Furness & Hewitt, Centennial National Bank, Philadelphia, 1876. (Online)

Furness & Hewitt were also awarded the commission to design the main branch of the recently chartered Centennial Bank that was intended to be the financial agent for the Fair.  Both the bank and the Art Academy were completed just before the grand opening of the Fair on May 10, 1876. There were two other significant examples of Furness’ designs, in addition to a number of new houses, that an American Architect correspondent in the October 14, 1876, issue recommended to visiting architects:

“(His building) not only depends upon its detail for effect, but the whole thing is itself a detail.  There is not one of Mr. Furness’s more important buildings which is not full of interest; but the success of them is almost inversely as their size, and their strength in detail rather than in composition… Among the largest of his buildings are the new Fine Arts Building, and a building for a safe deposit company on Chestnut Street (the Guarantee Trust Building).  It is in buildings of moderate size that Mr. Furness is seen at his best, where the effect aimed at is of variety and picturesqueness, rather than of monumental grandeur; which is another way of saying that his best work is rather decorative than architectural… a little arsenal on Twentieth-first Street, near Market (the First Troop Armory), a parapeted building of red and black brick on a basement of gray rubble, is designed with great spirit and signal success.”

Furness and Hewitt, Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company, Philadelphia, 1874. Once again, Furness places a center column under the entrance arch, albeit this time it supports secondary arches under the main span. The “unique” Néo-Grec form is the hour-glass shaped void/lintel where the clocks are located, that results from the angled skewback and a mirror image under it. The polychromy is restored in the arches’ voissoirs, although limited to the keystone and impost blocks. (Online)
Furness and Hewitt, Armory for Philadelphia First City Troop, Philadelphia, 1874. (Lewis, Furness)

As the author stated, it was Furness’ details, especially the way in which he manipulated Philadelphia’s red pressed brick in what seemed to be an unlimited number of details that caught the attention of not only the American Architect’s correspondent, but also of many of Chicago’s young architects who would play major roles in the 1880s. 

Furness and Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Brick details. I also truly enjoy the keystone in each of the arches because it has been detailed to extend beyond the extrados (the outer profile of the arch) so that it can engage the adjacent stone lintel. (Online)

 In fact, American Architect’s correspondent C. H. Blackall in 1887 would credit the Philadelphia Fair as having “prepared the way for the architectural triumphs which have since been such a credit to” Chicago. To the extent that this statement was true, the great majority of influence asserted upon Chicago’s young architects by Philadelphia was the result of Furness’s independently thought-out designs that were complemented with his superbly crafted details in  brick.


Frank Furness would design over 600 buildings in Philadelphia and its local region until his death in 1912.  As he grew more confident, they became more and more idiosyncratic, taking Labrouste’s Functional Expressionism to the extreme in generating new forms by breaking away from the bonds of symmetry, designing jarring juxtapositions of dissimilar forms that were generated for the function of each individual form.  While these were accepted, and sometimes praised in his tolerant hometown, he was moving in the wrong direction, as H.H. Richardson was leading America’s architects to seek Owen Jones’ objective of “Repose” in both form and color.  Furness’ work would fall into obscurity, until it began to be rediscovered and documented.  This began with Lewis Mumford tracing the influences of Louis Sullivan in his 1931 The Brown Decades, and came full circle with Robert Venturi’s campaign to restore Furness to his rightful place in American architecture with his 1966 Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, a title that could also be easily applied to Furness’ buildings.

Frank Furness, Left: Provident Life & Trust, Philadelphia, 1879; Right: National Bank of the Republic, Philadelphia, 1883. (Online)

As far as Furness’ influence on Chicago, the 17-year old prodigy Louis Sullivan, after having worked in the office for some six months, would take to Chicago in late 1873 Furness’ call/search for a modern American architecture as well as his design process in developing abstracted natural ornamental motifs.  During his trip to the Fair, the 26-year old polymath John Root would absorb Furness’ mastery of brick detailing in his recently-completed buildings and employ these in Chicago’s first skyscrapers in the coming decade.

Left: Frank Furness, Detail from Pennsylvania Academy of Art; Right: Louis Sullivan, Fresco Design, 1874. (L: O’Gorman, Furness; R: Twombly, Sullivan)
Left: Frank Furness, Drawings of a Turk’s-Cap Lily in his sketchbook; Right: Louis Sullivan, Fresco Design, 1875. (L: O’Gorman, Furness; R: Twombly, Sullivan)
Left: Burnham & Root, Insurance Exchange Building, Chicago, 1884; Right top: Thomas Hockley House, Philadelphia, 1875. Right bottom: Centennial Bank, Philadelphia, 1873. Note the brick corbels in the cornice, as well as how Root carries the raked horizontal joints around the corner of the turret, similar to how Furness carried the joints around the corner corbels. (L:Jordy, Montgomery Schuyler; R:O’Gorman, Furness)


Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.

O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

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


In October 1876, the American Architect and Building News recommended that American architects, especially the young, impressionable, and up-and-coming ones (including John Wellborn Root), should go out of their way while in Philadelphia to study the buildings of Furness:

“By far the most important element in the recent building of Philadelphia is Mr. Furness’s work.  Nobody would think of calling it commonplace; and it is so far from being scholastic that a good deal of it is hard to classify… Whatever else Mr. Furness’s work is, it is full of life; and the life of it would atone for much worse faults than it shows.  It is altogether the most interesting thing, to a student of architecture, to be seen in Philadelphia.  It is the work of an architect full of spirit and invention, who has not yet reached the prime of his powers; and it only needs the chastening of its exuberances into sobriety and repose, to earn for its author a higher rank, even, than that he now deserves, of a clever, original, and brilliant architect.”

Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia, 1871. The range of material colors in the Broad Street elevation. Note his iconic tapered-profile pointed arches and the doubled columns. Missing from the Synagogue design are the color-alternating voussoirs that have been replaced with woven fabric-like gridwork of alternating fields of red brick and sandstone. (Online)

Of course, the building this article was referring to was the new Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Furness took as his point of departure in his design for the new building for the country’s first art museum and school, the Louvre’s Pavillon de la Bibliothèque, a bow to his mentor Hunt who had been one of the building’s construction supervisors during his final year in Paris. 

Hector Lefuel (with Richard Morris Hunt), Pavillon de la Bibliothèque, Palais du Louvre, Paris, 1854. (Author’s collection)

The winning design was a blend of contemporary French and British ideas: The Néo-Grec is reflected in its collection of individual, iconoclastic forms, the British High Victorian polychromy was achieved on the exterior with a contrasting palette that included red pressed brick in black mortar, patterned black and red brick, rusticated brownstone, smooth-faced sandstone, polished granite, and purple terra cotta.  I am not interested here in the building’s planning, so I will move on to the building’s details and how they manifested the four above mentioned influences. 

Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Broad Street Entry. Note the redundant column located under the center of the arch and the doubled columns in the second range. (Online)

“Central” to the design of the entrance elevation is the gratuitous column he has located in the center of the entrance.  Furness has established his reputation as being American architecture’s “Bad boy” with this one move, “Archus interruptus,” if you will pardon my “French.”  The last place to put a column, an architecture student is told, is under the middle of an arch, and yet, Furness did exactly that in his first major building.  There are two reasons for this prohibition.  First, the reason to use an arch is to span a long distance with masonry.  Placing a column under the arch completely negates the structural purpose for and the extra cost of the arch.  The extra column shortens the span that now allows the use of a beam, or two shorter-span arches.  Second, it is human nature to want to enter a space, especially an axially-designed space, on axis.  The middle column precludes such an entry, forcing an awkward (in this case on purpose) transition into the building.

