Second Empire architecture in the United States and Canada

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Second Empire architecture in the United States and Canada is an architectural style known as "Second Empire," most popular between 1865 and 1900, as it was practiced in the United States and Canada. Second Empire architecture developed from the redevelopment of Paris under Napoleon III's Second Empire and looked to French Renaissance precedents. It was characterized by a mansard roof, elaborate ornament, and strong massing and was notably used for public buildings as well as commercial and residential design.

Alfred B. Mullett's former State, War and Navy Building,, Washington, D.C., begun during the Grant administration and built between 1871 and 1888.

Terminology

In the 19th century, the standard way to refer to this style of architecture was simply "French" or "Modern French", but later authors came up with the term "Second Empire". Currently, the style is most widely known as Second Empire.[1] Second Empire Baroque,[2] or French Baroque Revival,[3] Leland M. Roth refers to the style as "Second Empire Baroque."[4] Mullett-Smith terms it the "Second Empire or General Grant style" due to its popularity in designing government buildings during the Grant administration.[5]

Characteristics

Key Features

The central feature of the Second Empire style is the mansard roof, a four-sided gambrel roof with a shallow or flat top usually pierced by dormer windows. This roof type originated in 16th century France and was developed in the 17th century by Francois Mansart after whom it is named. The greatest virtue of the mansard was it allowed an extra full story of space without raising the height of the building. The mansard roof could assume many different profiles, with some being steeply angled, while others were concave, convex, or s-shaped. Sometimes mansards with different profiles were superimposed upon one another, especially on towers. For most Second Empire buildings, the mansard roof is the primary stylistic feature and the most noteworthy link to the style's French roots.

A secondary feature is the use of pavilions, a segment of the facade that is differentiated from surrounding segments by a change in height, stylistic features, or roof design and are typically advanced from the main plane of the facade. Pavilions are usually located at emphatic points in a building, such as the center or ends and allow the monotony of the roof to be broken for dramatic effect. While not all Second Empire buildings feature pavilions, a significant amount, particularly those built by wealthy clients or as public buildings, do. The Second Empire style frequently combined a rectangular (sometimes octagonal) tower. This tower element could be of equal height to the highest floor, or could exceed the height of the rest of the structure by a story or two.

A third feature is massing. Second Empire buildings because of their height tend to convey a sense of largeness. Additionally, the facades are typically solid and flat, not pierced by open porches or angled and curved facade bays. Public buildings constructed in the Second Empire style were especially built on a massive scale, such as the Philadelphia City Hall and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and held records for the largest buildings in their day. Prior to the construction of the Pentagon during the 1940s, the Second Empire–style Ohio State Asylum for the Insane in Columbus, Ohio, was reported to be the largest building under one roof in the U.S., though the title may actually belong to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, another Kirkbride Second Empire asylum.

Plans

Second Empire plans for public buildings were almost entirely cubic or rectangular, adapted from formal French architectural ensembles, such as the Louvre. Sometimes they included interior courts. Most Second Empire domestic plans were adapted from the prevailing plan types developed for Italianate designs by authors such as Alexander Jackson Davis and Samuel Sloan. The prime planning characteristic that differed was a preference for a central focus rather than a diffusion of forms. Floor plans for Second Empire residences could either be symmetrical, with the tower (or tower-like element) in the center, or asymmetrical, with the tower or tower-like element to one side. Virginia and Lee McAlester divided the style into five subtypes:[6]

High-style ornamentation, Philadelphia
  • Simple mansard roof – about 20%
  • Centered wing or gable (with bays jutting out at either end)
  • Asymmetrical – about 20%
  • Central tower (incorporating a clock) – about 30%
  • Town house

Ornament

There are essentially two variations of Second Empire ornamentation, the high-style which followed French precedents closely and employed rich ornamentation, and the more vernacular styles, which lack a strongly distinctive ornamental vocabulary. The high-style is mostly seen in expensive public buildings and the houses of the wealthy, while the vernacular form is more common in typical domestic architecture. The exterior style could be expressed in either wood, brick or stone, though high-style examples on the whole prefer stone facades or brick facades with stone details (a brick and brownstone combination seems to be particularly common). Some Second Empire buildings have cast iron facades and elements.

