H.H. Richardson, Cheney Building, Hartford, CT., 1875. (Online)

Richardson chose to return at the end of the war not to his native New Orleans or to Boston, where he had a built-in client network of Harvard classmates now in important business positions, but to New York.  After floundering on his own for the better part of two years, he was taken on by Charles Gambrill as his junior partner in October 1867 to fill the void created by George Post’s decision to start his own practice after he had been hired by Equitable to redesign Gilman & Kendall’s winning proposal. Richardson had also submitted an entry in the competition that I will return to in a moment.

H.H. Richardson, Grace Episcopal Church, Medford, MA, 1867. (Online)

Before partnering with Gambrill, Richardson had been one of three architects invited in February 1867 to submit a design for the competition for the church of Peter and Shepherd Brooks,  Grace Episcopal Church in Medford, MA, (Medford was the location of the Brookses’ summer estate, some nine miles north of Brookline) for which his entry was chosen.  He actually may have received the invitation because of Shepherd whom he had known while he was at Harvard. Nonetheless, by the completion of the church’s construction in 1869, both Brookses had to have intimate knowledge of Richardson, if for no other reason than when it became obvious that his design was going to be over budget the Brookses ended up having to pay for all of the church, and then had to lease it back to the congregation.   Such fiscal irresponsibility would not have sat well with the shrewd businessmen, and this may well have been the reason that the Brookses never again used Richardson (even though all three lived in Brookline) who was eventually to become the county’s most famous architect, for any of their later projects.  They may not have even considered Richardson for the design of their post-fire Portland Block in Chicago because in 1872 his forte was churches and residences, as witnessed by his successful submission in the competition to design the replacement for the fire-destroyed Trinity Church in Boston, the church of one of the country’s leading clergymen, Philips Brooks (no immediate relation to Peter and Shepherd Brooks).  Not long after, Gambrill & Richardson were commissioned in 1873 by American Express to design its post-fire Building in Chicago at 21 W. Monroe.

H.H. Richardson, Competition Design for Trinity Church, Boston, 1872. Concern over the ability of wood pilings to support the weight of the tower in the soft soil of Boston’s Back Bay forced the congregation’s building committee to ask Richardson to redesign the tower, which he did. This concern may have been sparked by the foundation problems the American Express Building in Chicago was experiencing at that moment. (Van Rensselaer, H.H. Richardson)


H.H. Richardson, Proposed Design for the Equitable Life Assurance Building, New York, 1867. (Hitchcock, H.H. RIchardson)

Having to supervise construction of Trinity, Richardson left New York (while he maintained the partnership with Gambrill until 1878, they appear to have done their own designs) to return to Boston in May 1874.  Although he had somewhat timidly experimented with a progression with multistory arcades for masonry skeletal construction in his 1867 competition submission for the Equitable Building, he wouldn’t use it in a constructed building until 1875 on a small five-story office building owned by his wife and other heirs of his late father-in-law’s estate.  

H.H. Richardson, Hayden Building, Boston, 1875. (Online)

The Hayden Building was designed in early 1875, coming after Hunt’s and Cady’s Tribune proposals of 1873 and Post’s Marine Bank of 1874.  As Richardson was still in New York when these three schemes were proposed and, more importantly, as he was the editor of the New York Sketchbook of Architecture in which Cady’s scheme was published in the July 1874 issue, it is inconceivable that Richardson was not familiar with these designs.  In fact, the rough sandstone exterior of the Hayden was an interesting blend of Cady’s and Post’s schemes.  The third and fourth floors were grouped together by a two-story arcade. The second story in the short elevation, meanwhile, was detailed with a single-story segmental arch similar to Cady’s Tribune.  The attic of this elevation consisted of four square-headed windows like those of Post’s bank, creating an unresolved rhythm of 1:3:4. 

