Shining a Light on an Architectural Innovator

Following up on his insightful essay on the politics of architectural reputation seen through the career of Louis Curtiss, Keith Eggener examines the architect's innovations with glass curtain walls.
May 19, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Continuing his mission to revive the reputation of Louis Singleton Curtiss, an architect that contributed much to the built environment of early twentieth century Kansas City, and whose relative obscurity is a disservice to his design prowess, Eggener focuses his essay on the Boley Building, "the best-known work of its little-known designer," and "what this glass house made visible to Kansas Citians roughly one hundred years ago, and what it makes visible to us today."

Among the first, if not the first, true glass curtain-walled buildings in the world, the flagship store of the Boley Clothing Company was devised as "a daylight-seeking merchandise machine." It marked a significant cultural moment. "As Western society shifted from a production-oriented model to a consumption-centered one, large urban stores became 'object theaters' where commodities were 'staged' in eye-catching settings geared to make them seem fascinating and desirable."

The building also reflects the larger argument that Eggener makes about the means by which architectural reputations are manufactured and sold, or forgotten.

"Curtiss's oeuvre includes other curtain walls, yet in a larger sense the Boley Building was an isolated incident, published only locally before the 1960s and influencing designers outside of Kansas City perhaps not at all - apart from Willis Polk, who'd lived in Kansas City and knew Curtiss personally. When Polk's Hallidie Building opened in San Francisco in 1918 several articles in the architectural press took notice, calling it 'the world's first glass front building,' 'the daylight building,' and calling Polk 'the pioneering architect in this [type of] construction.'"

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Published on Monday, May 14, 2012 in Places
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