Henry Hobson Richardson, The All-American Architect

America's First Architect (1838-1886)

Black and white historic head portrait of bearded, rotund American architect Henry Hobson Richardson
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Photo by Bettmann / Bettmann Collection / Getty Images

Famous for designing massive stone buildings with semicircular "Roman" arches, Henry Hobson Richardson developed a late Victorian style that became known as Richardsonian Romanesque. Some people have argued that his architectural design is the first truly American style—that up to this point in American history, building designs were copied from what was being built in Europe.

H.H. Richardson's 1877 Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts has been called one of the 10 Buildings That Changed America.

Although Richardson himself designed few houses and public buildings, his style was copied throughout America. No doubt you've seen these buildings—the big, brownish red, "rusticated" stone libraries, schools, churches, row houses, and single-family homes of the wealthy.

Background:

Born: September 29, 1838 in Louisiana

Died: April 26, 1886 in Brookline, Massachusetts

Education:

  • Public and private schools in New Orleans
  • 1859: Harvard College
  • 1860: Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris

Famous Buildings:

  • 1866-1869: Unity Church, Springfield, Massachusetts (Richardson's first commission)
  • 1883-1888: Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh, PA
  • 1872-1877: Trinity Church, Boston, MA
  • 1885-1887: Glessner House, Chicago, IL
  • 1887: Marshall Field Store, Chicago, IL

About Henry Hobson Richardson:

During his life, cut short by kidney disease, H.H. Richardson designed churches, courthouses, train stations, libraries, and other important civic buildings.

Featuring semicircular "Roman" arches set in massive stone walls, Richardson's unique style became known as Richardsonian Romanesque.

Henry Hobson Richardson is known as the "First American Architect" because he broke away from European traditions and designed buildings that stood out as truly original.

Also Richardson was only the second American to receive formal training in architecture. The first was Richard Morris Hunt.

The architects Charles F. McKim and Stanford White worked under Richardson for awhile, and their free-form Shingle Style grew out of Richardson's use of rugged natural materials and grand interior spaces.

Other important architects influenced by Henry Hobson Richardson include Louis Sullivan, John Wellborn Root, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Richardson's Significance:

" He had a superb sense of rather monumental composition, an uncommon sensitivenss to materials, and a creative imagination in the way to use them. His stone detailing especially was unusually lovely, and it is not strange that his buildings were imitated far and wide. He was an independent planner as well, continually feeling for greater and greater originality....'Richardsonian' came in the popular mind to mean, not sensitivenss to material, nor independece of design, but rather the indefinite repetition of low, wide arches, intricate Byzantinelike ornament, or dark and somber colors."—Talbot Hamlin, Architecture through the Ages, Putnam, Revised 1953, p. 609

Learn More:

  • H. H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, MIT Press
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  • Living Architecture: A Biography of H.H. Richardson by James F. O'Gorman, Simon & Schuster
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  • The Architecture of H. H. Richardson and His Times by Henry-Russell Hitchcock, MIT Press
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  • Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, 1865-1915 by James F. O'Gorman, University Of Chicago Press
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  • Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works by Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, Dover
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  • Henry Hobson Richardson. A Genius for Architecture by Margaret H. Floyd, Photographs by Paul Rocheleau, Monacelli Press
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  • H. H. Richardson: The Architect, His Peers, and Their Era by Maureen Meister, MIT Press
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Craven, Jackie. "Henry Hobson Richardson, The All-American Architect." ThoughtCo, Sep. 27, 2016, thoughtco.com/henry-hobson-richardson-first-american-architect-177869. Craven, Jackie. (2016, September 27). Henry Hobson Richardson, The All-American Architect. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/henry-hobson-richardson-first-american-architect-177869 Craven, Jackie. "Henry Hobson Richardson, The All-American Architect." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/henry-hobson-richardson-first-american-architect-177869 (accessed November 25, 2017).