New York is the site par excellence of the manly monument, or, if you prefer, the architectural erection. I can think of no other place where one’s eye is dominated by a masculine skyline. All allusions to stout perpendicularities aside, New York affords some stunning examples of masculine architecture, symbolising an historical and peculiarly male view of the world as it pertains to society, work or industry, and liberty. One need look no further than the Rockefeller Center, beacon of hope in the Depression, for proof of that (also see my prior post). Lest it be thought that I am slighting one half of the population, I must maintain that I adhere to a bald historical truth. New York’s skyline was designed by men, funded by men, and built by men. Given this triad of vision, economy and graft, it should hardly surprise us that the overall effect says something about American manhood. And what it says could not be more profound.
Take the Chrysler Building, for example: an Art Deco masterpiece, for sure, but one that is rooted in male industry and manufacture. It symbolises the motorcar industry in more than just its name, bearing gargoyles under its crown which evoke automobile ornamentation in the late 1920s. Its steely appearance sizzles with strength and elegance, sunrise upon sunrise emerging as its spire telescopically projects, celebrating the spirit of masculine innovation. This building that reaches for the sky is rooted, symbolically, in the steel automobiles of the earth. Statuesque, it is moving.
The association is apt. Viewed from the West, the Chrysler Building seems to emerge directly out of the roof of the Grand Central Terminal. This squat, flat affair of the beaux-arts immediately reveals its commodious innards upon entry from Vanderbilt Avenue. The ceiling represents the heavens, which have not only been attained, but mastered. On the concourse, man is dwarfed by the cosmos; but this is a worldly vision of masculine provenance. From this palatial hub, men of the railway age connected a nation by the steam power of their ambitious minds.
Not least among these manly edifices is the Empire State Building. The 3,400 men that erected this structure represent the idea of America from its most muscular aspect. Built by European immigrants and migrant Mohawk workers from near Montreal, the building embodies American history. That it stood largely empty for a time after it opened is neither here nor there. The style is the substance. For in America, more than in any other place, the medium is the message. In gazing upon this structure one sees not just a prominent erection, but the manly hands responsible for it.