In this next series of images of the interior, please note the use of details taken from Viollet-le-Duc: the corbel (a cantilevered support, typically for a column), the dwarf column, and a collar or ring around the column located exactly at the middle of the column (this increases the section of the column section at the column’s weakest point, i.e. where it would first start to buckle under its load, and therefore, permits the column section to be correspondingly reduced: structural rationalism).  And speaking of structure, the last image shows Furness’ use of exposed iron beams, again following the influence of Viollet-le-Duc’s example.

Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Main Stairway. Note the use of corbels and collars at the midsection of the columns, indicating the influence of Viollet-le-Duc. (Online)
Viollet-le-Duc, Palais des Papes, project for large chapel with vaults for the Great Audience, Avignon, Vaucluse, France. (Entretiens sur l’Architecture, 1863.)
Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Second level. Note the use of dwarf columns and column collars, again revealing the influence of Viollet-le-Duc. Also note Furness’ signature motifs of doubled columns and the tapered section pointed arches. (Online)
Viollet-le-Duc, design for a 46-meter span polyhedral vaulted hall, employing iron and stone. (Entretiens sur l’Architecture, 1863.)
Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Main Staircase at Second Floor. The tapered-profile arches and doubled columns are typical of Furness. (Online)
Viollet-le-Duc, Masonry, Market Hall. (Entretiens sur l’Architecture, 1863.)
Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Second Floor Gallery. Note the exposed iron beams. While Viollet-le-Duc was calling for the use and expression of iron in architecture, the impact of the urban holocausts of Chicago (1871) and Boston (1872) that will argue against the use of unprotected iron had not occurred when the building was being designed. Enjoy the sight of unprotected iron beams, they will soon disappear from sight (fireproofed) in American buildings for the next 100 years. (Online)

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


Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.

O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.


So if I said Furness was trying to evolve a modern American style of architecture, why am I focused on his European influences?  Because as I stated in the last section, his search for an American style did not, could not preclude the use of European styles, for what else was known to him?  While Furness had neither any personal experience via travel in Europe, nor any formal academic training at the collegiate level, he did have broad exposure to the leading contemporary European ideas on architectural design:

Influence #3. I have already mentioned the influence of Ruskin that had come from Furness’ father (he had a copy of The Seven Lamps of Architecture by 1849, the year of its publication).  Historian James O’Gorman may have best summarized the influence of Ruskin on nineteenth-century design, and as such, I would like to quote his observations:

A. “By advocating the medieval architecture of northern Italy (Venice) as the best style adapted to nineteenth-century needs;

B. “By expounding an aesthetic theory that was moralistic and naturalistic; and

C. “By perceiving and discussing buildings as if they were conglomerations of heterogeneous surface details.”

Furness would be influenced by the second and third issues: he will be truthful in the use and expression of the materials in his designs; he will employ motifs in his ornament abstracted from nature; and he will treat many of his surfaces, exterior and interior,  as “conglomerations of heterogeneous surface details.”  His ornament and use of interior color will be also be influenced by the ideas of Owen Jones and his Grammar of Ornament, via Jacob Wrey Mould, the architect of All-Souls’s Unitarian Church in New York. The lectures given by Christopher Dresser during the 1876 Fair may have reinforced Furness’ design vocabulary, but as we shall see, he was already using geometrically-abstracted natural elements in his ornament long before 1876. 

Furness & Hewitt, Centennial Bank, Philadelphia, 1873. Interior details. (Online)

#4. French architect and theorist Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc had not risen to prominence during Hunt’s time in Paris, so Hunt had learned of him only through his writings as they became available across the ocean. In fact, Viollet-le-Duc’s first book, a history of French architecture, the Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française (from the 11th to the 16thCentury), the first of a total of ten volumes had been published in 1854, within a year of Hunt’s departure to return to the U.S.   This was followed by his Dictionary of French Furnishings in 1858, both of which had thrust him into the limelight of Paris’ architectural circles, by articulating a theory of architecture based upon the inherent relationship between a building’s structural system and its form that was a direct or honest result of what the structure, and only the structure, required: what soon would be labeled “structural rationalism.”  He would eventually posit French Gothic as the best example of this architectonic approach, claiming that every piece in a Gothic cathedral was designed to perform a specific structural or constructional function (“nothing could be removed” to quote Pugin).  

Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Perspective Section of a Gothic Cathedral. (Online)

There is little doubt in my mind that if not even earlier, Hunt had to become aware of VIollet-le-Duc by November 1863 when Napoléon III, at the recommendation of Viollet-le-Duc, attempted to liberalize the École des Beaux-Arts by divorcing it from the control of the Académie des Beaux-Arts through the elimination of the school’s governmental financial support.  The following month, the Emperor had added insult to injury by appointing Viollet-le-Duc, the advocate of a modern Gothic architecture, to the newly-divorced École, the bastion of Classical architecture, as a professor of aesthetics on December 6.  When Viollet-le-Duc took to the podium for the first time on January 29, 1864, however, a student protest squashed his inaugural address.  As an alumnus, word of this debacle had to have reached Hunt quickly.  

During this time, and most likely in preparation for his upcoming lectures, Viollet-le-Duc had taken up the pen once again to give voice to his theories and by the end of 1863, had completed the first volume of his Entretiens sur l’architecture (Discourses on Architecture).  Following in the footsteps of Pugin and Ruskin, Viollet-le-Duc advocated for a return to Gothic architecture, with one significant difference.  Whereas Pugin had championed the English Gothic architecture of the 1200s for its perceived spiritual advantages (Christianity vs. Roman paganism), and Ruskin had focused on the Gothic architecture of fourteenth century Venice for its moral high ground (in both its honest use of materials and colors, as well as the egalitarian shared design responsibility between all those who worked on the building), Viollet-le-Duc had echoed Owen Jones’ argument not to copy the Gothic buildings from the past, but to use the primary architectonic principles of Gothic architecture that he had deduced from his early reconstruction experience (“structural rationalism”) to evolve a new, nineteenth century version of Gothic, one that employed all of the materials available to a contemporary architect (i.e., iron as well as stone): “Let us be well persuaded, once again, that architecture can take on new forms only if it seeks them by means of a rigorous application of a new structure.”