High-style Second Empire buildings took their ornamental cue from the Louvre expansion. Typical features include quoins at the corners to define elements, elaborate dormer windows, pediments, brackets, and strong entablatures. There is a clear preference for a variation between rectangular and segmental arched windows; these are frequently enclosed in heavy frames (either arched or rectangular) with sculpted details. Another frequent feature is a strong horizontal definition of the facade, with a strong string course. Particularly high-style examples follow the Louvre precedent by breaking up the facade with superimposed columns and pilasters that typically vary their order between stories. Vernacular buildings typically employed less and more eclectic ornament than high-style specimens that generally followed the vernacular development in other styles.

The mansard roof ridge was often topped with an iron trim, sometimes referred to as "cresting". In some cases, lightning rods were integrated into the cresting design, making the feature useful beyond its decorative features. Although still intact in some examples, this original cresting has often deteriorated and been removed.

History

The mansard roof, the defining feature of Second Empire design, had been around since the 16th century in France and Germany and was consistently employed in 18th and 19th century European architecture. Its appearance in the US was comparatively uncommon in the 18th and early 19th century (Mount Pleasant in Philadelphia has an example of early mansard roofs on its side pavilions). In Canada, because of French influence in Quebec and Montreal, the mansard roof was more commonly seen in the 18th century and used as a design feature and never entirely fell out of favor.[7]

It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the origin of Second Empire architecture in the United States can be found. A series of major projects and events in French urban planning and design provided the inspiration for Second Empire architecture. Haussmann's renovation of Paris under Napoleon III in the 1850s and the creation of baroque architectural ensembles employing mansard roofs and elaborate ornament provided the impetus for the development and emulation of the style in the US. Haussmann's work was targeted to renovating the decaying Medieval neighborhoods of Paris by wholesale demolition and new construction of streetscapes with uniform cornice lines and stylistic consistency, an urban ensemble that impressed 19th century architects and designers. Additionally, the reconstruction of the Louvre Palace between 1852–1857 by architects Louis Visconti and Hector Lefuel was widely publicized and served to provide a vocabulary of elaborate baroque architectural ornament for the new style.[8] Finally, the Exposition Universelle of 1855 drew tourists and visitors to Paris and displayed the new architecture and urbanism of the city, an event that brought the style to international attention. These developments worked together to excite interest in design under the Second Empire in the US, particularly among francophiles and those interested in French fashion, then under the sway of Empress Eugenie whose tastes influenced clothing, furniture, and interior decoration.[9] Despite the historicism of the ornamentation, Second Empire architecture was generally viewed as "modern" and hygenic as opposed to the revival styles of Italianate and Gothic Revival which hearkened to the Renaissance and Middle Ages.[10]

The European born and trained architect Detlef Lienau, who studied architecture in Paris and emigrated to the US in 1848, is credited with designing the first Second Empire house in the US, the Hart M. Schiff house in New York City, built in 1850.[11] Lienau remained a prime designer of Second Empire houses, designing the Lockwood-Matthews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut (designed 1860). Despite Lienau's work, Second Empire did not displace dominant styles of the 1850s, Italianate and Gothic Revival and remained associated with only particularly wealthy patrons. The first major Second Empire structure designed by an American architect was James Renwick's gallery, now the Renwick Gallery designed for William Wilson Corcoran (1859-1860). Renwick's gallery was one of the first major public buildings in the style, and its favorable reception furthered interest in Second Empire design.[12] These early buildings display a close affinity to the high-style designs found in the new Louvre construction, with quoins, stone detailing, carved elements and sculpture, a strong division between base and piano nobile, pavillioned roofs, and pilasters.

