Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Penn Station

New York's Pennsylvania Station, designed by Charles Follen McKim was a building dedicated to modern methods of transportation, and one that made full use of modern technology to serve it. The enormous train shed was a no-nonsense structure built with steel and glass, and the complex interpenetration of levels and access ramps acknowledged as no other building of its size had yet done the emerging role of the automobile. Yet few would have argued with McKim's decision to use Imperial Rome as the source for the building's public spaces.

The main waiting room measured 300 feet in length and was nearly 150 feet high, its vaulted and coffered ceiling springing from massive Corinthian columns to crate a space deliberately evocative of the Baths of Caracalla. Visitors arriving in New York through this grand structure could have no doubt that they were entering the epicenter of America's commercial energy; New Yorkers leaving from Penn Station might well feel that they were cultural emissaries bearing enlightenment to the provinces. The demolition of this building in 1963 sent such a shock through even the architectural uninitiated that New Yorkers swiftly passed the nation's first landmarks preservation law (reference: Mad Men Season 3 Episode 2).

Pennsylvania Station, 1910
The architects brought ancient models to bear on modern transportation

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