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An Architect's Views Of the Practice of His Art In Brooklyn 1886

  "During the last five years," said an architect the other day, "astonishing advancement has been made in all manner of architecture in Brooklyn. Before that time a single case of departure from the old conventional style of architecture could not be pointed out. Every man in the domestic work seemed to think it his duty to follow in the style of his neighbor, such as that of the four and five story brown stone front or the mansard roof, while in public buildings the French Renaissance seems to have been the almost invariable type. The only buildings of late date we do not look upon with censure at the present time, are a few churches. There is nothing of the old Gothic school work in Brooklyn that will at all compare with the present Trinity Church. On the other hand, you cannot condemn too strongly such buildings as the City Hall. Those who have seen Mr. Beecher's Church, of course, know that there is no attempt at architectural display about it, but the good point about this church which I wish to mention is that with its wonderful seating capacity, it maintains most excellent acoustic properties. it might also be mentioned that while the neighboring church that of Dr. Storrs has but few commendable points of architectural beauty about it, there are a few parts of detail, such for instance, as the windows in the Sunday school addition, which are in themselves good examples of the Romanesque treatment a style which is now so highly in favor with the architects of today.

The Romanesque is the style which young architects are endeavoring to produce in all kinds of church and domestic architecture, the virtue of the style being in its strong lines, as compared with the frail and flimsy gothic in the way it has been treated in this country. The idea of the past has been that wherever a blank space of wall was perceptible it should be ornamented with a window or a false window. They seemed afraid to leave the wall as it otherwise would be, with a solid, substantial appearance. Architects must first learn to get bold lines of construction which are in themselves good, without attempt at ornamentation. Ornament your construction, instead of constructing your ornament, is the idea that is being advanced by the leading architects of today, and for that master always has been by the old school; but the fundamental principle seems to have been ignored and lost sight of by the architects who are responsible for so many of our ugly buildings, erected during the past thirty years. The architects throughout the country, you will find, denounce the iron front as lacking artistic beauty. The cast iron ornamentation is bad, and their durability in a fire, though many may not believe it, is less than that of any material used by the building trade, excepting wood. Heat will easily twist and distort iron, and should adjoining property take fire it suffers materially in consequence.

The first diversion from the old style of architecture to the one that meets with the wants of modern requirements is that of Dr. Talmage's Church, built on the amphitheatrical form, which does away with the massive columns and giving an unobstructed view of the preacher and the pulpit. Of course, so far as the architectural beauty and effect is concerned, the columns are essential for the good treatment of the interior. But in the present age when architects are called upon to meet with the modern requirements this amphitheatrical form is the style which must be adopted on all church work. I have not the time and it would prove uninteresting to go into all the various styles of architecture of the present day. Among the churches in the city under completion, having fine architectural qualities worthy of note, is that of the Emmanuel Baptist Church, corner of St. James place and Lafayette avenue, built by F.F. Kendall, of New York. It is a good piece of Gothic work, and shows the influence the Romanesque treatment is exercising over the architects. The arches are almost entirely round, while, in detail, the Romanesque feeling is perceptible. The interior of this church is also of the amphitheater form. The Church of the Messiah, in Greene avenue, ranks first among the Romanesque type in this country, taking into consideration the fact that it is an alteration. It is not yet completed. Among the public buildings that are a credit and an ornament to our city from an artistic standpoint, is that of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank and Historical hall, both the works of Mr. George B. Post, of New York; the Young Men's Christian Association building, the Dime Savings Bank and a few others of a similar character.