The outbreak of the Civil War limited new construction in the US, and it was after the end of the war that Second Empire finally came to prominence in American design. The architects Alfred B. Mullett, who was supervising architect for the Treasury Department, and John McArthur, Jr. a major designer of public buildings in the Mid-Atlantic, helped popularize the style for public and institutional buildings. Mullet, in particular, who favored the style, was responsible from 1866-1874 for designing federal public buildings across the US, spreading Second Empire as a stylistic idiom across the country. His massive and expensive public buildings in St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, New York, and Washington D.C., which closely followed the precedents set by the Louvre construction with grand mansard roofs and tiers of superimposed columns, made a strong impression on the architects in cities with new Mullett designs. Because of its first major appearance in public buildings, Second Empire quickly became the dominant style for the construction of large public projects and commercial buildings.[13] Ironically, buildings in the style built in the US were often closer to their 17th-century roots than examples of the style found in Europe.[14]

On the domestic front, because of the expense of designing buildings with all the elaborate detailing found in European and public examples, Second Empire was first taken up by wealthy businessmen for home construction. Since the Civil War had caused a boom in the fortunes of businessmen in the north, Second Empire was the perfect style to demonstrate their new fortunes and express their new power in communities. The style diffused by the publications of designs in pattern books and adopted the adaptability and eclecticism that Italianate architecture had when interpreted by more middle-class clients.[15] This caused more modest homes to depart from the ornamentation found in French examples in favor of simpler and more eclectic American ornamentation that had been established in the 1850s. In practice, most Second Empire houses simply followed the same patterns developed by Alexander Jackson Davis and Samuel Sloan, the symmetrical plan, the L-plan, for the Italianate style, adding a mansard roof to the composition. Thus, most Second Empire houses exhibited the same ornamentational and stylistic features as contemporary Italianate forms, differing only in the presence or absence of a mansard roof. Second Empire was also a frequent choice of style for remodeling older houses. Frequently, owners of Italianate, Colonial, or Federal houses chose to add a mansard roof and French ornamental features to update their homes in the latest fashions.[16]

As more American architects went to study in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts, Second Empire became more and more significant as a stylistic choice. For example, the architect H.H. Richardson designed several of his early residences in the style, "evidence of his French schooling".[17] These projects include the Crowninshield House (1868) in Boston Massachusetts, the H. H. Richardson House (1868) in Staten Island, New York, and the William Dorsheimer House (1868) in Buffalo, New York. Chateau-sur-Mer, on Bellevue Avenue, in Newport, Rhode Island, was remodeled and redecorated during the gilded age of the 1870s by Richard Morris Hunt in this style. But this study, along with historical events, proved to be the undoing of the style, although Second Empire buildings continued to be constructed until the end of the 19th century. The fall of Napoleon III and the Second Empire in 1870 and the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War soured interest in French styles and taste. Additionally, in the US, Alfred Mullett's extravagance in his designs, waste of money, and the scandal of his association with corrupt businessmen, led to his resignation in 1874 from his post as supervising architect, a development that damaged the style's reputation.[18] Finally, as more architects spent time in Paris among the prime examples of French architecture, their style shifted in favor of a closer fidelity to contemporary French designs, leading to the development of Beaux Arts Classicism in the US.

Second Empire was succeeded by the revival of the Queen Anne Style and its sub-styles, which enjoyed great popularity until the beginning of the "Revival Era" in American architecture just before the end of the 19th century, popularized by the architecture at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Reception in the Twentieth Century

Viewed as out-of-date and emblematic of the worst excesses of the 19th century, Second Empire architecture was derided in the 20th century, particularly starting in the 1930s. Of Mullet's State, War, and Navy Building, for instance, Woodrow Wilson commented negatively on the building for displaying "every architectural style known to man" and made plans to remodel it, stripping the structure of its Second Empire features.[19] Expensive to maintain, many Second Empire structures fell into decay and were demolished. Philadelphia's City Hall (1871-1901) was narrowly saved from demolition in the 1950s because of the expense of demolishing it, but New York's City Hall Post Office and Courthouse (1869-1880), termed "Mullett's Monstrosity", was demolished in 1939. This development allowed Second Empire domestic architecture to assume a new role in the American imaginary, the haunted house.[20] This may have been prompted by changes in aesthetics in the 1930s, in favor of streamlined, bright, and minimal buildings, the opposite of dark, elaborate, and decaying Second Empire houses.[21]

