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Inventing the Skyline: The Architecture of Cass Gilbert

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Inventing the Skyline

Columbia Univ Press
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.

Who Was Cass Gilbert?

Cass Gilbert was a craftsman and a visionary who combined historic forms with modern technologies. Gilbert's fanciful Gothic skyscraper, the Woolworth Building, was briefly the tallest structure in the world. His classically-inspired Minnesota State Capitol introduced new methods in dome construction.

In the 1950s, ornamental designs based on historic models fell out of fashion. With the rise of modernism, architects aspired to create simple, "pure" forms such as the Seagram Building by Mies van der Rohe. In one respected source, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture, Gilbert's designs are dismissed as "pedestrian."

Beyond Biography

Inventing the Skyline is not an intimate biography. You will not learn about Gilbert's youth in Minnesota or his love affair with his wife, Julia Tappen Finch. Instead, the spirit of Cass Gilbert is revealed through his artistry.

How Cass Gilbert Designed

Essays by four scholars analyze Gilbert's major projects, his sketches and watercolors and his contributions as a city planner. Along the way, readers are given an inside look at Gilbert's creative processes -- and his conflicts and compromises. For example:
  • Originally, Gilbert planned to place women's toilets only on every third floor of the Broadway Chamber's Building.
  • Discord erupted when Gilbert refused to use local stone for the Minnesota State Capitol.
  • Gilbert's vision for the George Washington (Hudson River) Bridge included fountains, sculptures and granite towers.
  • Gilbert believed that colored terra-cotta was essential in the design of modern skyscrapers.

The Spirit of Cass Gilbert

Cass Gilbert's success as a designer was due largely to his skill as a businessman and his ability to negotiate and compromise. Through his drawings and his writings, Inventing the Skyline captures the spirit of a man who spent a lifetime trying to balance these qualities. He was, perhaps, a poor poet but a gentle and sensitive soul when he wrote:

God give us success,
But, nevertheless,
Keep us modest, chivalrous and fair.
~ From the personal papers of Cass Gilbert, December 20, 1901

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