Event: Oculus Book Talk: Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class In America’s Gilded Age by Mosette Broderick
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.23.11
Speaker: Mosette Broderick — Director of Urban Design and Architecture Studies & MA program in Historical and Sustainable Architecture, Department of Art History, NYU
Organizer: AIANY Oculus Committee
Sponsors: Reception sponsored by Alfred A. Knopf
A labor of love, years in the making, Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class In America’s Gilded Age, by Mosette Broderick (Alfred A. Knopf, New York), is a lushly-layered scholarly work written with the ease and accessibility of a historical novel. In telling the story of Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White’s world and times, and the buildings they built, Broderick delves into the storied lives of these named architects, the opulence and wealth of the Gilded Age, their clients, and the shifting dynamics of the world around them. She also gives focus to the voice of some of the other men in the firm, most notably the talented Joseph Wells. While the name McKim, Mead & White would become synonymous with great American architecture, Wells, chief designer, is given a voice in Triumvirate that provides a greater understanding into the design philosophy and management practice of the firm. Wells, who took on the design of the Villard Houses, not only opened new doors for the firm after the commission’s completion, but “the office had come to depend on him to make their designs coherent,” Broderick states when describing the impact of his death on the firm.
There are many other tangents of interest and the book does delve into the scandals. But the author makes clear from the beginning that she is in service of telling the story of their work, which is beautifully illustrated with some remarkable photographs throughout. I suggest that you consider reading this book with a bifocal lens — one focused on history and the other on the practice of architecture in 2011. The firm of McKim, Mead & White designed and built when the nation was going through a radical industrial and ideological transformation. There is much to be learned.