ONE-HUNDRED YEARS AGO, when the New York Municipal Building was one year old, McKim, Mead & White were known across the country as the best architects in America (Carrère & Hastings were number two*). They were known as the best, even though McKim and White, the design partners in the firm, were both dead.
The Municipal Building was McKim, Mead & White’s expression of the tall building artistically considered. It clearly owes some inspiration to ancient Roman and Italian Renaissance architecture, but the architects and builders of those eras had never built a forty-story building, and MM&W set out to design a particularly American, and New York, building type. Howard Roark (and Louis Sullivan?) would have found the tower insufferable. Generations of New Yorkers have loved it. Sullivan undoubtedly would have preferred it to the mechanically repetitive stacking and ungainly proportions of 432 Park Avenue.
* Both men had worked for MM&W, and they established their office in the same building, the Architect’s Building at 101 Park Avenue.