Pragmatic thinking in the ideas of the skyscraper architects of the 1920s

Mario Canato, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation takes into account a group of American architects (Raymond Hood, Ralph Walker, Harvey Wiley Corbett, Ely Jacques Kahn), who have undoubtly suffered because of the negative image given to them by the historiographers of the Modern Movement. Mostly they have been accused of stylism and lack of social consideration. In this dissertation I make an effort to reconstruct their cultural attitude, by sometimes relating them to the attitudes of other well known architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. They have been linked with typical American cultural streams, such as transcendentalism, and, above all, Pragmatism. The latter in particular helps us understand the characteristic combination of creativity and matter of fact, the most puzzling aspect of their design, which has recently been underlined by certain critics. Pragmatism helps us have a better understanding of the freedom from 'aesthetic canons' claimed by these architects; of their attitudes towards the future of the city; and of the kind of symbolism used in some of their designs. We understand that the surface of the skyscrapers designed by these architects reflects--through vitalistic forms--a natural utility of the building in itself; that the city envisioned by them should follow the natural flux of things; that the symbols included in some of their buildings show that ideas do not depend inductively on senses, but, in a Pragmatic sense, the world is created through 'useful conjectures.' These architects believed in the possibility that man could determine his own future within the everlasting flux of the world. Their idealism was in the openness towards the future, in the confidence in nature and in the 'natural' improvements man could bring forth.

Subject Area

Architecture|Art History|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Canato, Mario, "Pragmatic thinking in the ideas of the skyscraper architects of the 1920s" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9227633.