We saw in Section 2.8 that Peter B. Wight, while still living in New York, had also become familiar with Viollet-le-Duc’s theories at this moment, for he would have known about Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas as his work was often mentioned in the New York magazine, The New Path prior to its demise in December 1865.  Then in 1866, Furness’ fellow student in Hunt’s atelier, Henry Van Brunt wrote an article in The Nation in which he introduced Americans to Viollet-le-Duc by stating the he was “the leading reformer of France” and also took the opportunity to self-promote the fact that an American (himself although it wouldn’t be published until 1875) was translating Viollet-le-Duc’s Entretiens into English.  Wight had chosen to also translate Viollet-le-Duc’s work, finishing the first Discourse in 1868 which he read to the New York chapter of the A.I.A. and later published it in the new trade magazine, Manufacturer and Builder (as far as I can determine, Wight’s was one of the early, if not the first published English translation of Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas).  Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas, therefore, were freely circulating in New York’s architecture community, and we are told by none other than Wight in an obituary for Hunt that was published in Inland Architect in 1895 that Hunt was “at one time… largely influenced by the teachings of Viollet-le-Duc…”

Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Entretiens sur l’architecture, volume I, 1863. Apartment building with iron corbels and ceramic tile facade. (Midant, Viollet-le-Duc)

We also must take note of Viollet-le-Duc’s 180° turnaround over the use of cast iron in architecture and its later influence on Furness.  Ruskin had attacked the use of cast iron in architecture at a number of levels, that was repeated, with reservations, by Van Brunt in a talk he gave to the New York A.I.A. December 1858 (when Furness was in his second year in Hunt’s atelier).  His criticism was directed not solely to the use of cast iron, but how it was currently being used in the cast iron fronts by Bogardus and Badger, that is in cast iron’s imitation of the forms of stone architecture (material deceit).  Better, Van Brunt argued, that architects should seek forms that were appropriate for the characteristics of the new material: “How grateful then the task thus opened to the artist, of creating new things for the surprise of men; of writing a new chapter in the history of architecture…” Viollet-le-Duc also had stated this thought explicitly: “if we wish to find the architecture of our epoch [his italics] which is so loudly called for, that we find it not in mixing past styles but by looking to the principles of new structure.”

John P. Gaynor and Daniel Badger, E.V. Haughwout Building, New York, 1857. (Online)


Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.

O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.

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


In addition to a new city hall, Philadelphia’s leaders also decided to erect a new building for the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in preparation for the Fair.  Furness & Hewitt (Fraser had since left the firm for a position in the Treasury Department) were awarded the commission that launched their careers and Furness’ reputation as an “idiosyncratic” designer.  

Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia, 1871. (Online)

In order to better understand Furness’ mature designs, I think it is best to first summarize his influences (his professional incubator, if you will allow…)

#1. The importance of the Individual and of an American art: the ideas that he grew up with from both his father and Emerson had imprinted on him the importance of developing a truly American-derived style of modern architecture, and being a strong, self-reliant individual in so doing. One can also not ignore the influence of Philadelphia’s “independent” spirit as well as his Unitarian upbringing. For Furness, his search for an American style, however, did not actually preclude the use of European styles, for what else was known to him?  What he wanted to do was to avoid merely copying these styles in his buildings.  What he was attempting to do is now referred to as “synthetic eclecticism,” that is, to synthesize the best aspects of two or more styles in attempting to develop a new, unique formal syntax.  What today might be called gene-splicing.  Furness brought to the drawing table his training from Hunt in French academic classicism while Hewitt’s abilities lay in the British Gothic revival.  As historian Michael J. Lewis so clearly summarized their efforts: “How to marry the freedom and picturesque qualities of English architecture with the discipline of academic French classicism… by combining French discipline in formal planning with English interest in surface effects and a vigorous roofline.”   This is exactly what Furness & Hewitt attempted, and helps to explain the manner in which the American Architect described it: “Nobody would think of calling it commonplace; and it is so far from being scholastic that a good deal of it is hard to classify…”

Furness & Hewitt, Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Grand Stair. (Online)

#2. Richard Morris Hunt’s atelier experience: In the atelier, Furness was surrounded and befriended by four students who would become leaders of America’s next generation of architects: George Post (early pioneer with the skyscraper and iron framing), Henry Van Brunt (America’s first true architectural critic), William Ware (the country’s leading architectural educator and founder of the MIT program in 1865 and Columbia’s in 1881), and Charles Gambrill (early partner of H.H. Richardson), names we will come across from time to time in the following chapters.  Hunt gave his students a rigorous training in sketching combined with classic École des Beaux-Arts design and presentation methods, the best architectural education available in the U.S. at that time. I always told my architecture studio students that it is the nature of studio education, if the studio is run correctly, that one learns more from one’s fellow students than from the professor. Although the training emphasized the Classical orders, Hunt did not limit his students to only the study of Classical design, for it was during his time at the École when its curriculum had opened up to the possibilities that all styles had something to learn.  Hunt’s experience at the École (1846-55) had not been similar, contrary to what some historians project, to what, say Charles McKim experienced between 1867-70, for Hunt was in the Parisian school during a brief period when the strict imitation of ancient Classical architecture had been relaxed in favor of a more open acceptance of other styles, brought on by what would be termed the Romantique rebellion of Henri Labrouste and his fellow freedom-seeking students.  During his time in Hunt’s atelier, Furness had access to the French magazine, Revue générale de l’architecture, in which its editor, César Daly, discussed Labrouste’s Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in a number of articles.  Furness’ nascent architectural iconoclastic tendencies could easily have been embolden by Labrouste’s example.

Henri Labrouste, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1838-51. (Online)


In Section 1.7. I reviewed Labrouste’s radical design in 1838 for the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in which he consciously chose to detail a multi-bayed arcade and not to employ any columns in the library’s exterior, the first time for such an exclusion in a French public building since Laugier’s Essai of 1753 had codified the use of the freestanding column.  Labrouste’s design had been a direct challenge to the hegemony over French architectural practice enjoyed by the Classical tenets of the Académie royale, the professional organization that controlled the École royale.  Without columns, Labrouste’s elevation had no inherent order, literally (i.e., doric or ionic), and, therefore, with this one simple, yet profound move, Labrouste had eliminated all of the formal rules of the Académie royale as they pertained to which order and set of proportions were to be used in a design.  Therefore, he had wiped the architectural slate clean, allowing him to approach the problem from any and all perspectives that he wanted. And he wanted to express the function of the building on its exterior, what is termed “Functional Expression,” to distinguish it from what the École royale taught prior to Labrouste’s brief intermission, “Academic Formalism” or “Formal Expressionism.”  In fact, Henry Van Brunt, one of the other five students in Hunt’s atelier when Furness was there had published an article, “On Greek Lines,” in the 1861 Atlantic Monthly in which he may well have been the first American writer to praise Labrouste’s design for just these qualities.

Léon Vaudoyer, Marseille Cathedral, Marseille, 1852. (Online)

One of Labrouste’s fellow Prix de Rome pensionnaires in Rome and rebels was Léon Vaudoyer.  In !845 Vaudoyer had produced the Cathedral of Marseilles that took Labrouste’s ideas to the extreme: he wanted to develop an architectural style particular to the 19th century by incorporating elements from all past styles, for not only was it then (the mid-19thcentury) believed that each style had an element of beauty in them, but also because never before in history had architects been so knowledgeable about the past, due the advent of archeology and “history” so that his design could not even have been attempted (or confused with one) prior to the 19th century.  Therefore, Vaudoyer’s inclusivist synthesis of such diverse architectural elements could have only occurred in the mid-19th century.  


