Henry Hobson Richardson : architect biography

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Henry Hobson Richardson
Henry Hobson Richardson
Henry Hobson Richardson
Henry Hobson Richardson

Henry Hobson Richardson

Once Henry Hobson Richardson established this format (1877) of tower-gable-arch meeting the building at right angles (and placed visually off-balance to the long side of a structure), Henry Hobson Richardson was able to consistently tap these features for planning solutions in other building types as well by sliding features all along the long horizontal stretch of wall and adding on or dropping off others. The same features and formats are used over again along with the same approach to surface treatment by simply reshuffling the parts and materials and shifting the focus.

The repetition of such schemes allowed Henry Hobson Richardson to arrive at programmatic massing and siting solutions in a relatively short time. J. J. Glessner, for example, notes that after seeing the Prairie Avenue building site for his home only a few minutes, Henry Hobson Richardson drew a sketch during dinner of the L-shaped plan (that would be tucked into the rectangular lot) with boxed-off spaces for interior volumes, and said, "If you won't ask me how I get into it, I will draw the plan for your house." "The first floor plans," Glessner notes were "almost exactly as it was finally decided on." In essence, it was the Stoughton House and Converse Library schemes reversed and backed against a two-story blank wall of a proposed house to create an enclosed courtyard reminescent of a palazzo cortile. Additionally, the Winn Public Library (March 1877) becomes the Billings Library of April 1883 by centering the portal in the gable and adding the end turret, which 4 months later would be grafted onto the Converse Library in Maiden, Massachusetts (August 1883).

The Billings Memorial Library (1883-1887) in Burlington, Vermont, was specifically designed to mirror the Winn Library at the request of the president of the University of Vermont. Van Renssalaer argues that this gave Henry Hobson Richardson the unique opportunity to improve his original inspired design. The Billings Library reflects an even closer affinity to the design elements of the Winn Library in earlier project sketches in which the tower is retained to the right of the gable instead of being shifted to the left of the gable and is loosely contained by two stubby turret forms. The oversized stair tower, the indefinite entry, and the picturesque grouping of features of the Winn Library are rethought and refined in the later library. In the Billings Library, the polygonal reading room (housing the Marsh Collection) is firmly integrated into the major fabric of the elevation. The ridge line, too, is allowed to continue in an unbroken line on the other side of the entrance grouping to connect with the apsidal form instead of allowing it to exist as an awkward appendage to the main structure as is the case in the Winn Library. In the Billings Library, compositional and spatial unity have been achieved through the adjustment of massing while establishing the dominance of the entrance feature. The perfected formula for a large-scale library in Richardson 's oeuvre had now been achieved.

The Ames Library (1877-1879), on the other hand, represents a consolidation of the library format and a simplification of the plan over what was presented in the Winn Library 6 months earlier; it offers a more practical and economical scheme for small town libraries that required less book space, but still provided ample space for a reading room while eliminating the museum special collections addition. As opposed to the Winn format, the polygonal museum space was simply lopped-off. The entrance porch became less of a distinct and isolated element and was absorbed into the center of the tower-gable complex (as in the later Billings Library). The entrance grouping is allowed to assert itself more and is pushed forward. This is the same general arrangement as for the Crane Library (1880-1883); in both cases, the fireplaces that previously were placed in the central hall crossing (the far "transept" wall) of the Winn and Billings libraries are redirected to the short reading-room space to the right of the entrance; the reading-room fireplaces are now in direct line with the long alcove book collection area. This adjustment of format plan from continuous cross axis to that more resembling an "L" shape allowed Henry Hobson Richardson to exaggerate in later schemes the subtle format gestures present in the Ames Library to those more in keeping with the picturesque open planning of Queen Anne house forms and indicates that even in his more elaborate structures Henry Hobson Richardson was often thinking in terms of domestic planning and features. In this regard, the homelike ambiance of the interior reading-room space of even the large-scale libraries (such as the Billings Memorial) harkens back to the gentleman's library tradition. Such private estate libraries of the Colonial era in the United States are visually referred to in the selected design features used by Henry Hobson Richardson to bridge the new "public" library movement. This new building type (as part of the larger cultural revolution in America machalls, parks, and public school buildings throughout the second half of the nineteenth century) was sponsored largely by Richardson 's design solutions and programs for large and small town libraries.

