Architecture Planning and Preservation McKim, Mead & White
by
Richard Guy Wilson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0041

Introduction

The New York partnership of Charles Follen McKim (b. 1847–d. 1909), William R. Mead (b. 1846–d. 1928), and Stanford White (b. 1853–d. 1906) became one of the most important architectural firms in the United States from the late 1870s to the 1920s, producing more than one thousand buildings. McKim and White were the principal designers and Mead ran the office crew, which at times numbered more than 200 employees. They helped to introduce into the United States an interest in early American architecture and were instrumental in creating what came to be known as the Colonial Revival style with houses in resorts such as Newport, Rhode Island and the New Jersey seashore as well as in New York and Boston. Their early work was picturesque, frequently covered with wooden shingles, but in the mid-1880s they moved toward a more formal approach as seen in the Georgian for houses. Classicism based upon European precedents became dominant by the mid-1880s with works such as the Villard houses in New York and the Boston Public Library, which became one of the most celebrated buildings in the United States. Very involved in the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 they helped in establishing classicism derived from the teachings of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which McKim attended in the later 1860s. Their work grew in scale with the design of the new campus of Columbia University and New York University in the Bronx, along with other major projects such as Pennsylvania Station. McKim directed the renovations of the White House and also served as a member of the McMillan Commission for the renewal of Washington, DC, which served a major influence on the Civic Art, or City Beautiful, Movement. All three of the partners were close friends with leading artists and sculptors and they designed the bases for major monuments. Following the deaths of White and McKim and Mead’s retirement in 1916, the firm continued for many years under the leadership of several men who had worked closely the partners, such as William Mitchell Kendall, Burt Leslie Fenner, and William S. Richardson. The last building designed under the firm’s name was the American History Museum (1955–1964) of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

General Overviews

McKim, Mead & White’s work was extensively published in architectural magazines during their lifetimes with overall views of their work in the Architectural Record (Sturgis 1895 and Desmond and Croly 1906). Between 1915 and 1920 the firm supported the publication of A Monograph in four folio volumes consisting of photographs and plans that included only a small amount of their earlier work and focused on the later classical designs. Scholarly treatment of their overall work can be found in Roth 1978 and Wilson 1983.

  • Desmond, Henry, and Herbert Croly. “The Work of Messrs. McKim, Mead & White.” Architectural Record 20.3 (September 1906): 153–246.

    Written just prior to White’s death it is a lavish tribute to the firm’s work with an emphasis on the later classical designs.

  • McKim, Mead & White. The Architecture of McKim, Mead & White. Introduction by Richard Guy Wilson. New York: Dover, 1990

    Originally published as Paul Wenzel and Marice Krakow, A Monograph of the Work of McKim, Mead & White (New York: Architectural Book Publishing, 1915–1920). A very important office-sponsored books with photographs plans, it has been republished many times, but this edition is the most accessible.

  • Reilly, Charles. McKim, Mead & White. London: Ernest Benn, 1924.

    A short summary of the firm’s work by an English disciple, it is significant as one of the first reviews of an American firm published abroad.

  • Roth, Leland. The Architecture of McKim, Mead & White, 1870–1920: A Building List. New York: Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, 1978.

    An important list of all the buildings and costs with dates based upon the firms archives at The New-York Historical Society

  • Roth, Leland. McKim, Mead & White Architects. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.

    An extensive and excellent survey of the firm’s work

  • Sturgis, Russell. “The Work of McKim, Mead & White: “Great American Architects Series, Ho. 1.” Architectural Record 4 (May 1895) 1–111.

    One of the first overviews done on an American architectural firm, Sturgis is critical of some of the work.

  • White, Samuel G., and Elizabeth White. The Houses of McKim, Mead and White. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

    Great photographs by Jonathan Wallen, not a scholarly study.

  • White, Samuel G., and Elizabeth White. “McKim.” In McKim, Mead & White: The Masterworks. By Samuel G. White and Elizabeth White. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.

    Primarily photographs and gives a nice overview of 24 of the firm’s work, no citations.

  • Wilson, Richard Guy. McKim, Mead & White, Architects. New York: Rizzoli, 1983.

    An overview with photos and plans of the firm’s work from the 1870s to 1910 divided into different compositional categories.

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