The point is that during Hunt’s stay at the École things had begun to “change” (perhaps ‘evolve’ is more descriptive) in the École (even its name had been shortened with the removal of “royale” after the 1848 revolution that brought in the Second Republic).   The “style” of the designs by Labrouste and his associates needed to be differentiated from the conventional Academic Classical designs supported by the Académie des Beaux Arts.  Romantique was the au courant term used to identify French literature and painting at this time that consciously challenged academic Classical conventions and was, therefore, first applied to these buildings, as also was the term “Romantic Rationalist,” but by the early 1860s, the term “Néo-Grec” seemed to be the consensus name applied to the work of Labrouste, his students, and his associates, that is still used today.  It has nothing to do with Greek forms or ornament, however, and therefore, this enigmatic term has plagued students and amateur historians ever since.  Charles Garnier may have best expressed this quality as it “was Greek in name only.” In essence, this term emerged to define this body of work because of the independent spirit of these designers was seen to parallel that of the ancient Greek architects.  It spoke of the Greek sense of freedom or individuality, in contrast to the Academie’s strict demand for the use of the conventions of Roman Classicism.  What united this body of work into a “style” or “movement” were two characteristics: first, these buildings were rationally designed in terms of the building’s function as well as the expression of the materials of construction, in contrast to the École’s long-taught conventions of Classical ornament; and second, rather than producing a building that tried to associate with the continuum of Classical thought and design, the architects were attempting to communicate/express an unique, personal artistic idea in its design. 

Richard Morris Hunt, Joseph Howland Library, Beacon, NY, 1872. A Néo-Grec design; note his use of the “keyboard” voussoirs of alternating colors in the arches over the windows. (Online)

(The term “Néo-Grec” as used by later Americans was somewhat simplified to mean a design in which the architect has employed/arranged Classical details in an unorthodox, creative manner.) Hunt not only had witnessed this change of style at the École royale, he also brought it home with him and employed it in some of his designs while during this period he could also produce what he had been trained to do,  Academic Classicism, such as the Lenox Library of 1871.  We will see Furness using some of these Néo-Grec designs by Hunt for inspiration.

Richard Morris Hunt, Lenox Library, New York, 1871-7. (Online)


Drexler, Arthur (ed.). The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts. Cambridge: MITPress, 1977.

Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.

O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.

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


After the Rev. Furness had accepted a call and moved the family in 1825 to  Philadelphia, he and Emerson had continued their friendship by alternating visits to each other: the Furness family returning to their Boston roots each summer while Emerson made frequent visits to Philadelphia, often playing the role of uncle for Frank, the youngest of the four children born in 1839.  Among his three older siblings were the oldest, brother William who was a German-trained portrait painter, sister Annis who would become a translator of German literature, and Horace, a Harvard-educated lawyer destined to be one of the country’s experts on Shakespeare. Education and self-reliance were obviously part and parcel of the Furness family’s upbringing.  Frank Furness, therefore, had matured under the influence of not only Emerson but also that of his father’s quoting Emerson’s ideas as well as his own ideas about the individual as well as American art and architecture.

Frank Furness, it seemed, had been predestined to be an architect.  In 1856, 16 year-old Frank had met 28 year-old Richard Morris Hunt who had stopped at the Furness house having just returned from his studies in Paris.  Immediately following his return, Hunt had spent a brief period working for Thomas U. Walter in Washington D.C. (Walter had moved from Philadelphia after completing the Jayne Building) and was now making his return to New York to start his own practice.  Along the way Hunt managed a brief stay in Philadelphia to visit Frank’s older brother, William, whom he had befriended in Paris.  The next year Frank’s other brother, Horace, received a letter from two of his former Harvard classmates, Charles Gambrill and Henry Van Brunt, stating their delight in their success in having convinced Hunt to begin teaching architecture in his New York studio/office.  Gambrill would be joined by George Post and Henry Van Brunt in Hunt’s “first class” in Hunt’s newly designed Studio Building on 10th Street that would soon become the center of New York’s art scene.  

Richard Morris Hunt, 10th Street “Studio Building,” New York, 1857. (Online)

In the spring of 1859, Furness, having been first apprenticed to local architect John Fraser, expanded his architectural studies when he moved to New York to be one of the three students (the other two being William Ware and Edmund Quincy) who comprised Hunt’s “second class” who were studying under Hunt in his studio/atelier with the continuing Gambrill, Post, and Van Brunt.  Historian David Van Zanten has determined that Furness, while working in New York, was also introduced to Owen Jones’ ideas through the auspices of  his father, who had a friend in New York, H.W. Bellows who was a pastor and had just commissioned Jacob Wrey Mould to design a parsonage for his congregation.  

Jacob Wrey Mould, All Soul’s Parsonage, New York, 1855. Mould continued using the alternating bands of color. Note the church’s dome at the upper right. (O’Gorman, Furness)
Jacob Wrey Mould, All Soul’s Church, New York, 1855. Note that Mould employed tapered voussoir arches,, as would Furness. (Online)

Mould was the British emigré architect who had worked for Jones and had only recently completed All-Souls’ Unitarian Church, the building that had earlier caught the eye of Peter B. Wight (see Chap. 2).  (Wight had just left New York to work in Chicago when Furness had arrived.)  While he was able to complete his two-year program in Hunt’s atelier where he had been exposed to the best architectural ideas of both France (via Hunt) and Great Britain (via Mould), the Civil War interrupted his education.  Although his parents had resolved that in one way or another Frank would be sent to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts, following in the footsteps of Hunt, history had other plans for Furness and he enlisted in the Union Army, where he would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Following the war, Furness returned to Hunt’s studio as its office manager for two years, his war experience as an officer served him well when Hunt was out of the office. 

Cupid had other plans for him as he fell in love and married Philadelphian Fannie Fassitt, moving back to Philadelphia in late 1866.  It was also a wise move as he had an established client base among his and his family’s friends and local businessmen. He partnered with his former mentor John Fraser and George Hewitt in the firm, Fraser, Furness, and Hewitt, choosing an office location across the street from the Jayne Building.  Prior to 1871, when Fraser departed for Washington, DC as the new Superintending Architect of the Department of the Treasurer, the trio designed a number of unremarkable buildings while Furness endeavored to evolve a design process and style that attempted to be “American,” as Stillé and his father were calling for at that moment.

Fraser, Furness and Hewitt, Rodef Shalom Synagogue, Philadelphia, 1869. The alternating colored, tapered voussoirs from Mould’s All-Saints. The tapered-profile arches and the doubled, overstructured columns at the entrance will become trademark motifs of Furness. (O’Gorman, Furness)


Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.

O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.

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


As long as we are talking about tall structures, one of the more interesting exhibits at the Fair was the hand holding the torch for the planned Statue of Liberty that France’s new Third Republic was fabricating as a gift from the French people (at least from those who supported the Third Republic: if there had been no Franco-Prussian War meaning Napoléon III would have remained in power, there would not have been a Statue of Liberty…) to the people of the U.S. to mark the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  

Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and and Eugène Emmanuel VIollet-le-Duc, Hand with Torch from the Statue of Liberty, 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia. (Online)

Following the overthrow of Napoléon III’s Second Empire and the restoration of peace after the defeat of the Paris Commune, liberal republican Édouard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye had broached the idea of a monumental statue to sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi in June 1871, as an effort to influence French opinion in favor of republicanism, as the issue of France’s post-Commune government was still very much up in the air at this time.   In fact, it took over four years to resolve, but finally in early 1875, a new French constitution had been narrowly approved and the Third Republic had been conceived.  With political support for the statue project thus assured, de Laboulaye and Bartholdi had finalized the statue’s design and begun construction in November 1875.