Henry Hobson Richardson (whose office after 1874 was located in Brookline, Mass.) provided a scale that was public, but at the same time itigated the "public" aspects by inserting potent domestic references familiar to the New England consciousness. The massing profile of the Crane Memorial Library in Quincy, Massachusetts, for xample, assumes the character of a New England saltbox house. On the interior of the Billings Memorial Library one finds a seventeenth-century New England style hearth (complete with uiltin settles, andirons, cooking cranes) and a personalized version of a Colonial-era grandfather clock nearby. All these features, although based on New England vernacular traditions, are elevated to the level of a conscious work of art-what might be appropriately termed high style vernacular; the chimney lintel, for example, historically used for hanging cooking utensils now celebrated a stylized floral carving that anticipated Sullivan's Auditorium period. Hence, the vernacular domestic medieval (not just the ecclesiastical medieval) often served Henry Hobson Richardson as a starting point for progressive, high style design.

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When Henry Hobson Richardson was called on to design more monumental structures, such as large university buildings, civic and commercial structures, or cathedrals of the magnitude of Trinity Church, his elevations became more symmetrical (often relying on projecting end pavilions to contain the mass of the block and a central tower to mark monumental entry), and his planning became more formal. In the Harvard University structures of Sever Hall (1878) and Austin Hall Law School (1881), French classical planning of the type similar to the project for the Worcester General Hospital of the late 1860s was revived. As in the hospital plan, one enters on axis through a clearly marked entrance and is struck by the apparent flow of the cross-axial movement. In Sever Hall, circulation patterns are clearly evident on entering: One may pass directly through the structure and leave through an equally balanced facade in the rear, choose the vertical circulation up a stairway opposite the entrance to the upper stories, or proceed laterally into the first floor classroom area. In Austin Hall, a large lecture hall was needed; thus, in lieu of a stairwell space, the rear of the building is projected out in the manner of the Worcester General Hospital plan except that in the law school the space radiates inward to provide space for lecture-hall seating. As in Sever Hall, the cross axis again leads to classrooms and to upstairs stairwells.

A reading of the elevations of the two Harvard structures provides nearly all of the monumental design dieturns of the Ecole: simplicity of form, majesty of scale, a central mass to express clarity of intention, and formal massing stressing good proportion. Again, one observes the general tendency to begin with a spreading horizontal form that is organically rooted to the ground line by a flaring base and is entered on axis (in this case, a purposefully centered axis) to stress formality. As is typical with Richardson 's large-scale structures, an imposing hip roof is relied on to tame impersonal formality and to present a domestic association. The uninterrupted roofline, however, maintains the geometric qualities of the form as a whole (providing visual unity) and provides it with the monumentality it seeks by extending its lines. The organizing principles inherent in these two stylistically divergent buildings generally establish the massing patterns of other diverse buildings such as the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the New York State Capital; a simple horizontal form is reinforced visually by a prominent hip roof and is consistently bounded by towers or projecting bays that serve to contain the block and give it formality, focus, and marked symmetry.

As a variation structures seeking added monumental ity were given centered groupings of a projecting pavilion, chateau roof, or tower bounded by two vertical forms (side towers or pavilions), and the entrance was given visual focus by being centered and accented by either one large arch or a grouping of three. Hence, while it is accurate to speak of the Worcester High School format (1869-1871) as using a palazzo organizing scheme for the elevation, augmented by Second Empire massing, and High Victorian Gothic coloration, what results is the adoption of a central tower form (now buttressed by side pavilions) for large municipal structures such as the Allegheny County Court House (1884-1888). Similarly, for planning schemes in larger structures, such as Trinity Church (1872) and Albany Cathedral (not built), Henry Hobson Richardson condensed the parti and turned more-or-less to a contained, compact block surmounted by built-up pyramidal massing elements over a Greek cross plan. Because the Brattle Square Church, Boston (1866-1873) was originally conceived in a cruciform plan, O'Gorman believes that in plan and in styling (the first appearance of the Romanesque in Richardson 's work) that Brattle Square anticipates Trinity. But, although the German Romanesque provided a turning point in Richardson 's search for an appropriate architectural language. Trinity's powerful, simple massing led Henry Hobson Richardson more clearly along the path of a personal style that would be independent of historical sources. Richardson 's search for a new style was attained more through massing solutions and surface treatment that would provide simplicity of form and wholeness of conception than the prominence of any one style. Even though his formats and individual features might be derivative, Henry Hobson Richardson was successful in fitting new and challenging building programs into massing schemes rich in historical associations compatible with it and making an architectural statement totally his own.

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