History of Architecture Essay

Write a double-spaced, 5-6 page description of McKim, Mead and White’s Pennsylvania Station in New York (1906-1910) based upon the images in this pdf. This paper will familiarize you with the way buildings are represented by studying plans and photographs. This is a looking exercise that asks you to use these documents to draw conclusions about what you can observe in the manner of an architectural historian. Indeed, since the station was demolished in 1963 and you never can visit it, these images and plans are the only surviving evidence!

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You can also find information about Pennsylvania Station in our textbook. This is a looking exercise, so you don’t have to do additional research, but if you do use any information from the textbook – or any other source– it must be cited with a numbered footnote located at the bottom of the page or points will be deducted. Points are taken off for using the Wikipedia. For each footnote, you must provide the author, name of the book, publisher, date published, page number, etc. The footnote function is part of your word-processing program. Putting a page number in parentheses is not adequate. If you are unsure about how to footnote, consult The Chicago Manual of Style, The Modern Language Association (MLA) Handbook or your teaching assistant.

Your 5-6 paper should be written as separate answers to the following questions. Number the pages. Refer to the images by using the numbers in the pdf file (figure 1 etc.). Discuss all the images. You do not need to attach the images when you hand in your paper. 

  1. Using figure 1, describe the station’s relationship to its site. How is the station different from the buildings around it? How does it relate to the train tracks in the lower left hand corner of figure 1. The large rectangular building in the foreground of fig. 1 is a post office also designed and built by McKim, Mead and White in a style similar to the station. Think about how mail might have been delivered in those days. Why was it efficient to locate the post office on top of the railroad tracks? 
  2. Describe the exterior of the station (fig. 2). Is it humble, monumental etc.? Compare it to the buildings discussed in recent lectures, which can be found in our textbook. What style of architecture from the past was the station inspired by? What type of impression were the architects trying to make?
  3. Describe the plan of the station (fig. 3). Is it symmetrical or asymmetrical? Rational or confusing? What are the most important spaces? By studying the plan and figures 4-8, describe how you might arrive at the station, buy a ticket and get on a train. How does the driveway and bridge in figure 6 make the building more accessible from the surrounding streets or easier to use? What else might you do in the station as you prepare for your trip or wait for your train? Judging from the plans, how might this experience be different for men and women in 1910? What can you infer about society in 1910 from the way these spaces are allocated?
  4. Looking at fig. 7 & 8, describe the similarities and differences between the general waiting room and the concourse in terms of structure, materials, decoration or the absence of it. Clearly, the building is based upon historical precedents. Do you think the use of such precedents is appropriate for a 20th century train station? Be sure to express your opinions.

REMEMBER TO CHECK:

Was your paper written as separate answers to the questions?

If you took information taken from other sources, did you footnote it?

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