Moldings are important and valuable, and the designer who rejects them altogether handicaps himself—and yet there are even better things than moldings. The horizontal bands in a building like this would be interesting if they were molded; and yet they would be more interesting still if they were carried out in some greater projection in the face of the building and supported on corbels or on a little arcade. But it is evident that the first principle laid down by the designer for his own guidance was this—to avoid everything that would look like a merely architectural adornment, to add nothing to the building for the sake of architectural effect. He would repel the idea of a projecting cornice as readily as he would the full classical entablature for the top of one of these square towers, which would be no better working elements of the building if they were so adorned. Either you must add to a building something which is unnecessary, and which nothing but existing tradition even suggests to you, or you must have a bare, sharp-edged pile of blocks—a group of parallelopipedons like this. The designer seems to have said that even the rounding off of the coping shall be eschewed. He has determined that the square corner, the right angle, the straight edge, the sharp arris, the firm vertical and horizontal lines, unbroken, unmodified, uncompromizing in their geometrical precision—that these and these only shall be the features of his building. But as that characteristic of the building prevents it from having any delicate light and shade, therefore it stands condemned in the eyes of any person who looks at the building asking for beauty of effect.
There is, however, mass. There is the possibility of proportion, the proportion of the smaller to the greater, and the possibility of fitting one to another firmly and with grace. There is the proportion obtainable by the horizontal distribution, the alternating of curtain walls with towers, of projecting and receding masses; and there is the possibility of vertically succeeding masses, the parts which serve for a kind of basement at either end, and those towers and buttresses which rise above them. There is even a possibility of contrast between walls filled with windows and the massive blank space of the wall which rests upon the piers between the windows.
If now, we seek to take up a sympathetic position, to consider the building as perhaps the architect himself considered it, there are to notice the care given to the plan and disposition of the halls and rooms, the care which has evidently resulted in a successful utilitarian building. Construction which is the simplest and most obvious, and which cannot go astray because everything is reduced to the post and lintel; workmanship which is faultless, simple and straightforward brickwork; piers and walls fairly and smoothly built; slabs and beams of stone which have been planed and dressed in the mill and left with sharp arrises; a view down the central hall as seen in Fig. 3, which is impressive because of the straightforwardness and simplicity of everything, and because of the clear daylight which fills all parts of the hall; the evidences which the pictures multiply of a minute prevision in the way of office furniture, safes and cupboards for filing papers, tables and chairs of metal and solid wood, all of the simplest conceivable forms; the electric bulbs set in racks at a convenient height above tables and counters, which racks, though of inconceivable ugliness, have yet the character of simple utility—all these things unite to make a building which no one can fail to accept. The iron railing which encloses the site comes nearer to being really a design than the larger details, generally; for in this a true economy and a sagacious utility take the place of a sense of form. Our standard is lower, when we consider some hundreds of running feet of fencing.
And so in the exterior it is allow-able to the student to feel that a square brick shaft is as fit to contain a winding staircase or an elevator as a round or octagonal cut stone shaft costing five times the money; that windows are not absolutely necessary when there can be a skylight: and that where there are no windows, and no breaking up for windows without necessity, the result is inevitable-the result that there will be no pierced parapet nor any modifying of the uppermost story to replace in a way the cornice which, of course, such a building does not require. Here is a well-thought-out design, every detail of construction and all the appliances have been studied with care. Here is an excellent arrangement of large windows, raised high toward the ceiling, broad and low and shaped as they ought to be for utilitarian results. It is clear that there is nothing to burn about the building; it is as fireproof as such a building can be made. And while everything has been carried out with a view to practical utility, there has been also some attempt to adorn, to beautify. But we have already seen reason to think that this attempt has failed. See for the attempt and for the failure, in Fig. 8, that curious base arranged beneath the brick piers on the right; it is the Attic base reduced to its simplest form, the familiar old Attic base, with its rounded moldings turned back into the square-edged bands which those moldings were in their origin. And those square moldings are put in, the larger below and the smaller above, with the evident purpose of serving as ornament. Accepting this, let the eye now take in the curious square block decoration of the same pier in its upper part, higher than the door and between the great doorway of the entrance where the firm name is painted on the glass, and the small staircase doorway on the right. Is this a serious attempt to create a new system of design? May we assume that the inevitable squareness of the brick-built pier, all molded and specially cast brick being rejected, satisfies the designer so well that he gladly makes everything else, his sculptured ornaments and his bronze fittings, as square as the masses of brickwork? Look, then, at the system of metal frames in which the electric globes are suspended. From this picture go back to Fig. 3 and study those straight-edged and sharp-cornered groups of ornament at the tops of the great piers, and directly below the skylight see those square ornaments which are clearly nothing but ornaments. Fig. 4 shows two groups of those extraordinary connections—hose terminals of the great supporting piers at the end of the high nave opposite the one shown in Fig. 3 it is unnecessary to describe the design of these strange masses of square-edged patterning; no human designer could make anything graceful or even anything effective out of such elements as those. Taking all this accumulation of strange, sharp-edged solids, offering no modulation· of surface-nothing but sharp contrast and checkered black and white—and the wonder will grow upon you more and more, how such a costly, careful, thoughtful, well-planned building should be made up of such incongruous parts, leading to such a hopeless result.
One cannot help liking broad surfaces
of fair brickwork, and yet those very
masses of brickwork may be so much
more interesting; they may be invested
with color. There is the third chance for
the designer! After light and shade
have escaped him, or have been rejected deliberately, and when the artistic use
of mass and proportion are out of the
question, he has still at his disposal
the interest and charm of color, and
this exterior calls for it loudly. The
careful brickwork, even as it is, has a
certain momentary pleasure to offer
those of us who feel dissatisfied with
the flimsy character and the inappropriate
ate ornament of the buildings around.
Such a pleasure lasts but an instant, however. You turn from the florid facade to the plain brick gable wall or rear with a sense of relief, but it is merely an instantaneous pleasure which you feel in escaping from something painful. If we are to look at the building a second time, and that with renewed pleasure we must have something else; and, where delicate play of light and shade is denied us, as here, variety of color pattern would be an admirable expedient. It is not necessary to expatiate on this view of the case, for any one who has ever made patterns in mosaic or has enjoyed the patterns that others have made for him will see what a pleasure this building might have been to the designer and to the student, had its grimness of aspect been modified by color patterns. Even the simple stripes found in the wall of that New York apartment house which faces on Fourth Avenue and East Sixty-Eighth Street, three horizontal courses of dark brown brick, one of scarlet brick, and so on, in alternation, even that is beautiful. More elaborate, more effective combinations might be made where colored bonds pass through—cut across—groups of moldings.