Due to the planned size of the statue, Bartholdi needed engineering experience that he found in Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, France’s premiere structural theorist whose construction experience would have been essential for the design of such a large structure.  Viollet-le-Duc had been the engineer for an earlier large sculpture, the 35′ high statue of Vercingétorix, the last of the Gaulic leaders to face Julius Caesar in battle.  Designed by sculptor Aimé Millet in 1865 at the commission of Napoleon III, it is located at Alise-Sainte-Reine, the supposed site of the battle of Alesia, facing menacingly towards Germany.  The monument’s small size, relative to that of the planned Statue of Liberty, however, had still permitted it to be constructed in a very traditional manner with loadbearing masonry. 

Aimé Millet and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Statue of Vercingétorix, Alise-Sainte-Reine, 1865. (Online)

We have seen that Viollet-le-Duc had revised his opinion of iron construction about the same time he was commissioned to design this statue, so that when he was asked by Bartholdi to collaborate on the design of the Statue of Liberty, he envisioned a structure similar to the smaller statue, based on mass to resist the forces from the wind.  Instead of a traditional masonry structure, however, he had proposed that the statue’s exterior be made with copper plates that would be supported from a core in the interior comprised of an iron framework that contained a “system of interior compartments… filled with sand.”  His reasoning for this type of structure was logical.  In the case of an accident, he believed that a masonry structure would more than likely require some demolition, whereas, with the sand-filled coffers a valve could be opened to remove the sand in order to make the appropriate repairs and then simply be refilled.

Even though there was no way the statue could be complete for July 4 of the coming year, Bartholdi appreciated the fundraising potential of exhibiting at the 1876 Fair even a completed portion of the statue, if for nothing else then to raise awareness of the project, and began fabrication of the hand that was holding the torch, as a manageable piece that could be shipped across the ocean and would also give a sense of the statue’s true scale.   By the time this piece was finished and shipped across the Atlantic, it was August before anyone could climb the stairs inside so as to imagine what the view from the torch would someday be.  After the Fair closed, the hand and the torch was moved to its intended home, New York, and re-erected in Madison Square Park as an attempt to encourage the city’s citizens to give money to pay for the statue’s pedestal, which the American’s were obliged by the gift to design, pay for, and erect.  Bartholdi then moved on to fabricate the statue’s head so that it could be on display during the Paris 1878 World’s Fair for similar reasons.  Meanwhile, Viollet-le-Duc died on September 17, 1879, leaving Bartholdi in search of an engineer who had the comparable knowledge and experience in the erection of large structures to help him complete the project.  Such a person he would find in Gustave Eiffel.

Bartholdi, Head for the Statue of Liberty, 1878 Paris Exposition. (Online)


At about the same time in 1866 that Prof. Campbell had suggested to Philadelphia’s mayor about the possibility of a World’s Fair, another Professor, Charles Janeway Stillé began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.  Stillé was a native son who had graduated from Yale before serving in the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the war.  After the war he returned to his hometown as a Professor at Penn, and two years later was named its Provost in 1868.  From this position he launched a campaign for the U.S. to develop a truly “American” culture.  He used the University’s magazine, The Penn Monthly, to promote his cause by publishing essays on the arts by leading scholars and lecturers.  One such lecturer was the Rev. William Henry Furness, a Unitarian minister who was a strident abolitionist and a Harvard School of Divinity graduate of many interests, including architecture.  Born in Boston, the early center of American Unitarianism, Furness had been the best friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson ever since the two of them had entered Boston’s Latin School together when the two had begun to share their insights into life and the arts (see Chap. 2).

In fact, the Rev. Furness had been the keynote speaker at the Fourth Annual 1870 AIA convention in 1870 in Philadelphia.  While the Furness family had been in possession of a copy of Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture since 1849, the year it was published, Furness had kept true to his belief in independence of thought in his November 1870 speech, “The Architect an Artist,” in which he contradicted the great English theorist’s opposition to the use of iron in architecture when he had beseeched his audience to develop “the ‘new orders of architecture,’ which ‘universal liberty’… demanded of them in the same degree that ‘we require new styles of building fitted to’ the use of iron.”  Stillé had published Furness’ speech in the June 1871 edition of The Penn Monthly

Christopher Dresser, Principles of Decorative Design, 1873. Cover page and images. (Online)

Stillé also managed to invite British industrial designer and theoretician Christopher Dresser, a former colleague of Owen Jones at the South Kensington School and a member of Britain’s design reform movement to give a series of lectures on modern industrial design during the Fair during a stop he had made on his way to study the art of Japan.  Dresser had published his book, Principles of Decorative Design in 1873 in which he had laid out the ideas that would eventually coalesce into the Arts and Crafts movement.  Dresser gave his lectures at the Pennsylvania Museum School and Stillé saw to their publication in his magazine as well.


Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. New York: Norton, 2001.

O’Gorman, James F. The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.

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


But Philadelphia still had an opportunity with the Fair to erect the tallest structure in the world.  It seems obvious today that buildings, especially those planned as speculative investments to include rentable office space, could not continue to employ the masonry bearing wall, and still be profitable.  The only structural alternative to the solid masonry tower of Philadelphia’s City Hall, the iron skeleton frame, was to be used in a proposed 1000’ tall tower, while the foundations for the City Hall’s tower were being laid and before the first block of stone was put in place.  Late in 1873, David Reeves of the Clarke and Reeves Phoenix Iron Works in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (some twenty-two miles northeast of Philadelphia, the route of which goes through the poignantly named town of King of Prussia) proposed to build a 1000’ observation tower for the upcoming World’s Fair.

David Reeves, Proposed 1000’ Iron Tower for the 1876 World’s Fair, Philadelphia, 1873. (Architectural Record, April 1959)

His father, Samuel Reeves, had patented a fabricated wrought iron column in 1862 named the Phoenix column, that consisted of flanged rolled sections that were bolted or riveted together to form a circular hollow cross-section with vertical stiffeners.  These were being used in bridges, viaducts and the interiors of buildings by 1873.  

Clark and Reeves, Phoenix Columns Patented in 1862. (Architectural Record, April 1959)

The major concern of such a tall structure would have been wind loads, so the structure’s surface was accordingly minimized.  An inclined open framework of 30-foot long Phoenix columns that were diagonally braced by smaller iron tubes rose for 32 layers that decreased in diameter from 150 feet at the base to 40 feet at the top.  Four elevators to the viewing platforms at the top were located in the center 30-foot diameter cylindrical shaft that also supported a spiral staircase.

David Reeves, Elevator design for the 1000 Feet Tower. ( JSAH, December 1957)

Its design was prophetic not only in its extensive wind bracing system, but also in its innovative, ahistoric appearance.  Unfortunately, Philadelphia never got its chance at the tallest structure in the world for it was another casualty of Philadelphia’s own Jay Cooke’s bankruptcy.