"Now I will tell you something about domestic and interior work. Twenty years ago, said a wealthy patron of ours to me one day, such a man as an architect was almost an unknown individual in Brooklyn and less than fifteen years ago he was only considered as a mere middle man, receiving no respect and only a semblance of recognition from the builder, who was wont to say, 'It is all very well to make a picture, but that is all there is of it.' The builder was then considered as the peer of an architect in the conception and decoration of a home. Perhaps he was, for certainly there have come down to us in the line of domestic architecture few, if any, evidences of his skill. The builder, with o9nly practical ideas and utilitarian feeling, was the artist, hence the long rows of houses with no home feeling, either in their interior or exterior. The wooden or frame house, with its inevitable brick basement, cold, cheerless stone steps, leading to a hole under the high stoop, for the guest it may be to crawl up to the front door. Here, possibly, the builder artist made a porch on the little 4x3 platform, or a veranda the full width of the house, having massive fluted columns of Doric or Corinthian order, the most unhomelike of all the architecture of twenty or thirty years ago, being copies of temples built to the Pagan gods. If it was a brick house no such lavish display was shown, the only ornament being plain, moulded lintels to doorway and windows. The carpenter sometimes tried his artistic skill on the wooden cornice, but in that utilitarian age such attempts at ornament were dubbed gingerbread work. The brown stone front, the mansion of the rich, was the product of the practical minded stone cutter, with his practical ideas of how to make the most show for the least outlay. Here the carver introduced the most ridiculous and grotesque of carvings for consoles to door and window lintels. Duplication of these monstrosities went on and on in solid blocks like rows of packing boxes, until today we have one of the most monotonous cities of houses I have seen in the wide world. Here and there the architect has beaten down prejudices, leading a few of the rich and artistic out of the old ruts of the past into, we trust, the possibilities of the future.

"But it is the interiors which have received the grandest change. Once there was the inevitable narrow hall, five or possibly seven feet wide, either with winding or straight stairs, leading directly from the entrance door, hidden as far as possible from the entire house. A dark, cheerless, straight flight led to the basement, wherein was the dining room, or with a slight turn at landing to the second and, possibly, third or fourth stairs, confined for its entire way in the dark hall or narrow passage. The only ray of light obtained was through the dirty, begrimed dome light, cut in the ceiling of the upper story, and so small that scarcely a ray of light could enter. Now, in the majority mentioned, the stairs are made one of the main features of the home, with ample dimensions, platforms and open landings. Light is obtained when possible from the outside, on the sides, or through a dome as large as the stair shaft, thus making the stairs, which occupy the central and often one-third part of the house, the most prominent feature in it, as it is the most useful. The saloon parlor, if it be a 20 or 25 foot lot, is dispensed with, and in its stead are a cozy reception room, with a comfortable and light dining room, and homelike sitting room or family room, all upon one floor. The main floor of the house reaches only by a few steps from the street instead of the high stoop. The old style of folding doors are dispensed with and in their stead are sliding door, only used, however, when closing up the house, as for sweeping. The openings are filled with cozy portieres. The halls are furnished with fireplaces for use, and parquetry floors, covered only by rugs, are its floor adornment. The hat rack is abolished and a neat table with chairs take its place. Cozy wood mantels take the place of cold white or black marble, which have no place in a home, where should be colors to gratify the eye and give a sense of refinement and comfort. The old style white wall or French gray paint and possibly garish oil fresco on ceilings, intricate masses of mouldings and brackets to ceilings and cornice, now give place to subdued wall papers, tapestries or satin ceilings, plain, with great fields of color, giving only a tone to artistic furniture and carpets instead of monopolizing the attention. Woods of however humble origin are permitted to show their natural colors and beauty, for in the latest and best taste stains on woods are abolished. Honesty and quiet taste are now the order of the day.

"These and many other changes have been brought about by the architect who now has graduated from the position of middleman of the past to the pinnacle of director and author of a truly artistic and modern home, not alone in all the practical details of its construction, but of the inspiration of the art of its adornment. I have not mentioned the richly constructed apartment houses on Montague street, nor the many modern appliances for comfort and convenience, such as the electric bell, lighting, heating and sanitation which have received great study and painstaking labor from the true architect of the present."

J.A. McK.


Website: The History
Article Name: An Architect's Views Of the Practice of His Art In Brooklyn 1886
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Eagle Nov 28, 1886.
Time & Date Stamp:  


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