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Architecture In The United States

( Originally Published 1921 )



ANY notice of American architecture here must necessarily be of a suggestive rather than of a descriptive nature, for the architecture of that great continent, with all its daring originality and with its many ramifications, would require a volume to itself. The progress of architecture in a new country, untrammelled by tradition and by the general conditions obtaining in Europe, must always be of great interest as a study of later and present-day developments, which have taken place on somewhat independent lines, often strangely similar and often widely different from those prevailing in countries with an older civilisation. American architecture before the Civil War, belonging to the same period as the Georgian style in England and known as Colonial, including the architecture of the original Colonial districts before the period of the Greek revival, shows, especially in New England and the Southern States, a distinct type of country houses, with all the pleasant appointments and surroundings necessary for the administration of large estates. Architecture in the Northern States, which received a great impetus from the conditions following the Civil War, is of a more pronouncedly modern, commercial, and utilitarian type, and has been developed, even on the domestic side, along distinctly individualistic lines by architects who had made a study of past styles with a view to adapting them to modern requirements. It is evident that such a rapid development in architecture does not demand the same exhaustive treatment and analysis as has been applied to the architecture of slow growth and evolution in old European countries on which that of the New World is founded.

In the New England States wood was naturally the material originally employed, and largely determined the character of the old Colonial dwelling, which was a frame-house of posts and beams covered with boarding, usually with the addition of a verandah, and this type remains the vernacular building of the United States (p. 779 B, E, F). Craigie House, Cambridge (A.D. 1757) (p. 779 F), famous as being the home of Longfellow, is a typical Massachusetts house, with Ionic columns, shuttered sash windows, hipped roof, and dentil cornice ; while the internal fittings resemble those by Adam and Sheraton. Porches and entrance doorways in these houses (p. 779 A, B, c) were designed in the manner of those of the Georgian period in England. Where an Order was introduced, the columns were frequently of very slender proportions suitable to the material of which they were constructed, and, in such features as verandahs and porticoes, were often very attenuated, but nevertheless effective (p. 779 B, E). In Virginia and Maryland, the homes of the tobacco-planters, many of the most delightful and commodious houses were erected in the adapted Georgian style, and the influence of Sir William Chambers is perceptible.

Among the early churches or " meeting houses," erected in the manner of Sir Christopher Wren, are Christ Church, Philadelphia (A.D. 1727), S. Philip, Charleston (A.D. 1733), S. Paul, New York (A.D. 1767), and S. Michael, Charleston (A.D. 1752), of which the probable architect was Gibbs, the designer of the Radcliffe Library, Oxford. King's Chapel, Boston (A.D. 1747), was by Harrison, a pupil of Vanbrugh. Independence Hall, Philadelphia (A.D. 1735), and the Town Hall, Newport, are typical and significant public buildings of which Americans are justly proud.

The Spanish rule in Florida till A.D. 1821, and in California till A.D. 1848, was responsible for many military forts, Roman Catholic churches and mission houses, which resemble Spanish Renaissance buildings.

After the Declaration of Independence (A.D. 1776), and owing to the erection of the new State Capitols, a more monumental type was evolved suitable for public buildings, but among those of importance a few only can be mentioned, such as: The Capitol, Washington (A.D. 17931830), by Thornton, Hallet, and Latrobe, Virginia University (A.D. 1819-26), by Jefferson, recently destroyed by fire and rebuilt in a similar manner by McKim, Mead, and White, and the Massachusetts State House, Boston (A.D. 1795), by Bullfinch, recently enlarged and restored.

The " Classic Revival " during the nineteenth century in Europe, largely owing to Stuart and Revett's publications, also reached America during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and there produced similar results to those in England and remained a force till the Civil War. Among the buildings were the wings and dome of the Capitol, Washington (A.D. 185873), by Walter, which became the model for many public buildings ; the Girard Bank, Philadelphia (A.D. 1795), by Latrobe ; the Custom House, New . York ; the United States Mint, Philadelphia, by Strickland ; Girard College, Philadelphia (A.D. 1833), by Walter ; the Treasury, Washington ; Boston Custom House ; the Town Hall, Philadelphia ; the Capitol, Albany (A.D. 1871), and other State Capitols.

The " Gothic Revival " is seen principally in churches, such as Trinity Church, New York A.D. 1839), by Richard Upjohn, the pioneer of the movement ; Grace Church (A.D. 1845), and S. Patrick's Cathedral, New York (A.D. 1858), both by Renwick ; the State Capitol, Hartford (A.D. 1873), by R. M. Upjohn the Museum, Boston (A.D. 1876) ; the Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (A.D. 1876), and Memorial Hall, Harvard College (A.D. 1870). The influence of the Gothic revival is seen throughout the American continent and lasted till about A.D. 1875.

