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Cass Gilbert, Architect of Skyscrapers and Capitols



Black and white profile of Cass Gilbert, mustache, pince-nez glasses, three-piece suit

Portrait of architect Cass Gilbert, c. 1905

Photo LC-DIG-hec-18023 Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Cass Gilbert-designed state capitol of Minnesota

Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota

Photo LC-DIG-highsm-13122 by Carol M. Highsmith Archive, LOC Prints and Photographs Division
Colored photo of George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River between NY and NJ

George Washington Bridge, Spanning Hudson River between Manhattan (NY) & Fort Lee (NJ)

Photo HAER NY,31-NEYO,161--84 by Historic American Buildings Survey, LOC Prints and Photographs

Famous for his Gothic Revival skyscraper, the Woolworth Building, Cass Gilbert helped shape some of the most important buildings in the United States.

Born: November 24, 1859 in Zanesville, Ohio

Death: May 17, 1934 in Brockenhurst, England

Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, 1878-1879

Buildings by Cass Gilbert:

Quotes by Cass Gilbert:

  • "In conducting business (especially for the office) never forget that the greatest danger arises from cocksure pride."
  • "Beware of over-confidence; especially in matters of structure."
  • "It is only the young and callow and ignorant that admire rashness. Think before you speak. Know your subject."
-from Maxims for My Office Organization

Related People:

Why Cass Gilbert is Important:

Although Cass Gilbert's name is rarely mentioned today, he exercised enormous influence on the development of architecture in the United States. His Gothic Revival Woolworth Building was the world's tallest building at the time. Combining modern technologies with historic ideas, Gilbert designed many public buildings, including the state capitols of Minnesota, West Virginia, and Arkansas. He was a consulting architect for the George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River in upper Manhattan, New York City.

Cass Gilbert's Honors and Awards:

Cass Gilbert was highly regarded by politicians and other luminaries of the day. President Theodore Roosevelt made him chairman of the Council of Fine Arts, and President Wilson reappointed him. Gilbert received many gold metals in the United States and Europe. In 1931 the Society of Arts and Sciences awarded Cass Gilbert for inaugurating the age of skyscrapers. Cass Gilbert served as president of the American Institute of Architects in 1908 and 1909, and helped found the Architectural League of New York, serving as its president for two years.

Cass Gilbert in History:

By the 1950s, Gilbert's name slipped into obscurity. Modernism, which idealized sleek, unornamented forms, became fashionable and Gilbert's buildings were often dismissed or ridiculed. Today, however, a new appreciation for architecture based on historic themes has reawakened interest in the work of Cass Gilbert.

Learn More About Cass Gilbert:

The most comprehensive records of Cass Gilbert's work are housed at the New-York Historical Society. Some 63,000 drawings, sketches, blueprints and watercolor renderings plus hundreds of letters, specifications, ledgers and personal files document the firm's New York practice. In linear footage, the Society's Gilbert collection is about as high as his celebrated Woolworth Building.

But, even if you cannot travel to New York, you can rediscover the genius of Cass Gilbert in a lavish book that features highlights from the collection. Published by Columbia University Press, Inventing the Skyline: The Architecture of Cass Gilbert is a hefty, picture-packed hardback edited by Margaret Heilbrun, library director for the New-York Historical Society.

Criticism of Cass Gilbert:

"The fairly pedestrian designs created by Gilbert's firm did not prevent it from gaining popularity. The majority of buildings the firm designed were gothicized skyscrapers, the most famous of which was the Woolworth Building. Works designed by the firm during the early 1930s were competent Classical buildings which lack the originality of such contemporary Modernists as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe."

~ Dennis Sharp. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Quatro Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-8230-2539-X. NA40.I45. p65.

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