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The Re-Importation of RICHARDSON ROMANESQUE BY RICHARD CAMPANELLA, TULANE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE MUCH OF NEW ORLEANS CULTURE — indeed, most of the human experi- ence — derives from external influences imported via various peoples and path- ways, which gradually syncretize locally to become something distinct. The city has returned the favor, exporting its own indigenous innovations worldwide, in- cluding Creole foodways and jazz. Then there are cases of New Orleanians who went off to create great things elsewhere, which subsequently found their way back home as part of their broader national diffusion. One such example of that cultural “re-importation” is the Romanesque archi- tecture of Henry Hobson Richardson, a man so thoroughly associated with this distinctive style that colleagues named it in his honor shortly after his death, a rarity in architecture. H. H. Richardson was born in 1838 on the Priestly Plantation in St. James Par- ish, Louisiana, now the St. Joseph Plantation in Vacherie. He grew up in a Julia Row townhouse in New Orleans and briefly attended the University of Louisiana, a predecessor of Tulane. He set off for Harvard and spent the Civil War years studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before returning to establish an ar- chitectural practice in New York City. Over the next 20 years, Richardson would develop and refine a style he initially gleaned from the medieval churches and castles seen on his European sojourns. Stout and venerable, the ancient Roman-influenced edifices exuded strength and perma- nence through their massive stone walls, broad semicircular arches and vaults, short columns, and fortress-like turrets and towers. Yet those stoic structures retained a ro- mantic quality to them, appearing graceful and picture-perfect in the landscape. That picturesque sense of romance appealed to 19th-century eyes. As the Enlight- enment gave way to modernization and industrialization, Western artists and phi- losophers shifted away from their fascination with Classical antiquity, which helped inspire the revival of Greek architecture (Neoclassicism), and found a new muse in the aesthetics of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The shift reflected a new spirit called Romanticism, which embraced beauty and emotionality and appreciated the picture-like qualities of the old ruins in the landscape — so much so that a “Picturesque Movement” began to affect the design of English parks and villages. Romanticist and Picturesque tastes steered architects toward a revival of the building styles of the Middle Ages, includ- ing Italian, Gothic and Norman. These would become known respectively as Itali- anate, Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture. (The term “Roman- esque” here did not connote ancient Rome per se but rather the Norman buildings erected after the fall of the Roman Empire. Latter-day observers of magnificently ag- ing Roman-influenced edifices tended to “Roman-ticize” them — thus the term.) H. H. Richardson studied in Paris at a time when Romanticism and its architec- tural manifestations were peaking in Europe but still fairly new to the United States. He returned to a nation transformed by the late war, and the victorious North was ready for new ideas — and new construction. English Gothic and French Second Empire were all the rage, and Richardson, in partnership with his business manager Charles D. Gam- 10 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org brill, initially followed suit in his early work in New York. But Richardson increasingly found himself experimenting with the Norman features he saw in Europe, adapting them to his tastes and the ever-widening array of industrial materials now available. His efforts culminated with a breakthrough design for a major church in Boston. Completed in 1874 to great acclaim, Trinity Episcopal Church made H. H. Richardson something of a “starchitect,” and he moved to Boston where commissions awaited him. Universities were in particular need for architects at this time. College campus- es were being laid out across the nation, and administrators sought an august and distinguished look for their edifices. Richardson’s brand of Romanesque seemed to nod appreciatively to higher education in England, which American universi- ties tended to emulate, and its imposing presence abetted the prestigious ambi- ence academies admired. Harvard University commissioned Richardson to design a number of campus buildings, and because other institutions of higher learning often followed Har- vard’s lead, Richardson’s brand of Romanesque came into demand on campus elsewhere. Other architects started replicating the look, and it spread. Richardson himself designed scores of train stations, government and commer- cial buildings, courthouses, residences, lodges, monuments, and libraries across the country. According to biographer Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, Richardson and his firm designed for at least 150 projects, of which 85 were built. In person, Richardson was the sort of man who filled a room and left everyone daz- zled. His portrait artist Hubert von Herkomer described the nation’s most famous ar- chitect “as solid in his friendship as in his figure. Big-bodied, big-hearted, large-mind- ed, full-brained, loving as he is pugnacious.” Some might say he was pure Louisiana. But with so much success in the North, Richardson could hardly find time to return home to New Orleans or St. James Parish. It did not help that the lower South’s tenuous postwar economy offered few opportunities for architects of his stature. Recalled writer Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, who knew Richard- son personally, “he never even visited his native town again” after returning from France in 1865, “although I have heard him speak of a constant wish to do so.” An untimely death of a kidney disease at age 47 denied Richardson that goal. Yet his work would nonetheless find a way home and leave an indelible mark. His most direct contribution to his home- town came posthumously — and acciden- tally. While ailing, he had submitted designs for a library competition in East Saginaw, Michigan. But because of a difference of de- sign philosophy with the client, the job went to another firm. Shortly thereafter, Richard- son died, and the partnership of Shepley, Ru- tan and Coolidge assumed his commissions. The partners promptly reprised their men- tor’s East Saginaw plans for a private book collection slated for a site near Lee Circle. Howard Memorial Library, built in 1888 and now the Taylor Library of the Ogden Mu- seum, is the only Richardson design erected in New Orleans and the region. But Richardson’s main contributions to New Orleans came indirectly, as the nationwide popularity of his style arrived back home to Louisiana, even if its creator did not. Colleagues influenced by his work NOVEMBER 2017