There’s no mistaking the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in New York: a giant bronze arm grasping a hammer protrudes from the wall over the door. No mistaking either, when you’ve climbed a few floors, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.
The eye roams between casts of ancient sculpture, Corinthian capitals and Piranesi engravings, before lighting on a deep-buttoned leather Chesterfield-a clear invitation to enjoy a clubbish moment reading an architectural book. This is West 44th Street. Over the road, the prows of ships break out of the opulently Ionic façade of the New York Yacht Club of 1901. To reach my lecture on the Edwardian country house means crossing the hall of Grand Central Station, 1903-13, one of the greatest Classical spaces in the world. Classicism is in New York’s DNA.
The city’s early-20th-century architects did well from what was termed ‘conspicuous consumption’. Stupendous fortunes are back, although charac-terised more by inconspicuous consumption: today’s super-rich keep their heads down. They’re providing work for Classical architects, however. Behind the doors of the Upper East Side, mansions sub-divided into flats are being restored as the family dwellings they were in the Gilded Age.
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