Monday, May 24, 2010

The Journey got me thinking of architects

The Journey has a post on
Benjamin Banneker
This is on another architect,
Joseph Fran├žois Mangin
The old St. Patrick's Cathedral (1809-15, at Prince and Mott Streets)

Joseph Fran├žois Mangin,(1764-after 1818)Born a slave in Haiti, Mangin escaped in 1791 during a slave rebellion and fled to France. In Paris he studied architecture until the French rebellion when once again he was forced to flee, this time to New York City. Mangin became a U.S. citizen in 1796 and worked for several years as a city surveyor in New York. He also worked on harbor fortifications in 1801 and in 1813, during the War of 1812. Mangin is primarily known as an architect. Among his most noted achievements are New York City Hall (1802, with John McComb, Jr.), and the old St. Patrick's Cathedral (1809-15, at Prince and Mott Streets).New York City Hall

Mangin, a cultivated Frenchman in exile from revolution, arrived here in 1794. Mangin was quickly designated a city surveyor, one of a handful of men effectively licensed to do private and public surveys. In 1797, the city contracted with Mangin (and a partner who soon died) to conduct the first comprehensive survey of the city since the Revolution and issue a detailed city plan. Mangin walked the city and its suburban fringes by day and worked his calculations and field notes by night. When another surveyor asked for a look at the progress of his plan, Mangin refused, with the remarkable statement that it was “not the plan of the city the city such as it is, but such as it is to be.”
Finally, in early 1803, Mangin released to the city government his map, 6 feet square. It, indeed, was not the accurate plan of the existing city that it was supposed to be. It was a plan for how the city ought to develop, from the drafting table of a refined European. In the city proper, Mangin idealized crooked Dutch-era streets by straightening and widening them. He widened the city itself with streets that had not yet been created by river landfill. Moving north into the countryside — up to what became 14th St. — he plotted sections of rectilinear grid, set at acute angles to each other. Some grid sections had wide and long streets, others had narrow and short streets: each by its particular dimensions had an individual character, for commercial, residential or mixed use. Mangin linked this network of grids from the south with relatively numerous radiating roads, some being extensions of existing roads, others new. In the triangular and trapezoidal intersections between grids and between grids and radiating roads were almost countless opportunities for parkland, ornament or open space. Mangin’s plan was irregularity made regular, regularity made irregular. It was European urbanity adapted to a narrow island. Had it been accepted and its concept extended up the island, Manhattan would have become a weak magnet for metal cars and trucks.

After a few months’ enchantment, Mangin’s plan was rejected. The reasons are unclear: powerful jealousies over Mangin’s contemporaneous City Hall design competition victory; American Francophilia that had turned to Francophobia; Mangin’s own arrogance (he always wrote in French); the simple fact that Mangin’s fantastic plan was not the real estate map for which he was hired.

But no sooner was Mangin’s plan dismissed than the city fathers realized that having a development plan was actually a pretty good idea. Joseph Browne, the city street commissioner, was asked to report a plan of his own. But Browne, who had been the leading detractor of Mangin’s plan, was soon off to western adventures with his brother-in-law Aaron Burr (who had prematurely assured Benjamin Latrobe that he would win the City Hall competition).

Read more here, here, here