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Article: The Life + Work of Cass Gilbert

The Life + Work of Cass Gilbert

The Life + Work of Cass Gilbert

We're fortunate enough to work in a building with a rich history and powerful architecture.  We featured the Brooklyn Army Terminal last month, and this month we're featuring the man behind it.  Cass Gilbert is one of New York City's most influential architects, and has left his mark on our city forever.

Minnesota State Capitol, early sketch

Many of us travel in search for inspiration. It was no different for Cass Gilbert, whose early travels to Europe helped shape his designs behind iconic architecture such as Woolworth Building and Brooklyn Army Terminal.

After completing his architectural studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1879, young Gilbert embarked on his “Grand Tour” of Europe. He began his journey in Liverpool, traversed through the picturesque English countryside, and made his way to the romantic towns of France and Italy. He sketched architectural features that he would later use in many of his designs.

Gilbert returned to New York in 1880 and worked for the prestigious architecture firm for a couple of years before returning to Minnesota, where he grew up. Over the next decade, he would go on building residences, churches, offices, stations and commercial buildings in the area, extending his reach to Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Montana.

The key project that won his national reputation was his design of the new state capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gilbert derived its dome structure after Saint Peter’s in Rome. This then led to him winning the commission for the U.S. Custom House in New York, and brings him back to Manhattan in 1899.

Brooklyn Army Terminal Atrium, Oct. 1949

Gilbert would go on to build many buildings in New York including the West Street Building, the New York Life Insurance Company Building, and of course, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, where we are based.

Gilbert is remembered for his influence on skyscraper designs, most notably the Woolworth Building, completed in 1913. The skyscraper's vertical construction had the potential to shape the city's skyline and to create a new urban identity for New York. Again, you can trace his thinking back the European influence of majestic Gothic towers.

Woolworth Building, circa 1915

Even after settling down in New York, Gilbert and his wife continued to take annual trips to Europe. Despite him being a celebrity architect by then, he perhaps yearned for new inspirations.

Upon his death in England in 1934, the London Times wrote, ”The list of his most important buildings would only be long enough to prove him the most remarkable architect of his generation in America.”

Where we are shapes who we are. The storied past of Cass’s works, and of course the Brooklyn Army Terminal, have undoubtedly influenced our thinking behind our identity as a new American brand.




Words: Aiko Austin

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