Tag: Telamones

  • Park Building

    Smithfield Street face of the Park Building

    The sun was glaring and the shadows were deep, but as far as old Pa Pitt knows, these composite photographs are the only complete elevations of the Park Building on the Internet. Above, the Smithfield Street face; below, the Fifth Avenue face.

    Fifth Avenue face

    And, of course, the most striking feature of the building: the telamones that hold up the roof.

    Two telamones

    The Park Building, built in 1896, is Pittsburgh’s oldest extant skyscraper. (The Carnegie Building, demolished in 1952, was a year earlier.) George B. Post of New York was the architect, and he designed it in the florid Beaux Arts style that would also be usual in the earliest New York skyscrapers. Although it was damaged decades ago by an ill-conceived modernization, the basic outlines and much of the ornament are intact. It displays all the attributes of an early New York skyscraper—the attributes that became dogma for early skyscrapers across the country. (See “The Convention in Sky-Scrapers.”) And with good reason: a bunch of these skyscrapers may create a certain monotony in the skyline, but following the Beaux Arts skyscraper formula reliably produces a good-looking building.

    “Form follows function,” as Louis Sullivan said. Modernist architects used that saying as a slogan (which probably annoyed Mr. Sullivan) meaning that the form of a building should express the structural functions of the parts. But the form of a Beaux Arts skyscraper expresses the social functions of its parts: it makes visible what different parts of the building do, in a way that modernist architecture often fails to accomplish.

    The basic formula for early skyscrapers is base, shaft, and cap. “A convention of treating them as columns with a decorated capital, a long plain central shaft, and a heavier base, was early adopted,” as the Architectural Record said in 1903.

    The base—usually the first two floors—is the public part of the building, where retail shops or banking halls and such things are located—where, in short, the public interacts with the main business of the building.

    The shaft, which is usually a repeating pattern of windows and wall, is where the ordinary business offices of the skyscraper are located.

    Up in the stratospheric heights of the cap are the very most important people—the princes of commerce, and the lackeys and flunkeys who attend to their needs.

    Now look at the Park Building, and you will see that the third floor, though more or less part of the shaft, is outlined and set apart from the rest. This is the bosses’ floor, in which the important men who supervise what goes on downstairs are located.

    Just by looking at the face of the building, you can tell what goes on in each of its parts, which is not true of a modernist glass box. Here the social functions of each floor are made visible in stone and brick. Although the form is not structural, in a human sense this is form following function.

  • Telamones and Other Ornaments on the Park Building

    Telamon on the Park Building

    A “telamon” is a male human figure used as an architectural support. Most architectural references regard the term as interchangeable with “atlas” (of which the plural is “atlantes”), but some working architects seem to have distinguished the two, “telamones” being youthful, beardless figures, and “atlantes” being older bearded figures with pronounced or exaggerated musculature, like the atlantes on the Kaufmann’s clock. At any rate, the 1896 Park Building, which is our oldest standing skyscraper (if we don’t count the seven-storey Consetoga Building as a skyscraper), has thirty of these figures supporting the elaborate cornice. The sculptor seems not to be known, which is a pity, because these are exceptionally fine work. The architect was George B. Post, who also designed the New York Stock Exchange and the Wisconsin state capitol, among many other notable buildings.


    One of these fellows has lost his head, which you might do, too, if you had to hold up a cornice like that for 126 years.

    Garlanded window
    Park Building

    At some point in the middle twentieth century it seemed like a good idea to someone to fill in the shaft of the building with modernistic columns of windows. It was not a good idea.

  • Do You Know This Face?

    If you are a Pittsburgher, you have probably seen it many times, but you may not have paid it much attention.

    It belongs to one of the atlantes—Atlas figures—on the Kaufmann’s clock.