H.H. Richardson: Celebrating an American Genius!

Trinity Church in Copley Square, 1872-1877
Trinity Church on Copley Square, (1872-1877)

This week marks the 171stbirthday of one of the greatest architects of all time: Henry Hobson Richardson.  Born on September 28, 1838 in Louisiana, H.H. Richardson gained international fame immediately following the completion of one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Boston; Trinity Church on Copley Square.

Considered one of the most important and visually compelling buildings in American architecture, Trinity Church gave birth to the style known today as the “Richardsonian Romanesque.” The Richardsonian Romanesque became the first style of American architecture to be copied throughout the United States, Canada and northern European countries. Characterized for its massive, almost fortress like appearance, thick rounded arches, heavy rustication, red clay tiles for the roof and for the most part the use of a central tower, the style dominated American architecture for the rest of the 19thcentury. Notable examples of the Richardsonian Romanesque in the area include the Cambridge Public Libraryand Cambridge City Hall and in Boston his influence is seen throughout the city, particularly in the Back Bay.

Richardson not only designed the buildings that we know of today, but also the furniture and the interior detailing of the woodwork that occupied them.  His influence as a furniture designer is traced in the current Greene and Greene exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which closes on October 18, 2009.

The Woburn Public Library (1876-1879)
The Woburn Public Library (1876-1879)

H.H. Richardson’s creative genius and influence on American architecture and design has been obscured through the years by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), considered to date the most powerful force in modern architecture in America. With the 175th anniversary of Richardson’s birth approaching in 2014 and the 130thanniversary of the Woburn Public Library marked in 2009, the legacy of H.H. Richardson will continue to live on for future generations of historians and architects alike who have witnessed the power of his designs on American culture.

Happy Birthday H.H. Richardson!

Many of Richardson’s buildings are open to the public including Trinity Church, Stonehurst in Waltham, the Converse Memorial Library and the Woburn Public Library among others. For more information on this American genius, consult the following books and monographs.


Kenneth Breisch, Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America: A Study in Typology (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1997)

Margaret Henderson Floyd, Henry Hobson Richardson: A Genius for Architecture, (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997)

James F. O’Gorman, Living Architecture:  A Biography of H. H. Richardson, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997)

James F. O’Gorman, ed. The Makers of Trinity Church in the City of Boston, (Amherst and Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts)

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works (New York: Dover Publications, 1969)

Stonehurst (The Robert Treat Paine House, Waltham, MA 1883-1886)
Stonehurst (The Robert Treat Paine House, Waltham, MA 1883-1886)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. jaamundson says:

    Thanks for the nice post & pix–I haven’t seen the Woburn library before this. And glad to see I’m not the only one noting his birthday! Best, JAA (http://mattersoftaste.wordpress.com/)

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