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McKim, Mead, & White

McKim, Mead, & White. American architectural partnership, the most distinguished of its time, based in NYC. Charles Follen McKim (1847–1909), William Rutherford Mead (1846–1928), and Stanford White (1853–1906) were in the vanguard of a return to Classicism in the USA. McKim and White had worked in Richardson's office, and McKim had attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. At first the firm's work drew on American Colonial architecture and then Italian High Renaissance was added to the palette of styles, as was evidenced by the six houses for Henry Villard, Madison Avenue, NYC (1882–5). However, White's taste for the picturesque and for variety in colour and texture led to the creation of a great number of buildings in the Shingle style, partly derived from American Colonial prototypes, and influenced by the English Domestic Revival of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, with a dash of rural French medieval buildings. The study of Renaissance buildings led to geometries becoming more formal, as in the beautiful William G. Low House, Bristol, RI (1886–7).

Then came the Boston Public Library (1887–8), with a façade treatment derived from Labrouste's Bibliothèque Ste-Genéviève, Paris, but given a more Italian Roman flavour. This celebrated design made the firm's reputation. Madison Square Garden, NYC (1887–91—demolished), had a pronounced Sevillian flavour in its tall tower, but the Rhode Island State Capitol, Providence (1891–1903), was influenced by the Federal Capitol in Washington, DC, with a Wrenaissance dome. At Columbia University, NYC (1893–4), both the New Sorbonne in Paris and Jefferson's University of Virginia, Charlottesville, were precedents for the plan, and the Library Building, with its Pantheon dome and long portico of Ionic columns, entered the language of Neo-Classicism. This growing interest in Antiquity reached its apogee in the enormous and brilliant Pennsylvania Station, NYC (1902–11—destroyed), with the gigantic hall based on the thermae of Caracalla, Rome. It not only worked extremely well, but was the most Sublime work of architecture in the USA—its destruction was a grievous loss, as was the demolition of the perfect Madison Square Presbyterian Church, NYC (1904–6), another variant on the Pantheon theme, but with polychrome enrichment. The Georgian Revival Symphony Hall, Boston (1892–1901), was much more subdued, but the series of great works of the three decades 1880–1910 (including the very fine J. Pierpont Morgan Library, NYC (1902–7)) put McKim, Mead, & White in the forefront of world architects of their time.

Stanford White was shot dead in 1906 in public in Madison Square Garden by a jealous rival in amorous matters. The ensuing publicity did enormous damage. However, the firm itself survived well into the second half of C20, and its achievements were celebrated in A Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead, & White, 1879–1915 (1915 and 1973).

Bibliography

ARe, xx (1906), 153–246;
P. Baker (1989);
C. Baldwin (1976);
Hitchcock (1977);
Lessard (1997);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Reilly (1972);
A. Roth (ed.) (1973, 1983);
Jane Turner (1996);
S. White (1998);
R. G. Wilson (1983);
Wodehouse (1988)

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