A guide to art in NYC, with families in mind.

Monday, May 16, 2011

goARCHkids: McGraw-Hill Still Pretty to Me

I have always found the McGraw-Hill building to be one of the prettiest skyscrapers in midtown. I like the deco lettering of the name at the top, and all that sea green terracotta always seemed so cheerful in gloomy and serious old midtown. When the building was built, in 1931 by Raymond Hood, no one quite knew what to make of it. The New Yorker couldn't find a way to review something that had no historical precedent. They'd never seen anything quite like it before and felt that architectural design was clearly moving in the direction of just providing shelter - not high praise! Generally people could accept art deco or moderne design elements and liked those parts of the building. What put people off, or confused them, was that this building was definitively looking towards the European avant garde, or the International Style. One can see that in the horizontal bands of windows, which is classic Le Corbusier, arguably the father of the International Style. Meanwhile, though International Style enthusiasts were quick to claim this building not only as one of their own, but as the first International Style building in the United States, they also ignored the deco and moderne elements. Everyone seemed to see the parts of the building that suited them. What I like so much, the color and almost whimsical quality of the McGraw-Hill building are not at all what the architect intended. Hood firmly believed that ornament had no place in contemporary architecture, so he stripped it from his designs. But to my eye, relative to what came later to office building design, this building is a breathe of fresh air. McGraw-Hill sold it in the 1970s. It no longer spoke of that company. The design was so dated, inappropriate. We were walking a few blocks south of 42nd and I glanced up and saw it. I told the kids how much I liked McGraw-Hill. They did too, bit more eye-catching than the standard office building.
-Rudie Hurwitz