Richard Morris Hunt, Study for the New York Tribune Building, New York, 1873. (Online)

However, it was Hunt’s preliminary scheme for the Tribune that must have made a lasting impression on Richardson for a sketch of the Tribune was the first illustration he published as the editor of the Sketchbook.  Only a few months after designing the Hayden Building, he received the commission in the summer of 1875 for the Cheney Building in Hartford, CT.  In its five-story brownstone and limestone elevations, Richardson finally succeeded in erecting Hunt’s proposed three-layered arcades in a diminishing progression of 1:2:4.  

Richardson broke the elevation into three parts both horizontally and vertically.  Vertically, he detailed the elevation with the conventional parti of a middle with flanking corner pavilions.  Horizontally, the lowest layer contained the first two floors grouped under wide, round arches, the transom of which lit the second floor.  Richardson, probably inspired by Detlef Lienau’s Noel and Saurel Building, extended the width of the structural piers of the ground floor into the upper levels, creating once again what one could consider to the equivalent of a musical “measure.”  The middle layer contained the third and fourth floors that were connected by a two-story arcade similar to the Hayden Building.  The structural bay or “measure” now contained two arches that were supported by an intermediate pier that was thinner than the primary pier, which established an alternating A:B:A rhythm or hierarchy in this layer.  He also understood the importance of using two mullions under the arched openings, á la how Post had employed triple windows within his arcades (a single mullion would appear as a support directly under the middle of arch that would compromise of the structural integrity of the arch and negate the need for an arch to span the distance between the arch’s supports). 

Richardson, Cheney Building. Rhythm of supports in upper arcades. (Author’s collection)

The third arcade at the fifth floor in the center position of the wall employed its own rhythm as well as being the completion of the overall scheme.  Richardson completed the 1:2:4 progression by placing four arches in each of the bays in this layer.  He still maintained the overall hierarchy of the original bay/measure by supporting the arches with either one, two or three engaged columns, depending upon their place in the overall hierarchy that created a subtle 3:1:2:1:3 rhythm within each of the major bays in this layer. 

Richardson, Cheney Building. Third Floor Plan. (Ochsner, H.H. Richardson)

Meanwhile, to further articulate the corner pavilions, the top arcade in these bays contained three instead of four arches, creating a 1:2:3 rhythm at either end.  The light available through these extensive exterior openings was further augmented by a narrow central atrium that extended the entire height of the interior to a skylight at the roof.  Interestingly, the original scheme published in the September 1875 New York Sketchbook of Architecture, was actually rendered in brick, an even more faithful evolution of Hunt’s Tribune proposal, revealing Richardson’s intrigue with the brick box of the 1870s. 

Richardson, Cheney Building. Early scheme in brick. (New York Sketchbook, Sept. 1875)

When he was asked to do an addition to the Cheney Building in 1877, surprisingly Richardson initially rejected the ashlar of the existing building in favor of the brick of his original scheme.  In many ways, it was a more refined Hayden facade, only in brick.  The Hayden’s somewhat awkward rhythm in its short elevation of 1:3:4 was fine-tuned to a smoother 1:3:5 progression in the Cheney addition.  

H.H. Richardson, Addition to Cheney Building, Hartford, 1877. (American Architect, October 27, 1877)

A single segmental arch at the first floor was surmounted by three arches at the second floor and five arches in the third and fourth floors.  Curiously, he did not employ the multistory arcade of the previous two commercial projects in the final design of the addition.  In fact, while he would again use brick in Harvard’s Sever Hall in 1878 and the rectory for Trinity Church in 1879, Richardson would not experiment with the multistory arcade again until 1882, seven years later.  One wonders if this was because it took that long for Richardson to secure another rare commercial commission, or if he was just not satisfied with the elongated arcade at this time as an architectonic device.  In either case, it would be left to other architects to develop the technique that he is historically renowned for and is so commonly associated with Richardson’s later work.  The bottom line historically is, while he used the geometrically sequenced layered arcade as a motif in his later buildings, Richardson does not deserve any credit for having introduced it to American architecture.

H.H. Richardson, Seaver Hall, Harvard, 1878. (Online)


Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. The Architecture of H.H. Richardson and His Times. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1961.

Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl. H.H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982.

O’Gorman, James F. H.H. Richardson: Architectural Forms for an American Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

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

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