Gift Books for the Holidays

Architecture After Richardson

by Margaret Henderson Floyd 546 pp.

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press in association with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1994.



by Paul Rosenblatt

Have you ever driven past a remarkable old house or public building and wondered who designed it? The names of Longfellow, Alden, & Harlow don't appear in many histories of American architecture, but you've seen their work. You've probably visited Carnegie Museums many times, or borrowed a book from one of the neighborhood Carnegie Libraries in Lawrenceville, Hazelwood, East Liberty, Oakmont or Mount Washington. Maybe you're even a member of the Duquesne Club. Longfellow, Alden or Harlow designed these buildings, among countless other institutions and private houses in and around Pittsburgh. If they were so prolific, competent and accomplished, why are they so anonymous now?

History is often thought to be composed of a series of discoveries, each one novel, colliding violently with the last in an endless sequence of action/reaction, genius/counter-genius, paradigm/paradigm shift. The modern era has fostered this belief, upholding originality and technological innovation above all other virtues. The products of skill, the textures of background, the pervasive character of the everyday can easily be overlooked amidst the arresting cacophony of the new, the dramatic and the spectacular.

Of course, the buildings that Margaret Henderson Floyd examines in her scholarly, beautifully illustrated book, Architecture After Richardson: Regionalism before Modernism-Longfellow, Alden and Harlow in Boston and Pittsburgh are anything but common. The great McClelland, Park, Painter, Magee and "Sunnyledge" houses are products of refined tastes. Occasionally, a remarkably modern form emerges, like the exquisite roof structure of the McClure Avenue Presbyterian Church illustrated on page 134. But this is the exception, not the rule. For the most part, tradition is embroidered, not rendered.

H. H. Richardson's Boston office, from which these three architects graduated, produced strikingly novel Pittsburgh compositions like the Allegheny County Courthouse and Prison or Emmanual Episcopal Church. Longfellow, Alden or Harlow, who established offices in both burgeoning cities, chose a more commercially and less intellectually viable route. Charming, charismatic, talented and smart, they cultivated the eclectic tastes of Pittsburgh's first families, building stylishly elegant environments of uncommon size and enduring grandeur.

Margaret Henderson Floyd's approach does not limit itself to the formal but also addresses the cultural, constructing a vivid history of patronage. Picture prideful industrial magnates. Picture their vision of cultural development and urban growth. As Floyd writes, "First families of Pittsburgh, often members of the Duquesne Club, viewed their city homes as an expression of financial success, as was the case elsewhere. But the accelerated pace of financial growth of Pittsburgh fortunes accentuated the process."

In recent years, several Boston area architects have completed major projects in Pittsburgh. Michael Dennis built Carnegie Mellon University's new campus. Kallman & McKinnell expanded that school's Graduate School of Industrial Administration. Landscape architect Michael van Valkenburg, in collaboration with artist Ann Hamilton, designed the Cultural District's new Riverfront Park. In her intriguing book, historian Margaret Henderson Floyd traces a time when America's leading architects had offices in both cities, when Boston-"Daughter of the Morning"-was this country's cultural hub, and Pittsburgh-"Queen of Night"-its rising coal bed.

Paul Rosenblatt is associate professor of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University.