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At Home in a Crystal Palace

Cities are shaped by their vernacular as much as their monuments, and New York has always been a city of masonry. Whether the brownstone and terra-cotta and redbrick of the nineteenth century or the limestone and white brick of the twentieth, the ordinary workaday buildings of New York have been solid objects first, exemplars of architectural style second. They are masses, and the streets along which they line up are voids. Philip Birnbaum's garish white-brick residential towers from the 1960s are hardly the equal of Rosario Candela's sumptuous and understated limestone apartment buildings from the 1920s, but at least the cheap arriviste and the self-assured aristocrat always had one thing in common: their masonry facades had the quality of dense objects.

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