Theses Doctoral

Building the Metropolis: Architecture, Building, and Labor in New York City, 1880-1935

Wood, Alexander

The growth of New York City between the 1880s and the 1930s produced a remarkable building boom that reshaped the landscape of the city. In these years the city acquired its modern skyline, many of its civic monuments, and much of the housing its residents live in today. The development of new architectural styles, building materials, and construction methods in this period also introduced profound changes in the way buildings were produced. The soaring demand for new construction stimulated the rise of new kinds of architecture, building, and contracting firms, revitalized the building trades, and transformed the city’s building industry.

This dissertation explores the building of the city from the perspective of those who were engaged in its production to shed new light on the history of the city. Focusing on the creation of some of the city’s most important buildings, it traces the efforts of architects, builders, and workers to the shape the building process as it became increasingly industrialized. While architects, general contracting companies, and subcontractors exercised growing authority within the building industry, construction ultimately depended upon skilled building craftsmen. Thanks to their collective action, workers successfully fought to maintain the integrity of their trades and exert control over their work. Over time, architects, building employers, and workers established cooperative agreements which helped to stabilize a volatile industry.

This study contains five chapters that examine the work of leading New York architects as a window onto the transformation of building practice over half a century. Using the records of architecture firms, building trade publications, and municipal records, it documents the changing character of the building industry in a period of rapid urban growth, technological change, and industrial conflict. By looking at the making of buildings as a form of production, it reframes architectural history around the conflicts that shaped the building process between the late nineteenth century and the Great Depression.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Martin, Reinhold I.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2020