British historian John Summerson analyzed 19th century architecture into three broad categories in terms of how an architect employed traditional architectural details: the archeological (an accurate copying of the details of a specific style or building), the eclectic (a creative mix of details from different styles and buildings), and the modern (a search for a new style of ornament and expression).   To this taxonomy, I add two of American historian Barry Bergdoll’s conceptual styles, the Revivalistic (while similar to the archeological, the revivalist uses the style in a creative way that transcends mere copying), and the Pluralistic (an architect or an era uses more than one style dependent upon its associative value for a given program).  I believe it is accurate to say that mainstream American architects in 1880, that is, before the stylistic division of 1884, both in the East and the West fell into the Eclectic/Pluralistic categories.  This is quite apparent in the first “Ten Favorite American Buildings” list compiled by the AIA in 1885.  In order these were:

1. Trinity Church, H.H. Richardson, Boston, 1872 (Romanesque Revival) (Online)

2. U.S. Capitol, William Thornton et.al., 1793 (Classical Revival) (Online)

3. William K. Vanderbilt House, Richard M. Hunt, New York City, 1878 (French Chateauesque) (Online)

4. Trinity Church, Richard Upjohn, New York City, 1839 (Gothic Revival) (Online)

5. Jefferson Market Courthouse, Vaux & Withers, New York City, 1874 (Victorian Gothic) (Online)

6. Connecticut State Capitol, Richard Upjohn, Hartford, 1871 (Eastlake/Queen Anne) (Online)

7. Albany City Hall, Richardson, Albany, 1880 (Romanesque Revival) (Online)

8. Sever Hall, Richardson, Harvard, 1878 (Romanesque Revival) (Online)

9. New York State Capitol, Richardson and Leopold Eidlitz, Albany, 1875 (Romanesque Revival) (Online)

10. Townhall, Richardson, North Easton, Mass, 1879 (Romanesque Revival) (Online)

Note that all of these buildings, with the sole exception of the much earlier U.S. Capitol, were designed in a style that was not Classical.  Five of the ten were designs by H.H. Richardson, attesting to the professional esteem in which his version of the Romanesque Revival was held in 1885, only six years before the architects chosen to design the World’s Fair for 1893 would first meet to determine the style in which the Fair would be designed.



But at this moment (1884) mainstream American architecture began to diverge into two dialectically opposed directions, broadly defined by geography.  While the Chicago School architects during the second half of the 1880s would slowly, but inexorably move from the mainstream’s Eclecticism (Romanesque Revival) to the Modern, Eastern architects whose number of graduates of France’s École des Beaux-Arts had continued to grow and led by McKim, Mead & White, following the death of Richardson in 1886, began to move away from the mainstream Romanesque Revival in the opposite direction.  That is, following the École’s archeologically correct version of Academic Classicism or the Classical Revival by incorporating Classical details and ideas, sometimes in very non-Classical ways, into their buildings. American historian William Jordy identified these two trends as the Progressive (in the West) and the Academic (in the East).


Bergdoll, Barry, European Architecture: 1750-1890, Oxford: Oxford Press, 2000.

Jordy, William H. American Buildings and Their Architects, Vol. 3. Garden City, NY/Anchor Press, 1976.

Summerson, John, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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