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


One of the embellishments planned to improve the city’s overall physical appearance was a new City Hall.  In 1869, local architect John McArthur, Jr. was named the winner in a competition to design the new building.  McArthur was forced to rework the design when a public referendum forced its site to be changed from the originally intended Independence Square to eight blocks farther west at Center Square.  Excavation began on Aug. 10, 1871, for the final design done, as were its contemporaries such as New York’s Equitable Building, in the stylish Second Empire, whose namesake French government had been overthrown after the capture of its Emperor by the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan while the building was being designed.  While not breaking any new ground in its “style,” the city had high hopes that its new building could regain a bit of its former glory by requesting McArthur to include a tower that was to be the tallest structure in the world.  At that moment the tallest structure in the country was the 281’ tall steeple of New York’s Trinity Church.  

John McArthur, Philadelphia City Hall, 1871. (Online)

In plan, McArthur lined the perimeter of the square site with its four-storied double-loaded corridors.  The remaining unused interior of the site was left open as a courtyard, in which, immediately adjacent to its entry lobby McArthur had located the planned 548′ tower (that included the 37′ bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin by Alexander Milne Calder, grandfather of the artist who would in the future invent the “mobile”). 

McArthur, Philadelphia City Hall. First floor plan. Can you find the 22’ thick walls of the tower? (Moss, Landmarks of Phildelphia)

At the time that McArthur was designing the building, construction on the Washington Monument had been dormant since 1854 when construction on the monument had been abandoned after it had reached only 170′ of its planned 600′ height designed by Robert Mills in 1846. It was not known at this time if it would ever be completed to its originally-planned height or what its final height might attain, so little consideration was given it in determining the final height for the Philadelphia tower.    

Robert Mills, Washington Monument, 1836. How it appeared between 1854 when construction was stopped, until 1880, when it was resumed. (Online)

Its current condition stood as a testament to the state of the national will of the time: while the original ambition was to build the tallest structure in the world, the American government and its people could not deliver the goods.  The revival of nationalistic pride that accompanied the centennial in 1876 would finally pressure Congress to address the project.  In August 1876, Congress passed a joint resolution in which the Congress, “in the name of the people of the United States, at the beginning of the Second Century of the National Existence, do assume and direct the completion of the Washington Monument in the city of Washington.”  The privately funded Monument Society ceded its property, including the half-constructed obelisk, to the Federal Government, and the Army Corps of Engineers initiated a review of the structure’s foundation.

Meanwhile, the objective in setting the final height of the City Hall tower at 548′ was to make it the tallest structure in the world, overtaking not only the current record held by the 466’ spire of Strasbourg Cathedral but also the planned 490′ tall twin steeples of the Cologne Cathedral. It is a little-appreciated fact that even before the Prussian’s crushing defeat of the Second Empire in 1870/1, the French and the Germans had been engaged in a very serious game of nationalistic one-upmanship in terms of who had the tallest building in the world.  

Strasbourg Cathedral, 1015-1439. The tallest building (466’) in the world, 1647-1874. (Online)

Strasbourg had been an Imperial (the “German” Holy Roman Empire) Free City since 1262.  The construction of its cathedral spanned the period 1176-1439, a period in which the city was “German.”  Its 466’ tall spire had been the tallest structure in the world since 1647, when a lightning strike had destroyed the 495′ spire of St. Mary’s Church in Stralsund, Germany.  (Many still considered the Great Pyramid in Giza to have been the tallest at this time, but although its original height had been 481,’ over the millennia its exterior limestone casing had been removed that had reduced its height to its current 451.’)  

The Washington Monument as the tallest structure in the world, 1884. To the left of the Washington Monument, #34 is Cologne Cathedral. To the right, #42 is the spire of Lincoln Cathedral, destroyed in 1549. The Philadelphia tower is missing because it was still under construction. (Online)

This was the record-holding position it held in 1681 when Louis XIV forcibly conquered Alsace and annexed the city into the Kingdom of France.  This “temporary” ownership by the French, however, had not prevented Goethe from reminding one and all that it had been a German who had originally designed it in his 1772 essay, On German Architecture, “thank God that [we Germans] can proclaim that this is German architecture, our architecture.  For the Italian has none he can call his own, still less the Frenchman.”

Notwithstanding the building’s German heritage, French cultural chauvinism had grown accustomed over the past 190 years to having the tallest building in the world.  (Even though in April 1794 following the revolution, its tower had been slated for demolition by iconoclastic radicals  who argued that it was counter to the idea of equality.  Fortunately, Strasbourg did not share the same destiny of destruction as had the Cluny Abbey, for within a month a group of townspeople stopped the plan by constructing a huge, sheet metal Phrygian cap over the top of the tower).  But like so many other embarrassments that resulted from the 1870-1 war with Prussia, Strasbourg, as part of Alsace, was “lost” by the French when it was annexed into the new German Empire.  

George Gilbert Scott, St. Nikolai Kirche (483’), Hamburg, 1846-74. (Online)

Then in 1874, the spire of St. Nikolai Church in Hamburg, newly designed in 1846 from the ground up by British architect George Gilbert Scott, the designer of London’s Midland Hotel in front of St. Pancras station, was completed to a new record of 483,’ that only poured salt into the French post-war psyche.  The French would reclaim the record within two years in 1876 when Rouen Cathedral, whose lantern spire had been destroyed by lightning in 1822, received a new cast iron spire that was completed to the purposeful height of 495′ in order to be taller than the final projected height of the spires of Cologne Cathedral, then nearing completion.

Rouen Cathedral and its Lantern Tower (495’), 1876. The tallest building in the world, 1876-1880. The right tower, known as the “Butter Tower,” was the precedent used by Raymond Hood in the design of the Chicago Tribune building. (Online)

But this record held for only a short four years, however, for the finials on Cologne’s spires were simply made even taller.  Kaiser Wilhelm I, who had been crowned at Versailles only nine years earlier, once again was happy to deliver the coup de grace to the French by dedicating the 515′ high twin towers of Cologne Cathedral on August 14, 1880. 

Cologne Cathedral (515’) completed 1880. The tallest building in the world, 1880-1884. (Online)

The absurdity of continuing to use masonry bearing walls to support taller and taller structures was self-evident as Philadelphia’s 548’ tower would require walls at its base to be in excess of 22′ thick.  It proved the sheer folly of building a skyscraper to this height using only load-bearing masonry as it also took twenty-three years to construct, not being completed until 1894.  Its height was not the only, nor the primary cause for the long period of construction, however; it was due to the city’s infamous municipal corruption.  By the time the tower was finally completed, however, the Washington Monument had been completed in 1885 to the final height of 555,’ only to be surpassed by the 984’ Eiffel Tower four years later.  When completed, the 548′ high City Hall was neither the tallest building in the world, nor was its Second Empire dress even in fashion.  The building never garnered the celebrity it was hoped to achieve.

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


In the latter half of 1873, as the U.S. economy was slowly being sucked down the black hole of Jay Cooke’s bankruptcy, all roads, including that of the nascent Chicago School, seemingly led to Philadelphia (with the exception of the young Louis Sullivan whose road the ran the other way…).   At that moment Philadelphia was deeply immersed in preparations for the upcoming 1876 Centennial World’s Fair that would bring architects from across the country, including 26-year old John Root and his younger brother Walter, where they could see firsthand not only the “honest” Quaker red brick arcaded buildings of the 1850s that we studied in Volume One, but also the most recent designs by the country’s most inventive architect at that moment, Frank Furness.


