Henry Hobson Richardson (September 29, 1838–1886) was a prominent American architect of the 19th Century whose work left a significant impact on, among others, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Chicago.
Richardson was born at Priestly Plantation in St. James Parish, Louisiana and went to study at Harvard College. Initially he was interested in civil engineering, but eventually shifted to architecture which led him to go to Paris in 1860 to attend the famed Ecole des Beaux Arts. He didn't finish his training there as family backing failed during the U.S. Civil War. Nonetheless, he was only the second US citizen to attend the Ecole - a school which was to play an increasingly important role in training Americans in the following decades. Richardson returned to the U.S. in 1865. The style that Richardson favored, however, was not the more classical style of the Ecole, but a more medieval-inspired style, influenced by William Morris, John Ruskin and others. Richardson developed a unique idiom, however, improvising in particular upon the Romanesque of southern France. The term "Richardsonian Romanesque" has sometimes misled people to assess it as one of the Victorian revival styles, akin, perhaps to Neo-Gothic, but it was actually much more personal, a synthesizing of the Beaux-Arts predilection for clear and legible plans with the heavy massing that was favored by the pro-medievalists. Richardson's work thus stands out for its innovativeness and for this some historians, Nicholas Pevsner for example, have argued that it constitutes a type of break from naive historicism and was thus quasi proto modern. But this interpretation depends to a large extent on the definition of modernism. Nonetheless, significant to Richardson's style was his picturesque massing and roofline profiles, along with his mastery of rustication and polychromy. When you see an 1880s building with massive rusticated,semi-circular arches supported on clusters of squat columns, round arches over clusters of windows on massive walls, you are seeing Richardsonian Romanesque.
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