Archive for the ‘The Architect’ Category

Henry Hobson RichardsonThe Architect:
In the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20ieth century, Henry Hobson Richardson was one of three men whose related works transformed American Architecture.

Along with Louis Sullivan, who designed some of the country’s first skyscrapers, and Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, this triumvirate pioneered the use of modern materials to open up interior spaces, and made the division of that space extremely flexible by eliminating the use of the supporting wall from the inside of a structure. Richardson, who predated both Sullivan and Wright, was one of the world’s first architects to remove conventional facades from the exterior of his buildings, giving them, in the words of contemporary critics, a “curiously modern” appearance.

HH Richardson, one of the most famous architects in American history, died in his bed at the age of 47: grossly overweight as a result of a kidney disorder, deeply in debt, and never having owned his own house.

“His early death was a wise career move,” observes Richardson biographer James O’Gorman wryly. “I think he had already done his best work.”

One of those “best works” is the original Thomas Crane Memorial Library.

“That Romanesque arch over the doorway was (Richardson’s) signature,” observes O’Gorman. “As an architectural monument, the Crane Library is as important as (any other historical or architectural artifact) in Quincy.”

With an art historian’s fervor for protecting the integrity of any great work, O’Gorman adds that any modification to the original Crane Library was an architectural mistake: “Architects say it’s a design problem and they can solve it. But Richardson’s buildings were not designed to be added to.”

Of course the beauty for Quincy residents of a library that includes the Richardson building is that they get to see and use the space he designed. “We wanted the H.H. Richardson building to remain a living part of the library,” says Library Director Ann McLaughlin. “Too often, buildings that are architectural gems become museums, and nobody really enjoys them.”

Born on a sugar plantation in Louisiana in 1838, Richardson moved his wife, their six children, and his architectural firm to the Boston area in 1874. Over the next 10 years, his firm produced some of America’s finest buildings, including what is considered Richardson’s masterpiece: Trinity Church in Boston.

The architect’s presence can still be felt in what had been his bedroom-unchanged after 121 years-in the house he and his family rented on Cottage Street in Brookline.

“The most moving of the bedroom’s items,” writes architecture critic Robert Campbell in an article published June 7, 2001 in the Boston Globe newspaper, “is a pair of rings, like the kind gymnasts swing from, that are fastened to one wall. Richardson used them to pull his great bulk upright, probably when he got out of bed. Yet this sick man never flagged, working until the end with enormous energy.”

When Richardson died, his friend Reverend Phillips Brooks, the first rector of Trinity Church in Boston, likened his death “to the vanishing of a great mountain from the landscape.”

While the rest of the country may have suffered a diminished view, Quincy is lucky. At the very center of this city is an H.H. Richardson building that fully embodies the power and genius of the man who designed it.


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