In Volume One we had reviewed Philadelphia’s Quaker roots and the impact that their values stressing plain speech, plain dress, and plain building had had on its antebellum architecture.  The result was an indigenous tradition of erecting relatively unornamented stone or red brick boxes that employed multi-storied arcades along the streetfronts within which the windows were located.  I had posited the question about how, if at all, Henri Labrouste’s 1838 design of the Bibliothéque Sainte-Geneviève had served as the precedent for these buildings as it seems to have been the earliest use of a multi-bayed arcade in a building’s façade since the Renaissance. (See Sec. 1.7). 

Henri Labrouste, Bibliothéque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1838-51. (Author’s collection)

The eight-storied Jayne Building, designed by William L. Johnston and Thomas U. Walter in 1849 with its 130’ tall tower, was the most expensive of these. This image of the Jayne Building best exhibits the language of continuous vertical piers and recessed horizontal spandrels of these structures, as well as the contrast between how this building’s façade is read with its slender verticality versus the layered horizontality of the walls with window punctures to either side of it.

William L. Johnston and Thomas U. Walter, Jayne Building, Philadelphia, 1849. (Korom, American Skyscraper)

However, a more representative building might be 241 Chestnut Street by Stephen D. Button in 1852.    The city’s builders had also employed a similar language, albeit with less expensive brick for industrial purposes such as warehouses, an excellent example was the Megargee Warehouse of 1855.   

Stephen D. Button, 241 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, 1852. (Online)

We saw that antebellum Philadelphia’s architects had evolved a rational and an aesthetically sympathetic vertical solution to the multistory building that offered American architects a stylistic alternative to the formally-styled, horizontal Italian palazzo, then gaining favor in New York, constructed either in brownstone or in the contemporary style with a cast iron front.

Megaree Warehouse, Philadelphia, 1855. (JSAH, March 1961)

Philadelphia’s pressed brick was nationally acclaimed and preferred not only for its quality and strength, but also for its rich red color.  This was the result of the mixture of the local clay and loam from which it was made. Pressed brick differed from common brick in the way it was made. Rather than simply placing the wet clay into a mold and waiting for it to dry, pressed brick employed pressure, first by hand, and eventually by steam power to extrude the clay through a die that was then cut into repetitive pieces.  The pressure increased the density of the material, and correspondingly, the load that the brick could sustain without failing.  With the incorporation of steam power into the manufacturing process during the 1870s, the availability of pressed brick had increased substantially, with a corresponding reduction in price.  Both factors naturally had added to the growing appeal of brick exteriors, especially in Philadelphia:

“Strangers visiting Philadelphia for the first time see much in the appearance of the better order of residential streets to commend the city to their favorable regard.  There is an absence of that vulgar splash into mere costliness, an omission of stucco, a lack of brown-stone fronts; there is a steady and persistent resort to the red brick for building, and a uniform employment of white marble for relief to the eye, that speaks at once of the solidity of character and of works which in England and elsewhere are the admiration of the civilized world.” 

1700 Block of Delancey Street, Philadelphia, c.1868. (Thomas, Furness)

The opportunity afforded by the Fair to make a comparison between not only New York and Philadelphia, but also, and more importantly, the architectural merits of the cities’ traditional building materials, was not lost on the Philadelphia correspondent for American Architect, a new magazine that began publication at the start of 1876 in Boston:  

The American Architect and Building News, First Cover Page, January 1, 1876. (Online)

“Philadelphia dwellings are not so “architecturesque” as the corresponding quarters of New York.  The carefully wrought Doric order enclosing the front door, and the bits of moulding and carving over the windows, are absent.  The lintels are plain slabs of white marble flush with the wall.  The old-fashioned elegance is abolished, probably by Quaker feeling, into a simplicity which is only bareness, and becomes very tiresome.  The one element of exterior effect which is striven for in the typical Philadelphia dwelling is cleanliness.”

“The typical New York house is the brown-stone front.  The typical Philadelphia house has the red brick and white marble front just described.  The brown-stone front is “treated” by an ignorant man with pretentious and ugly ornament, and no apparent intention except to make a show of expensiveness at the least expense.  The brick-and-marble front is not treated at all; and the only intention of the builder and occupant seems to be to make a show of cleanliness.  Neither purpose is artistic, but the Philadelphia purpose is at least not vulgar; and though it may be hard to tell whether a brown-stone square in New York, or a brick-and-marble square in Philadelphia are drearier to look at, the Philadelphia specimen is certainly the less offensive. . .The Philadelphia house of today is not an architectural object; but it affords a basis for architecture much more promising than the corresponding house in New York, from which a mass of extrinsic rubbish must be stripped away to get even a basis in the straightforward fulfilment of real requirements.”


When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Philadelphia was the largest city in the U.S. and only second to London in the U.K.  Nonetheless, in April 1789 New York City was named the first capital of the new country and by 1790 had surpassed Philadelphia in size, only to have Philadelphia become the compromise choice to be the temporary capital in July 1790 until 1800 while Washington, DC was being constructed.  Thus, Philadelphia had lost both its titles of “largest city” as well as the “financial capital” to New York, and in 1800 its role as the nation’s capital city to Washington, DC.  While it still had played a major role in Civil War production, quite frankly, the Quaker City had developed an inferiority complex vis-à-vis New York.


Following the end of the Civil War, as the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was on the horizon, John L. Campbell, a professor at Wabash College in Indiana had suggested in December 1866 to Philadelphia’s mayor that the Centennial should be celebrated in 1876 with a World’s Fair in Philadelphia.  The city’s Franklin Institute wholeheartedly threw its solid reputation behind the proposal to hold the fair, which encouraged the city council in January 1870 to approve the fair and its location in Fairmont Park.  It was the city’s golden opportunity to regain some of its former glory after all these years of playing “second fiddle.”  On March 3, 1871, Congress (without the support of much of the South) approved the formation of a Fair Commission to oversee the organization and construction of the fair. and the following year formed the Centennial Board of Finance to raise the necessary funds. This was to be led by its President, John Welsh, the brother of William Welsh, the philanthropist who had been the Patrician leader of the city’s 1864 U.S. Sanitary Fair, that was used as the model for organizing the proposed World’s Fair.  These initial steps came on the heels of Cincinnati’s reinstitution of its annual Industrial Expositions, so the Commission naturally sought the assistance of Alfred T. Goshorn, the director of the Cincinnati fair.  Goshorn was named the Director-General of the Centennial Exposition in late 1873, in overall charge of the Fair’s construction and operations.  One of his first moves was, following the success of the first Cincinnati May Festival earlier that year, (see Volume One) to name its musical director, Theodore Thomas as the Music Director for the World’s Fair.  Thomas then proposed that Richard Wagner be commissioned to compose a piece in honor of the Fair’s opening, which he begrudgingly did, naming it the “Centennial Grand March.”

1867 Exposition Universelle, Paris. (Online)

Overall planning for the Fair’s site was entrusted the Herman J. Schwartzmann, the chief designer/engineer of Fairmont Park, while the two largest building commissions were awarded to architect Henry Pettit and engineer Joseph Wilson.  In contrast to the recent 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where the French had opted to erect one mammoth structure (1608’ x 1247’), the Americans decided to house the major exhibits in separate buildings, The Main Exhibition Building was planned to be the longest building ever erected.  At 1880’ long by 464’ wide, it’s 21.5 enclosed acres surpassed Britain’s Crystal Palace of 1851. 

