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Henry Hobson Richardson


Henry Hobson Richardson, portrait by Sir Hubert von Herkomer

Trinity Church in Boston is one of Richardson's most famous works.

Richardson's work can be seen in many areas around Boston, such as the Ames Library in North Easton.

John J. Glessner House, Chicago, Illinois

New York State Asylum, Buffalo, New York

Henry Hobson Richardson (September 29, 1838–1886) was a prominent American architect of the 19th Century whose work left a significant impact on both Boston and Chicago.

Richardson was born at Priestly Plantation in St. James Parish, Louisiana and went to study at Harvard College. Initially he was interested in civil engineering, but eventually shifted to architecture which led him to go to Paris in 1860 to attend the famed Ecole des Beaux Arts. He didn't finish his training there as family backing failed during the U.S. Civil War. Nonetheless, he was only the second US citizen to attend the Ecole - a school which was to play an increasingly important role in training Americans in the following decades. Richardson returned to the U.S. in 1865. The style that Richardson favored, however, was not the more classical style of the Ecole, but a more medieval-inspired style, influenced by William Morris, John Ruskin and others. Richardson developed a unique idiom, however, improvising in particular upon the Romanesque of southern France. The term "Richardsonian Romanesque" has sometimes misled people to assess it as one of the Victorian revival styles, akin, perhaps to Neo-Gothic, but it was actually much more personal, a synthesizing of the Beaux-Arts predilection for clear and legible plans with the heavy massing that was favored by the pro-medievalists. Richardson's work thus stands out for its innovativeness and for this some historians, Nicholas Pevsner for example, have argued that it constitutes a type of break from naive historicism and was thus quasi proto modern. But this interpretation depends to a large extent on the definition of modernism. Nonetheless, significant to Richardson's style was his picturesque massing and roofline profiles, along with his mastery of rustication and polychromy. When you see an 1880s building with massive rusticated,semi-circular arches supported on clusters of squat columns, round arches over clusters of windows on massive walls, you are seeing Richardsonian Romanesque.

If a single work of Richardson's had to be selected over others it would have to be Trinity Church in Copley Square, Boston, part of one of the outstanding American urban complexes built as the center piece of the newly developed Back Bay. The Boston Public Library was built across from it later by Richardson's former draftsman, Charles Follen McKim. The interior of the church is one of the leading examples of the Arts and Crafts aesthetics in the US.

A series of small public libraries donated by patrons for the improvement of New England towns makes a small coherent corpus that defines Richardson's style: libraries in Woburn, North Easton (illustration, right), Malden, Massachusetts, and the very fine Thomas Crane Public Library (Quincy, Massachusetts). These buildings seem resolutely anti-modern, with the aura of an Episcopalian vicarage, dimly lit for solemnity rather than reading on site. They are preserves of culture that did not especially embrace the contemporary flood of newcomers to New England. Yet they offer clearly defined spaces, easy and natural circulation, and they are visually memorable. Richardson's libraries found many imitators in the "Richardsonian Romanesque" movement.

Richardson had a frequent collaborator in Frederick Law Olmsted who devised the landscaping schemes for half a dozen of his projects.

Other works:

Sever Hall, Harvard University (1880), brickwork, with molded brick string courses with turrets embedded in the walls, strips of windows, under a huge hipped roof
The Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, (1883 - 1888) connected by a bridge to its jail across the narrow street: cyclopean masonry and a tall tower
Marshall Field Warehouse, Chicago, Illinois (1887) -[demolished 1930], graded variations in rusticated stonework, vast windowed arcading spanning three floors, with not a historical detail in sight
Buffalo's New York State Asylum (1870), shown on the left, was the largest building of the master's career and the first to display his characteristic style. The complex was also the first of many projects on which he worked with Frederick Law Olmsted.
Richardson's work was contemporary with the residential Queen Anne style, with which his work had little affinity, except for the species known as the "Shingle Style," which evidenced his sense of massing and picturesque composition.

Richardson died in 1886 at age 48. He was buried in Walnut Hills Cemetery, Brookline, Massachusetts.

Following his death, the style that he had pioneered was picked up by a variety of other architects whose works are grouped under the name of Richardsonian Romanesque. The style was applied to various types of buildings, churches, public buildings such as city halls, county buildings, court houses, train stations and libraries, as well as residences. Stanford White and Charles Follen McKim, who each worked in his office as young men, and who went on to form the noted firm McKim, Mead and White, moved into a different, historicist Beaux-Arts mode style that became the norm around the turn of the twentieth century, replacing the Richardsonian Romanesque. Nonetheless, Richardsonian lessons of texture, massing, and the expressive language of stone walling can be felt in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Richardson found sympathetic reception among young Scandinavian architects of the following generation, the one known best in the English-speaking world being Eliel Saarinen.

Images- Selected Works
Albany City Hall, Albany, New York
Brattle Square Church, Boston, Massachusetts, with sculpture by Frédéric Bartholdi (who did the Statue of Liberty)
Trinity Church, Boston reflected in the John Hancock Tower
John J. Glessner House, Chicago, Illinois
Chaney Building, Hartford, Connecticut
Ames Gate Lodge, North Easton, Massachusetts
Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, North Easton, Massachusetts
Ames Library, North Easton, Massachusetts
Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Robert Treat Paine Estate, Waltham, Massachusetts
Crane Library, Quincy, MA.
Sever Hall

Breisch, Kenneth A,. Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America: A Study in Typology. MIT Press, 1997
Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, Pilgrimage: The Search for H.H. Richardson, unpublished manuscript
Larson, Paul C., Editor, with Susan Brown, The Spirit of H.H. Richardson on the Midland Prairies: Regional Transformations of an Architectural Style, University At Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and Iowa State University Press, Ames 1988
Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, H.H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works, MIT Press, Cambridge MA 1984
Roth, Leland M.,A Concise History of American Architecture, Harper & Row publishers, NY, NY 1979
Shand-Tucci, Douglas, Built in Boston: City and Suburb, 1800 - 1950, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA 1988
Van Rensselaer, Mariana Griswold, Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works, Dover Publications, Inc. NY 1959 (Reprint of 1888 edition)
Richardson's successor firms, to Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott
Marshall Field's Wholesale Store

Marshall Field's Wholesale Store around 1890.Marshall Field's Wholesale Store, Chicago, Illinois, sometimes referred to as the Marshall Field's Warehouse Store, was a landmark seven-story Henry Hobson Richardson-designed building.

Commissioned in 1885 by legendary merchant Marshall Field, H.H. Richardson, known from Buffalo's New York State Asylum, designed the exterior masonry piers and arches with interior framing of wood and iron. Intended for the wholesale business of his eponymously name department store, it opened in 1887 encompassing the block bounded by Quincy, Franklin, Adams and Wells Streets, near the location of the Chicago Board of Trade Building.

Marshall Field and Company closed the building in 1930 after the opening of then world's largest building, the Merchandise Mart, which consolidated all company wholesale business under a single roof. The wholesale store was torn down shortly after.
Marshall Field's Wholesale Store around 1890.