Thursday, August 19, 2010

An elegant example, ignored as a model.

Trinity Church
Photo Credit Donna Winton

The structure that thrust Henry Hobson Richardson into national prominence was Trinity Church, Boston; It spawned many North American churches with substantial central lanterns. Given this and his earlier work on churches, it is surprising to note that he completed only two more churches before his death in 1886.

Richardson's Immanuel Baptist Newton MA

One was a somewhat ungainly reformulation of Trinity for a Baptist congregation in Newton, MA. (It survives as a worship space shared by more than a half dozen congregations). There was apparently an intermediate lantern church design between Trinity and Immanuel Baptist, Newton (1884). Richardson proposed it to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh's North Side. The building committe rejected the design, as the estimated cost exceeded by multiples the amount of their budget.

emmanuel episcopal front

Richardson's next (and accepted) effort for Emmanuel Episcopal was a graceful yet spare brick box, with ornament restricted to subtle brick patterning and diaperwork (1885). It is much beloved locally and admired in wider architectural circles. Pittsburgh's James Van Trump found precedent for the form in English tithe barns. H. R. Hitchcock attempted to use it as support for his questionable claim that Richardson was proto-modern.

One might expect this elegantly simple (and relatively inexpensive) model to be emulated repeatedly. I thought I found such an example in Emory United Methodist Church, barely five miles as the crow flies from Emmanuel Episcopal in the city's East Liberty Section. Despite its form, composition and detail, the architects, Pittsburgh's MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni, tell me they addressed the church's wants and needs in the early 1970s without reference to the famous cross-town neighbor.

emmanuel emory

I was able to spot a clear influence of Richardson's gable facade in Latrobe, PA, thirty-five miles as a (more energetic) crow flies, from Emmanuel Episcopal.

Latrobe Presbyterian

Completed in 1892, Latrobe Presbyterian was designed by Pittsburgh's William Kauffman. Here, the gable proportions, triplet windows, slit windows as well as brick and stone details are clear echoes of Richardson's composition. And, in this case, Mr. Kauffman is in no position to refute my assumption.

An Homage to Richardson

Are there other churches whose form and composition (the locals fondly call it the bake-oven church) can be traced to Richardson's gem, Emmanuel Episcopal?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Clues & Questions

Not much documentation has surfaced concerning the architectural design process for Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh - either the original 1890 building or the 1938 sanctuary redesign. So it was with much anticipation that I discovered an online reference to renderings for the church, in the Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives, attributed to James Steen. Since Steen, a prolific Pittsburgh architect, died in the early 1920s, I expected to see presentation drawings for the 1890 competition. I found lovely pencil and watercolor depictions from a later date, possibly by one of Steen's sons, possibly after his death. Each raised its own questions and each hinted at some tantalizing possibilities. I engaged in some speculation about the renderings in two features at my website devoted to the church's architecture. Date of Origin considers a depiction of the sanctuary (above) much as it appeared after 1938. A New Chapel for Shadyside Church? concerns a chapel design (below), never executed, but possibly influential on later features of that worship space. The Steen firm was not the architect for either the sanctuary or the chapel. Speculation is fun, but confirmation, clarification or contradiction remains my hope.