The Gothic Revival style, popular in America from the 1830s through the 1860s, could be seen as a mere revival of medieval motifs, but peer beneath the scrolls and trefoils that animate this style and one finds more profound meaning.
The Greek Revival style, at its height from 1820 to 1840 in America, parallels a period of geographic expansion and growing national identity. Part fashion, part conscious aesthetic, the Greek Revival, or Grecian, style is defined by the adaptation of ancient Greek forms of architecture and decorative motifs to new uses. Publications such as James “Athenian” Stuart’s and Nicholas Revett’s Antiquities of Athens—the first accurate survey of Greek architecture ever undertaken—originally published in four volumes from 1762 through 1816, sparked a fashion for the Grecian style first in Europe and then in America. In America, though, it was more than fashion. It was political. As a young country emerging from the shadow of our British colonial past, we sought new paradigms and found parallels in the Greek War for Independence of 1821-1828, during which time, after nearly four hundred years of Turkish rule, Greeks fought their own revolution. Viewing ourselves as inheritors of the Greek democratic tradition forging a new democratic state, seeing parallels with another people fighting for their own freedom, we imagined ourselves as a new Athens. Our classically educated politicians and landowners were also familiar with the myths and history of Greece and the classical world.Continue reading
After emerging independent and free from the colonial yoke of Great Britain, post-revolutionary America began to form its national identity. Whether inspired by the works of Seneca or the life of Cincinnatus, early leaders like George Washington understood this nation to be the inheritor of Roman republican traditions. They sought to imbue America’s Novus Ordo Seclorum with symbols and architecture evocative of this. Concurrently, a growing class of merchants and landowners desired ways to show their taste and wealth. This confluence of interests in symbolic meaning and fashionable forms flowered into America’s Federal Style.
In the early days of America’s founding, along the eastern seaboard, English colonists built robustly beautiful homes that are today often referred to as Colonial. However, Georgian, or more descriptively American Georgian, better describes these houses and distinguishes them from earlier colonial traditions of our English, Dutch, Spanish, and French colonists. The term Georgian refers to the period of British history encompassing the reigns of Kings George I through IV (1714-1830). American Georgian architecture is most prevalent prior to and just after our revolution, after which other stylistic influences drawn from discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum captivated popular taste.
Following close upon the heels of the Virginia Company’s 1607 settlement of Jamestown, a second group of English colonists put down roots in the Northern parts of what was then known as Virginia. Settling Plymouth in 1620 “for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of [their] king and countrie,” the Pilgrims brought with them to New England their belief in simplicity of worship and strict morality. The English Colonial architecture of New England is perhaps best seen in relation to the character of its Puritan and Separatist settlers.
With population expanding, immigrants arriving, rapid industrialization, and urbanization, it is little wonder that late-19th century Americans viewed their simpler colonial past as a Golden Age. Emerging wearily from Reconstruction, Americans patriotically celebrated their past and future at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition. The “New England Farmer’s Home and Modern Kitchen” was a particularly popular exhibit. Inside this log cabin, women in colonial dress exhibited artifacts such as a Pilgrim’s cradle and spinning wheel, idealizing an America heroically hewn out of New England by hard-working colonists.Continue reading
Of all American colonial building traditions, that of the French is one of the richest. While the houses of French Colonists owe a debt to their native traditions, they also wisely responded to the materials and climatic conditions found in America. From St. Genevieve, Missouri (1735) to New Orleans, Louisiana (1718) and beyond, French colonists created a diverse tradition including the Creole and Acadian Cottages, and the classic French Colonial house of the raised cottage type.
Colonial is a common adjective used to describe American houses. Yet which colonial do we mean? Normally we are referring to English Colonial Houses. Yet, from Florida to California, our colonial history is primarily Spanish, not English. Our oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine, Florida, and early Southwest missions were built by Spanish conquerors, colonists, and missionaries.
Winterthur Style Sourcebook: Traditional American Rooms
a lecture by Christine G. H. Franck and Brent Hull
Thursday, April 22, 2010, Gilliland Residence, 3720 Beverly Drive, Dallas, TX
The lecture will explore the Winterthur Museum’s period rooms, the role of the Colonial Revival throughout America and the South, and their relevance for the best of design and craftsmanship today.
New Classic American Houses: The Architecture of Albert, Righter & Tittmann by Dan Cooper, with foreword by Robert A. M. Stern
The Vendome Press, New York, NY; 2009
224 pages; hardcover; 200 color and b&w illustrations; $50ISBN 978-0-86565-253-8
Reviewed by Christine G. H. Franck for Clem Labine’s Period Homes Magazine. JANUARY 2010
A History of Invention
In “The Burden of the Past and the English Poet” W. Jackson Bate questions whether the best way to address the history of modern English poetry, and the arts in general, might be to examine the anxiety felt by the artist in the face of past achievements as the artist asks himself: “What is there left to do?” From the diverse work beautifully presented in New Classic American Houses it is abundantly clear that Boston, MA-based Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects (AR&T) suffers not from any burden of the past. Rather, AR&T respects and revels in tradition, converses knowingly with it, quotes from it, questions it, adds to it and in turn creates work equaling the tradition the firm’s principals clearly admire.