Rochester

Bragdon Describes His Design Process for the New York Central Railroad Station
From More Lives Than One, by Claude Bragdon, pp. 163-164

The New York Central Station was by far my most important commission. I was anxious--over-anxious-- to make the building an illustrative example of architectural art. This was the cause of a false start: I had in mind to build a monument to the railroad, to the city, and incidentally to myself, as Charles F. McKim tried to do in the case of the New York Pennsylvania Station, that veritable Temple of Fatigue. What I ought first to have determined to do was to provide a thoroughly practical, economical, and sufficiently handsome structure, expressive, so far as possible, of its function. Fortunately when I attempted to cast a railroad station in the mould of Sancta Sophia, or of other famous buildings, I saw the folly of such procedure; so next I set seriously to work to develop a thoroughly good plan, without too much thought concerning exterior appearance. With the help of the New York Central engineers I arrived at a solution which satisfied both them and me; but I went wrong again in trying to compose a fašade out of admired architectural forms and features, regardless of their appropriateness. The resultant design looked as much like a city hall, a post office, or a court house as a railway station.

Conscious again of the unsoundness of my method, I resolutely put away all my photographs, books, and plates. I repeated over and over to myself like a mantra: "This is a railway station!" I went down beside the New York Central tracks and watched the great locomotives with their long, powerful boilers, squat smokestacks, and linked and aligned driving-wheels--watched until I felt them, until I became them in imagination. Then the answer came: there was the archetype of which I had been in search.

On a piece of paper I drew five equal, aligned tangential circles, like the driving-wheels of a locomotive engine. Of these the two end ones defined the height and width of the office divisions at right and left of the waiting-room, and the three remaining circles circumscribed the great round-arched windows which gave it light. The station was built in just that way. It has at least this merit: no one could mistake it for anything but what it is. On my son Henry's first visit to New York we passed the Pennsylvania Station in a taxi. "What's that building, Father, a library?" he asked.

 

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