WPA Buildings by Joseph Maresca

The author’s love of the subject is clearly evident; the architecture is well researched, nicely presented, thoroughly documented, and thoughtfully discussed. The text is nicely written to be personable yet informative with great analyses on one of the great building periods in the US. Even more interesting, readers would be hard pressed not to recognize buildings in their own neighborhood since the period was so prolific.


What I gleaned from the book:
– Many of these buildings were civic in nature – built by the government for government facilities. Now called federal moderne. But other smaller construction items were also included: bridge details, bathhouses, to auditoriums.
– They are easily recognized because so many looked like a simple carved block. Attention to detail, clean lines, and solid mass is the hallmark of a WPA building.
– This period produced so many buildings as part of the New Deal and a way to put American men back to work after the great depression.
– Neo Classicism was the influence but they were very modern for their time, never slavish in their use of historical influences.
– They were meant to present an image of solidness – to give Americans faith in their government. Never ostentatious and yet always an aura of importance and permanence.
– They were very masculine to inspire confidence (as opposed to e.g., theaters of the time, which were very feminine in their ornateness). Yet unlike other 1930s designs internationally (e.g., German), they were built to inspire and not intimidate.
– To highlight their ideals, murals were used extensively to showcase modern American artists.
– This is definitely not art deco, which had already had its hay-day.
– The mural artistry was an interesting process and a story in and of itself

I greatly enjoyed reading WPA Buildings. The book contains a large assortment of drawings, plans, details, historical images, and creatively shot modern images. I appreciated that the inside of the building was discussed as much as the outside.

If I had two nitpicks:

I wish the author would have stayed general in the paragraphs and then had call outs for each of the buildings and their images/details for more specific information. Too many paragraphs were discussions of buildings that didn’t have accompanying images at that point so it was hard to visualize what the author was discussing. As well, this caused duplicates of images and buildings throughout.

And admittedly, the author did repeat himself frequently throughout. Again, this is owing to a paragraph text format rather than allowing for callouts or discussion of certain buildings at the end. The text goes from general to specific, general to specific, ad nauseum that can be very frustrating.

And yes, I have a soft spot for the Marine Terminal in La Guardia airport, which to me always epitomized the era’s buildings (I only saw the terminal by chance, when my flight was rerouted to take off from there the morning after Hurricane Sandy). But it wasn’t mentioned in the book at all, to my disappointment.

In all, very informatively, friendly writing that isn’t boring, and many great images to illustrate the points. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

This entry was posted in Art, Book Reviews, non fiction, nonfiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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