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Color and Cast Iron
The Railroad Gazette July 1, 1871, pp.160-161.

Every year cast iron is coming into more extensive use as a material for buildings. Its exposure to the atmosphere is almost always attended with slow but sure destruction. Silently and almost imperceptibly corrosion goes on, so that time alone is the element which will decide the life of an iron structure, unless it be protected from this subtle enemy. In nearly all cases paint is the material used to exclude the destroyer. In as much as the color of paint has but a very slight, if any, influence on its cost or durability, there is an opportunity for the exercise of fancy, taste or caprice in the hue of iron buildings. Until recently white was regarded as the only color which was suitable for a building of any pretensions, so that we have had buildings like Stewart's up-town store in New York, and other imposing "fronts," decked out in perfectly dazzling mantles of white. Of late, however, the practice has come into vogue of using some variety in the color of iron buildings. One of the first examples of this kind was Tiffany's new store on Union Square. The upper portion of this building is painted a dark drab color, and the lower story black, with gilt mouldings. The effect is very striking, and has the commercial advantage of bringing out in strong contrast the goods which are displayed in the window. It attracted much attention at once, and there were a great many imitations of it, and now almost every block on Broadway has an example of a store with the lower story painted in black and gold.

Several large buildings, such as Lord & Taylor's dry-goods store, corner of Broadway and Twentieth streets, have been painted drab and neutral tint. The effect, however, without any other color, is not pleasant, as it produces a sort of dead appearance.

In building their store on Broadway, they adopted two new ideas, or at least two which thus far had not been put into practice in any building of any pretension in New York. In the first place cast iron was employed in a manner suitable to the nature of the material. Heretofore, with the structures designed by engineers, nearly all buildings made of iron have been built in imitation of stone. Now, obviously, the construction of a building to be made of a material whose power to resist a strain of compression is ten times greater than stoneshould be very different from that one built of the latter material. When we take into consideration, too, that we can combine wrought iron - whose tensile strength is probably more than a hundred times that of stone - with cast iron, it is obvious that the whole construction of an iron building should be based upon laws wholly different from those upon which we construct a stone building.

The architect of the new store for the Messrs. Appleton have recognized this, and instead of forming their front of columns cast of a thin shell of cast iron and made of a large diameter so as to represent stone, and thus obstruct the light and lessen the with of the entrances, he has made the whole front as light as possible, with the material used. By this means he has economized material and admitted as much daylight into the building as possible, and at the same time made a very graceful front. With such a construction there is of course not so much opportunity, or rather not so much space, for ornamentation. To compensate for this he has used variety of color. The body of the building is painted a yellowish drab or buff color. The panels and some of the receding parts are red, and the projecting moldings glided. The effect is very striking and has been very much admired. The building immediately adjoining the Appletons is of a somewhat similar construction, but not so light and the upper stories are painted blue, with dark red panels and gilded moldings and projections. The lower story is black, red and gilt. The colors do not contrast well with those in the Appleton building, although the general effect would be good in any other location.

Another very good example of the use color is the lower story of the Hotel Brunswick, on Madison Square, which is painted a sort of olive color, with light green moldings. The appearance is not unlike that of greenish-colored bronze. The effect is very good, and the color has the advantage of not showing dust or dirt.

One of the most highly ornamented and brilliantly colored buildings, however, is one just completed on Bond street, near Broadway. It has a very wide front and is built with heavy columns in imitation of stone. The principal color in the upper portion is drab, and in the lower, dark blue, or lead color. The moldings and window frames are dark brown, with a little red on some of the narrower lines. Immediately below she [sic] capitals of the columns red ornamental figures are painted, and the projections of the ornamental portions of moldings, etc., are gilded. The whole appearance of the building is very gorgeous, is perhaps the best word, although some might say gaudy. There is, of course, very great difference of opinion about it. Some persons think it is in very good taste, while others, who are of a more sober turn of mind, and whose tastes having a leaning toward things of a more sombre appearance, do not like it. Altogether, it is an agreeable change from the staring whiteness of older buildings, and also from the sort of stupid look which drab or buff, without any variety of color, gives a building.

Every day almost — certainly every week — produces a new example in New York of the growing taste for color in buildings. There are some of almost every shade of brown. One in Brooklyn has recently been painted light green, cream-color and white, another on Broadway within a few days appeared in a new coat of claret and brown, and even the staid office of the RAILROAD GAZETTE has bloomed out in a coat of very yellow drab with gilt trimmings.

Judging from the present tendency, the use of cast iron in architecture will bring into general use a much greater variety in the color of buildings. There will naturally be a great deal of bad taste shown in its use, but we cannot help feeling that it will add to the cheerfnlness [sic] and beauty of our large towns. This is especially desirable since the introduction of steam elevators as they will probably have a tendency to increase the height of buildings in the more crowded parts of all our cities, and thus make the streets look more gloomy by shutting out the light.

Iron, on account of its expense, requires to be used much more scientifically, in order to be economical, than stone or wood. It therefore seems as if it would be necessary for architects to have very much the same kind of knowledge as engineers in order to design iron buildings to the best advantage. It also seems probable that the use of iron would of necessity introduce new styles of architecture adapted to the material. It is somewhat surprising that the increased facilities which iron gives for the admission of light into buildings of great depth, or on narrow streets, has not been more generally recognized. There are also indications that the style of ornament to be used in iron buildings will be entirely different from that of other structures, and that, with greater scientific knowledge, much of the ornamentation which often appears frivolous will disappear.

The great concentration of capital in railroad enterprises will probably cause the erection of very large and expensive buildings for stations, workshops, etc., so that probably the design of these buildings will be allotted to engineers instead of architects. It is to be hoped that in planning such buildings they will exercise their scientific knowledge more, their affectation of architectural ornament less, and thus, of necessity, they will be compelled to adopt a new style in their buildings. By doing so, and using color in good taste in painting their buildings, we will have a style of architecture peculiar to the civilization and knowledge of the Nineteenth Century.

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