The industrial activity which followed the Civil War (A.D. 186165) and the devastating conflagrations at Chicago (A.D. 1871) and Boston (A.D. 1872) all helped to concentrate public interest on architecture and on novel methods of construction. H. H. Richardson (A.D. 182686), although a pupil of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, was a strong individualist and worked in the non-academic Romanesque manner, and greatly influenced his contemporaries and successors. Amongst his works are Trinity Church, Boston (A.D. 1877), with central tower adapted from Salamanca Old Cathedral (p. 537 F), and a number of town halls, schools, and houses, including Pittsburg County Buildings (A.D. 1884), the Albany City Hall, additions to Harvard University, and many charming small libraries round Boston. R. M. Hunt (A.D. 1827-95), one of the first Americans trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, introduced into America the modern type of French architecture, which now came into favour in place of -the English tradition. He erected many large town and country houses, among which may be mentioned houses at Newport and Bar Harbour, and at such resorts as Lenox and Tuxedo. Newport, owing to the variety of the architecture employed in its palatial buildings, has been said to have more of the aspect of an architectural museum than any other American town. " Biltmore," a country chateau in North Carolina, was also designed by Hunt, as were also many city buildings, including the Lennox Library, New York (A.D. 1871), and additions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Among later public buildings of note are S. John the Divine, New York (A.D. 1892) ; President Grant's Mausoleum, New York (A.D. 1891) ; Chicago Public Library, by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge ; Congressional Library, Washington, by Petz, Smithmeyer, and Green ; New York Public Library (A.D. 1897-1910), by Carrere and Hastings ; the State House, Providence, by McKim, Mead, and White ; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, by Cope and Stewardson ; Libraries at Washington and Atlantic City by Ross and Ackermann ; the Ponce de Leon Hotel, Florida, in the Spanish Renaissance style by Carrere and Hastings, and the Boston Public Library, a modern Renaissance design by McKim, Mead, and White, which has had a good deal of influence on recent library buildings ; while the same architects have erected scholarly and refined buildings at the Columbia University, New York.

The various buildings in the Exhibitions at Philadelphia (A.D. 1876), Chicago (A.D. 1893), and S. Louis (A.D. 1904) have aided in enlarging the national ideas as to the place of architecture in national life. They differed largely, however, from expectation ; for, instead of new developments in iron, terra-cotta, or timber, the temporary buildings in these exhibitions were designed in the modern French Renaissance style.

The abnormal progress of American industries during recent years, the general use of elevators and of fireproof construction, together with the high price of land, have caused many important town buildings to be carried to a great height. In some the walls have been constructed of a framework of steel supporting masonry, brick, or terra-cotta. Such buildings, introduced about A.D. 1890, are essentially modern in character, but not necessarily ugly in design. Among the most important are the Garrick Theatre, Chicago (p. 779 D), by Adler and Sullivan, a most successful design as applied to a high building, which is in reality a tower ; the Monadnock Building (sixteen storeys), and Masonic Temple (eighteen storeys), Chicago, by Burnham and Root ; the Ames Building, and Tremont Temple, Boston ; Madison Square Theatre, New York, and other enormous buildings of the leading newspapers, insurance offices, and trusts.

The Woolworth Building, New York (A.D. 1911-13) (p. 780), by Mr. Cass Gilbert, is the latest and most complete example of high building design. It is of steel frame structure faced with stone and decorated with carving in a free treatment of Gothic. The main building has 31 storeys and is 400 ft. high. The tower has 6o storeys, the total height from the pavement to the top of the tower being 800 ft., or well over twice the height of S. Paul's Cathedral, London. The building has 26 lifts, 4 fire-escape stairways, and special provisions have been made against fire. A restaurant, shops, Turkish baths, and swimming baths, besides suites of offices, are comprised within the building, which is occupied by over 10,000 people.

These " skyscrapers " of American commercial cities are the last word in utilitarian construction, and are striking examples of the operation of the accepted principle that site, purpose, and material must control the design.

Houses, large and small, are among the most satisfactory buildings both in town and country. House plans thus often show great originality, with staircases, piazzas, and steep roofs as the main features. The trend of modern architecture is indeed well seen in the rapidly increasing number of houses surrounded by formal gardens which approximate to those of England, and with inevitable modifications which result from the in-corporation of the latest systems of sanitation, heating, lighting, and every sort of labour-saving appliance dictated by the natural desire of an enterprising race for completeness, as well as by the prevailing social conditions which necessitate the reduction of manual labour in the service of the house.

It is a matter worthy of note that in America, and within the limits of the last three centuries, are to be found the most striking architectural contrasts in the world. There seems indeed to be no visible kinship between the old colonial country house of the Southern States, which spreads easily and lazily along the ground, and the modern commercial building of the Northern States, which, rising from its limited site, aggressively pierces the sky. The older country mansions of the South

"Built in the old Colonial day,
When men lived in a grander way"

still stand as symbols of a life which was on a grand scale for the few but based on the slavery of the many. This whole social system was swept away in the Civil War by the energetic sons of the North. They were not proprietors of landed estates, but they owed everything to their own energy and initiative in industrial enterprise. This new life is, in its turn, well typified in the steel-built, sky-challenging structures of Chicago and New York.

In these pronounced architectural contrasts we realise with even greater clearness than usual that architecture is at once the reflection and exponent of the period of which it is the product. There is great scope for architecture in America if architects express themselves in the language of their own times, for no advance can be made by the mere reproduction of ancient buildings, as has been done in certain cases, constituting a retrogressive movement and showing a want of appreciation of the true mission of art. The great historic styles must of course be well studied, not only for the outward forms and features, but also for the principles of construction on which they are founded, much in the same way as the standard literature of the past lays the foundation of good literary style. Thus will the architect produce buildings reflecting the hopes, needs, and aspirations of his age and generation. American architects, many of whom are first trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, have already advanced rapidly along new lines of adapted design, and have, in their various buildings, displayed that peculiar American freedom of character and outlook which enables them unconsciously to cut their way straight to the particular types of design most suitable for the wide variety of purposes, whether commercial, industrial, social, educational, municipal, religious, or domestic, of the up-to-date and untrammelled citizens of America. It is indeed only natural that the great country of the West, which was founded in religious freedom, and was later established in political freedom, should to-day hand on the torch of freedom, not only in religion and politics, but also in literature and art.



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