Richardson and the Romanesque Revival

Henry Hobson Richardson, the dominating figure of late 19th-century American architecture, with Richard Morris Hunt, was one of the first men to study abroad at the Ecole des beaux-arts. Unlike Hunt, Richardson cared little for the French Renaissance. Observing the difficulties in getting skilled carvers for detailed stonework, he chose the Romanesque style as particularly appropriate to American needs. His first large commission, Trinity Church in Boston, was planned for a small, almost square plot. This precluded the use of a deep Gothic nave. Forced by a condition that was to become common in later American urban construction, Richardson constructed a high church on a cruciform plan, not unlike the early German Romanesque. Above broad naves he built a massive tower of polychrome sandstone. Simple decoration was confined, as in true Romanesque buildings, to engaged colonnettes, window moldings, and borders.

Richardson found that the various Romanesque styles allowed for an elasticity of plan and a picturesque massing of parts as interesting as the Gothic and easily adaptable to civic buildings, factories, and stores, as well as office buildings. Further, Richardson discovered that the interior space could be translated into well-designed exteriors, thus uniting efficient construction and good composition. Following Trinity Church in Boston, Richardson designed the City Hall in Albany, the Courthouse at Pittsburgh, and many railway stations, libraries, and smaller churches. Before his death in 1886, Richardson was building iron-frame structures bolted to transverse rails set in concrete. He is thus one of the originators of skyscraper construction.

No comments: