1996 Catherine Hoover Voorsanger Writing Prize

1996 Catherine Hoover Voorsanger Writing Prize

The Catherine Hoover Voorsanger Writing Prizes were generously endowed by Voorsanger and Associates, Architects. Each prize given at the end of the academic year for an outstanding paper on a subject in American architecture, landscape or urbanism written during the academic year. One prize was to be awarded to a student in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The other was to be awarded to a graduate student in the Department of Art History or to an undergraduate at Columbia or Barnard College for a senior these. Each prize carried an honorarium of $250.





Christopher Girr, MS Historic Preservation '96


Mastery in Masonry:  Norcross Brothers, Contractors and Builders 1864-1924


In our admiration of the physical qualities of architecture, we often recognize the materials and workmanship of the builder as much as the designs of the architect.  While a traditional art-historical approach often credits a single individual with the creation of a work of architecture, by the end of the nineteenth century a great building was the product of a complex relationship between the architect, the client, the engineer, and the builder. 


The building firm of Norcross Brothers was among the largest and most influential builders of the period following the American Civil War.  Through a sixty-year existence, the firm constructed hundreds of significant buildings built of the finest materials for many of America’s most prominent architects, including H.H. Richardson, McKim, Mead and White, W.A. Potter, Peabody and Stearns, Carrere and Hastings, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, John Russell Pope, Hartwell and Richardson, and York and Sawyer. 


From their origins in the carpentry and masonry trades through their evolution to masters of the construction process, Norcross Brothers contributions included pioneering a large scale, vertically-integrated approach to building while advancing traditional building technology and offering an exceptionally high level of service to architects.  Norcross not only functioned as a general contractor and builder, but also as a firsthand supplier of a wide range of building materials utilized in their work.  They operated some of the nation’s finest stone quarries, as well as ran extensive brickmaking, iron and wood-working shops to become the largest and most extensive building concern in America.


Through an examination of the history, resources and technologies of Norcross Brothers, Contractors and Builders, as well as the evolving role of the architect, this thesis explores the builder’s influence on architectural practice, the construction industry, and the buildings themselves in the years between the Civil War and World War I.