Friday, August 10, 2007

HH Richardson arrives on the scene

While the first Gothic Revival in America did not bring forth much in the way of architectural sculpture, one of the ensuing medieval revival styles did. In the 1870s and 1880s Henry Hobson Richardson burst upon the American architectural stage with his version of pre-Gothic buildings and produced a style that still carries his name, Richardsonian Romanesque. Not only did he produce buildings the like of which had never been seen before but he also introduced a number of . . . . let's call them accessories, to add interest and subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle highlights to his schemes.

The addition of these sculptured details, most frequently animals or bizarre creatures often engaged in biting either some poor happless other being or, when nothing else was available, chomping on themselves. This approach was picked up by the architects who designed in his style and it became a part of the style. But first we'll look at some of the work of Richardson and his main architectural sculptor, John Evans. We might as well begin with a real gargoyle from HH.

Typically ornamentation on buildings is grouped around the main entrance, in bands or friezes between floors, on spandrels between windows or under the cornice at the roof line. What HH started to do was to tuck his critters into corners, around drain spouts, on stairs and all sorts of odd places. This gave his buildings, which were already often quite asymmetrical, an even less balanced appearance. The pictures included here are from several different buildings in New York and Massachusetts but any of his surviving designs are worth checking out.

Having established himself as on of America's premier architects HH decided that he'd had enough and dropped dead. In his wake, or, rather, after his wake, a pack of hungry architects soon picked up his style, both as designers of buildings and as users of architectural sculpture.

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