Cartoonist Charles Addams designed a typical Second Empire mansion as the home of his macabre Addams Family and the similarly spooky family, the Munsters, lived in a Second Empire house during their series. On a more sinister note, the house in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was a Second Empire house. The decaying house in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life was a Second Empire mansion. For much of the early and mid-20th century, Second Empire design would be popularly associated with the sinister and haunted houses. However, there were positive representations as well; the nostalgic film Meet Me in St. Louis features a large Second Empire mansion beloved by the family. In the latter part of the 20th century with the rise of the preservation movement, there has been a reevaluation of Second Empire houses and many have chosen to renovate rather than destroy Second Empire properties.

Selected examples in the United States and Canada

Gallery of public buildings

Gallery of residential buildings

References

  1. ^ Minnesota History, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter 2012–13)
  2. ^ Roth, Leland M., A Concise History of American Architecture, ICON Editions, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York 1980 pp. 128–132
  3. ^ Dorsey, John and James D. Dilts, A Guide to Baltimore Architecture, Tidewater Publishers, Centerville, Maryland, 1981, p. 86
  4. ^ Roth p. 128.
  5. ^ Mullett-Smith p. 29.
  6. ^ McAlester p.241.
  7. ^ [[1]]
  8. ^ MacNutt, James. Building for Democracy: The History and Architecture of the Legislative Buildings of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. 
  9. ^ Paredes, Liana. Private Homes, Public Lives: Francophilia among Government Officers and the Washington Elite. 
  10. ^ {{[[2]]}}
  11. ^ [[3]]
  12. ^ Thorne McKenna, Rosalie (1951). "James Renwick Jr. and the Second Empire Style in the United States". Modern Art. 
  13. ^ MacNutt, James. Building for Democracy: The History and Architecture of the Legislative Buildings of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. p. 88. 
  14. ^ Copplestone, p. 311.
  15. ^ Lanier, Gabrielle. "Everyday Architecture of the Mid-Atlantic: Looking at Buildings and Landscapes": 155. 
  16. ^ Brown, T. Robins (2001). The Architecture of Bergen County, New Jersey: The Colonial Period to the Twentieth Century. p. 122. 
  17. ^ Ochsner,[page needed].
  18. ^ Field, Cynthia R. (2007). Paris on the Potomac: the French Influence on the Art and Architecture of Washington. p. 10. 
  19. ^ Weeks, Christopher (1994) AIA guide to the architecture of Washington
  20. ^ Joshi, S. T. (2007). Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares. 
  21. ^ "Why Are Victorian Houses So Creepy? - Co.Design". 30 October 2014. 
  22. ^ Goode, James M., Capitol Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. 1979 p.177
  23. ^ Arthur, Eric (2003). "5 – Romanesque and Cast Iron". Toronto, No Mean City (3 ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-8020-6587-2. Retrieved 2017-06-30. 
  24. ^ Bochner, Paul. "Someplace Like Home". 

Additional reading

  • McAlester, Virginia & Lee, A Field Guide to American Houses, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1986
  • McCue, George and Frank Peters, A Guide to the Architecture of St. Louis, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 1989
  • Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, H. H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1984
  • Roth, Leland M., A Concise History of American Architecture, Harper & Row, New York, 1980
  • Scott, Pamela and Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991
  • Smith, D. Mullett, A.B. Mullett: His Relevance in American Architecture and Historic Preservation, Mullett-Smith Press, Washington, D.C., 1990
  • Stern, Mellins and Fishman, New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age, The Monacelli Press, New York, 1999
  • Whiffen, Marcus, American Architecture Since 1780, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1977


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