Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Kevin D. Murphy

Subject Categories

Architecture | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Urban Studies and Planning


carrere & hastings, classicism, herbert croly, new york city, republicanism, staten island


In the years around the consolidation of Greater New York in 1898, a renewed interest in republican political theory among progressive liberals coincided with a new kind of civic architecture. For the first time in American history, cities and the urban public emerged as crucial parts of democratic citizenship, at least for progressives such as Frank Goodnow, Frederic Howe, and Herbert Croly. At the same time, New York City was promoted as the nation's cultural and commercial capital: the "American metropolis," in Croly's words. Architects, too, played a key role in articulating the city's and the urban public's new status and visibility. New York City was a site for the simultaneous reimagining of citizenship, the public realm, and architectural and urban form.

In this context, an informal school of architecture in New York that I call "civic classicism" developed three distinctive design modalities to reform the city's public space: the ensemble of buildings in a garden-like terrace, the continuous street wall around a historic square, and the free-standing monument juxtaposed to the gridiron urban plan. By attending to issues of publicity--of public space and visibility--broadly considered, architectural works by Carrère & Hastings, Cass Gilbert, and others are shown to be linked to the civic, political concerns of their time. The dissertation thus moves beyond the conventional biases in the historiography of this architecture, which has treated the work in mostly pejorative terms.

Chapter one traces the course of the nineteenth-century American "architectonic public realm"--that is, the ways in which political thought and architectural and urban form conditioned one another-- as a foundation for understanding the changes around 1898. In Chapter two, Herbert Croly's political theory and architectural criticism are studied together to reveal the connections between his republican politics and his pragmatic architectural aesthetics, which championed civic classicism's suitability to the modern city. Chapters three, four, and five examine the three architectural modalities at the Staten Island Civic Center, Bowling Green, and the New York Public Library, respectively. The conclusion briefly suggests some reasons why civic classicism declined in the 1920s and after.