Irving National Bank in the Woolworth Building:Rediscovering the Architecture of a Corporate Identity

Author: ORCID icon
DeMan, Brianna, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, AR-Architectural History, University of Virginia
Murphy, Kevin, History of Art and Architecture, Vanderbilt University
Rourk, Will, LB-Scholars Lab, University of Virginia

Within the elegant figure of the Woolworth Building in New York City, the headquarters and banking hall of the Irving National Bank are an anomaly. The bank’s singular design was the amalgamation of the ambitions of two corporate players—Frank W. Woolworth, salesman; and Lewis Pierson, banker—and two designers—Cass Gilbert, architect; and Ralph M. Comfort; efficiency expert. This unprecedented relationship impressed itself upon the architecture of the banking hall, producing a reflection of the dynamics between the four men throughout the design and construction process. Furthermore, among contemporary skyscraper office buildings, the position of the Bank and banking hall within the narrative of the skyscraper’s construction is highly unconventional.

While the space served as the headquarters of the Irving National Bank 1913-1931, the banking hall is no longer extant, and photographs contemporary with its completion do not depict the space comprehensively. However, recently discovered and hitherto unpublished architectural drawings of the banking hall, now held in the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Collection, have made a thorough examination and understanding of the space possible. The production of a 3D digital model, rendered from the linework of these architectural drawings, has re-illuminated the richness and spatial organization of the banking hall as it was originally constructed. This model is the most accurate experience of the space as has been possible in nearly a century. This thesis clarifies the architecture of the Irving National Bank headquarters by developing and analyzing a 3D digital reconstruction of the banking hall, made possible by the discovery of previously unknown architectural drawings, and examining the working relationships between the four major players responsible for the design.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Bank Architecture, 3D Model, Architectural Drawings, New York, N.Y., Early Skyscrapers, Woolworth Building
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