned as a counterweight to the more elitist Columbia University and New York University. It was originally located on Twenty-third Street. And as the number of students—and it was all male students at this time—increased, they needed more space. And in about 1897, land was purchased on the heights overlooking Harlem. And a competition was held for a design of the campus, and it was won by George B. Post, one of the leading architects in New York. And Post designed alternate plans, one of which was classical and one of which was Gothic. And the City College trustees chose the collegiate Gothic design. The collegiate Gothic was seen as an appropriate style for the new City College because it was the style associated with Oxford and Cambridge, and had become popular for elite American institutions. So by building a collegiate Gothic campus, City College's trustees were saying that the sons of the working class could receive just as good an education here as they could at Princeton or Harvard or other elite Ivy League schools.

The buildings are built out of Manhattan schist, which is the local bedrock of New York, and it was quarried here on the site, and this gray stone is then trimmed with very bright white-glazed terra-cotta. And the terra-cotta ornament is among the most spectacular that was created in the early twentieth century. It's filled with whimsical gargoyles that say something about the use of each one of the buildings.

The buildings were laid out in a very carefully done plan that is a quadrangle. So again, like Oxford and Cambridge, you have this collegiate quadrangle plan, and it has a very grand and impressive austere look, and then when you look more carefully at the buildings you get this contrast between the austerity and grandeur of the buildings and the whimsicality of the detail.

And these ideas that we've been talking about extend well into the 1920s and 1930s for public and civic buildings. And we could look at many examples, but here is just one example, which is the City College system expanding and now building a college for women students, because City College was just for men, and so Hunter College, now Lehman College, was built in the Bronx in the 1920s and 1930s.

And here you can see, for example, the gymnasium of the old Hunter College, and it too is a collegiate Gothic building. In fact, it's modeled on Kings College, Cambridge's Chapel.


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