Henry Pettit and Joseph Wilson, Main Exhibition Building, 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia. (Online)

The Fair’s second largest building, the Machinery Hall, housed the largest steam engine at that time, constructed by George H. Corliss.  The 40’ high dual engine provided power for the entire complex through a series of 75 miles of belts that drove shafts whose length exceeded one mile.  The Corliss engine was started by Brazil’s Emperor Dom Pedro II, with Pres. Grant at his side, as the final event of the opening day ceremonies on May 10.  While the design of the Fair’s grounds and its buildings have little interest for our study, some of the proposed exhibits as well as some of the buildings erected in advance of the Fair do have importance for us to study and appreciate.  

George H. Corliss, The gigantic Corliss steam engines, 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia. Chicago industrialist George Pullman will buy this engine and reinstall it in his Pullman Palace Car Works factory in his new town of Pullman, IL. (Online)

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


As I had noted in Volume One, wood had still been used in the construction of floors in most of Chicago’s post-1871 fire commercial buildings that consisted of wooden joists supported on either wrought iron or timber beams, with the few exceptions of the Kendall Building, the Palmer House, and the others that I have reviewed.  Concern over the lack of fireproofing for these floors had eventually led to the development of various systems that usually incorporated plaster in one form or another.  Besides just covering the wood with an inch or two of plaster, other popular systems included the tubulated plaster casts, May’s patented iron lath, a system of wire lath and concrete developed by Chicagoan James John, and a corrugated sheet iron lath patented by Joseph Gilbert, the inventor of the corrugated sheet iron floor arches that were produced under license by Bouton’s Union Foundry.  

Tubulated Plaster Casting Co. Flooring System, Chicago, 1872. (The Land Owner, September 1872)
Joseph Gilbert, Corrugated Sheet Iron Floor Arches, c. 1865. (Wermiel, Fireproof Building)

Before George Johnson had been forced by the recession to return to New York, he had developed a system similar to his hollow, fireclay tile arches to fireproof wood joists, that evidence suggests that Sanford Loring’s Chicago Terra-Cotta Works had manufactured these that were first used in the roof of the new Chicago Water Works  in 1873, where the terra cotta tiles were laid between inverted T-irons. 

Sanford E. Loring, Porous Terra Cotta Ceiling TIles, Chicago, 1874. (Wermiel, Fireproof Building)

Johnson’s return to New York in early 1874 had placed Loring and his Chicago Terra Cotta Works in an excellent position to further develop Johnson’s ideas.  Loring was issued a patent (#156,361) for “Porous Penetrable Tiles for Plastering” on October 27, 1874, only nineteen days after Drake and Wight had run their test and while Chicago was still without insurance protection.  In his patented “porous terra cotta” process, Loring mixed sawdust or other pulverized organic material into the clay that burned away during firing.  This resulted in the formation of air pockets relatively evenly dispersed throughout the material that not only gave the material an insulative quality, but also reduced the weight of the finished piece.

The collaboration between Loring and Wight in the development of terra cotta fireproofing systems began to publicly emerge at this point.  This was first documented at the 1874 A.I.A. convention, held in New York only days after Drake and Wight’s successful test of their wood-encased iron column on October 8.  Wight, now president of Chicago’s A.I.A. Chapter, delivered one of the convention’s papers, “The Fire Question,” in which he not only happily reported the success of the Drake and Wight wood-encased column, but also discussed Loring’s system of porous terra cotta tiles.  The key to the future work of Loring and Wight in developing terra cotta fireproofing systems for iron structures was that the furnace that had been built around the three columns in which the necessary fire was maintained so as to conduct the test on October 8, had been constructed in part with Loring’s new porous terra cotta tiles.  In his paper, Wight noted that the tiles, even though subjected both to the extreme heat of the fire as well as the cold water used to extinguish the blaze, had remained completely intact.  Porous terra cotta’s insulative properties meant that a hollow air space was no longer needed to separate an incombustible covering from the material it was protecting, such as iron.  This proved to be a distinct advantage over hardwood and made it logical to replace the wood in Wight’s system with Loring’s porous terra cotta. 

Peter B. Wight, Terra Cotta Fireproofed Iron Columns, Chicago, 1878. This was similar to the columns used in the Chicago Club House built in 1875-76. The difference was the cross-section of the original column, that was a cruciform. (Brickbuilder, August 1897; Inland Architect, July 1892)

Therefore, while the wood-encased column led the way in principle, it was never actually used in a building.  Wight’s first terra cotta-encased columns were incorporated late in 1875 in the six-story Chicago Club Building at 12 E. Monroe Street, across the street from the Palmer House, designed by Treat & Foltz as Chicago’s genteel retreat for the likes of Potter Palmer and Marshall Field.  While the depression of 1873-9 would slow the adoption of Wight’s invention, it would also give him the time to fully develop it so that it would be ready to use when construction picked up in Chicago during the latter half of 1879.

Treat and Foltz, Chicago Club House, Chicago, 1875. (Andreas, Chicago)


As I have shown over the course of Volume One, James Bogardus and Daniel Badger had developed the iron skeleton frame in New York during the 1850s.  New Yorker Elisha Otis and Bostonian Otis Tufts had begun the development of the elevator during the latter half of the 1850s.  New Yorker Henry Hyde had been the first to recognize how the elevator could increase the real estate return of a multistoried office building, i.e., a skyscraper, to offset the increasing cost of Manhattan real estate.  George Post had used the iron skeleton frame in New York to erect the interior structures of Hyde’s Equitable Building as well as the taller Western Union Building. The problem with New York’s iron frame that kept it from gaining universal acceptance was iron’s inherent lack of any resistance to the heat of a fire.  The solution to this problem, and not the origin of the skyscraper or of iron skeletal framing is Chicago’s true claim to architectural fame.  

The essence of the Chicago skeletal-framed skyscraper that evolved during the second half of the 1880s (i.e., “Chicago construction”) was that the iron frame supported its exterior masonry envelope, especially the fireproof covering of the column, completely on the iron frame, thereby relieving the masonry from any load-bearing function.  As the Drake and Wight column was the first successful example of a fireproof covering being mechanically attached to an iron column, it is appropriate to note that the Chicago iron skeleton frame had been officially born in October 1874.  Its father had been Peter B. Wight.  Therefore, Chicago’s fireproofed iron frame was developed not in response to the 1871 fire, as usually stated, (nor by John Van Osdel in the basement of the Palmer House) but instead as a direct response to the threat to discontinue the use of iron columns and the reality of the cancellation of all fire insurance policies throughout the city in October 1874, by the National Board of Underwriters whose actions had resulted from the second fire on July 14, 1874.  Peter B. Wight’s application of a thin surface of Sanford Loring’s porous terra cotta to the iron skeleton frame would reduce the function of masonry in a building from load-bearing to that of only fireproofing (and enclosure) that resulted in a lightweight structural system that could finally overcome the limits of Chicago’s weak soil that would unleash the skyscraper to grow in Chicago beyond the traditional height limit of ten stories, once the economy rebounded following the Great Depression of 1873-79.