Historian to give lecture on New York skyscrapers

Francis Morrone

Francis Morrone

Long before Manhattan became the repository for Modernist steel-and-glass skyscrapers, New York’s cutting-edge buildings were ornamented and clad with terracotta tiles and sculptural decorations.

On Monday, Jan. 12, architectural historian and popular lecturer Francis Morrone will provide an armchair tour of these historic examples of a once-thriving aesthetic. This lecture, Skyscraper Art: Ornamental Terracotta on Iconic New York Buildings, 1870-1940, will begin at 1:15 p.m. at the Bruce Museum.

Mr. Morrone will discuss one of the great architectural treasures, the four-story Brooklyn Historical Society, designed by George B. Post and completed in 1881. Mr. Post was one of the first architects to call for unglazed terracotta to be used as exterior cladding and ornamentation, and the first to use locally produced terracotta from the Perth Amboy Terracotta Company in New Jersey.

Today, the original bright warm red color of this landmark Brooklyn Heights building has been burnished in a recent renovation, thus enlivening — even glorifying — its Renaissance Revival character.

Later spurned by the International Stylists, the 19th and early 20th centuries were defined by an an abundance of ornamentation. Engineered to withstand New York’s climate, terracotta held up well and lent itself to this exuberant style. “Opulent effects could be achieved that wouldn’t have been possible using carved stone,” Mr. Morrone said.

Mr. Morrone has taught architectural and urban history at New York University for the last 20 years. The fee for non-members is $25. For information: [email protected]

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