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Trinity Church Essay, Research Paper

Henry Hobson Richardson designed his most famous building, Trinity Church in Copley Square, after winning a competition in 1972. James O’Gorman described Trinity as “a cultural even of the first importance in American history.” “The building both represents a departure of the Boston’s mind from its Puritan past, and emergence of American creativity as a force in architecture.” Born in 1838, Richardson was raised just outside New Orleans and surrounded by the colorful stucco buildings of New Orleans. He was from an American family but was greatly influenced by the French culture of his area. After being denied admission to West Point, Richardson graduated Harvard, class of 1859.

After Henry Hobson Richardson graduated Harvard University, he decided to remain in the North to study rather than return to New Orleans. He had the opportunity to study in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, travel to London, travel through rural England, and through Southern France and Spain, making some trips with his friend Henry Adams. Richardson collected postcards throughout his trips that would eventually amount to over 3000 images. Later, he returned to the US and began practicing in New York. Richardson served on the Staten Island Commission, and then moved to Brookline, MA in 1874 after completing several commissions in Boston. Richardson then designed Trinity Church during his remaining twelve years that he spent in Massachusetts.

Trinity Church is a prime example of revival architecture. When the “New Republic” of the United States gained its independence, the “New Democratic Citizens” wanted their place in history reflected in their architecture. The people of the 18th century were proud people, with rights, rights to build homes and communities of their own. And so, the revival style was born, a style built upon the perceptions of their predecessors, the Greeks and Romans. The difference was they had more freedom than their predecessors. This revival style continued into the 19th century when Trinity Church was designed in a Romanesque Revival Style. The primary difference was scale as churches grew dramatically in size. Furthermore, the construction of the Trinity Church brought about the Richardsonian Romanesque Style. This architecture style remained prevalent during the Victorian period, primarily as a result of the widespread influence of the Trinity Church that displayed bold stonework, complex roof patterns, and arched openings.

One defining feature of Romanesque architecture is a round-headed arch. Trinity is articulated with many round-head arches that frame its windows and entrances. The Richardsonian characteristics of Trinity include its rusticated rock faces, with structural features such as arches and lintels, a horizontal element usually at the top of openings in walls made of concrete, stone, or steel that acts as a small beam to span the opening and support the weight of the wall above, made of different types of stones. Rustication is a description of the texture of stone masonry that displays deep horizontal or vertical joints. Richardson used rustication to create a sense of power and strength in his Trinity Church because the stones were finished to contrast sharply with the surfaces of the other materials. Vaulting was another important element of Romanesque structuring that led to the general use of heavy walls and piers in place of the light walls and columns that had sufficed for wooden roofs. Then there are plain areas of his church that seem almost unfinished but play another role in the Richardsonian style. Deep window revels and wrought iron, a soft iron, ornaments add to Trinity’s massiveness. Other hallmarks of this style include rounded protruding bays topped with cones and square towers topped with pyramidal tops. Richardson uses bold ornamentation to define sections of the building. Trinity Church’s lower part is dark and the top is red. Chevrons highlight the front protrusion of the church. A continuous band of checkerboard is like a belt and circles the chapel bringing the lower and upper sections of the church together. Richardson was influenced by many different styles but always disciplined his architecture. Form serves function. His designs were usually based on ratios and symmetrical balance. Overall, the use of massive walls and piers as supports for the heavy stone vaults resulted in a typical building plan that treated the entire structure as an additive complex composed of semi-independent units. These units are called bays, the square or rectangular spaces enclosed by groin vaults.

Trinity’s general vertical massing and polychromy reveal traces of High Victorian Gothic style, but the strong geometric order and the French Romanesque ornaments are all new developments. Trinity’s tower would have been taller and more inventive, but structural problems due to the spongy soil made a shorter tower necessary. The lantern of the tower was modeled after the tower of the Old Cathedral of Salamanca, another prime example of Romanesque architecture. Trinity Church is a building fronting on three streets; therefore, Richardson wanted the tower to be central. He wanted the tower to equally belong to each front instead of locating it in a corner where it would not be visible from at least one side. The tower became the main feature of the church instead of looking like an unnecessary addition. So supporting systems would not get in the way in the interior of the church, a large tower was compensated with a magnified church making Trinity into the size it is today. The tower of the Old Cathedral of Salamanca was also a central tower known as the Tower of Cock because of the weather vane that crowned it and because it was covered by scales of slate. The towers of both churches are partitioned into equal sections with slightly extruding “seem-like” lines on the roof of the tower. From the “seem-like” lines, there are vertical spike-like shapes that come out of the roof. The bottom half of both towers is a fa?ade with clerestory windows, windows framed with archways. And both towers have front side towers in each of its four corners. Richardson did not directly copy the tower of the Old Cathedral but the style and layout is the same; he modified Trinity’s tower to have an unparalleled resemblance.

Richardson’s Trinity Church also has great similarities to St.-Jouin-des-Marnes in Poitou, France. The fa?ade of both churches have a distinct likeness. Both facades are generally divided into two halves, the tower for the Trinity Church or the triangular roof for the St.-Jouin-des-Marnes and the bottom entrance of both churches. The overall fa?ades of the fronts of the churches are framed on each end by towers or piers or separate cone-toped structures, and so, visually there seems to be three overall vertical sections to the churches. The whole fa?ade of both churches is ornamented with windows that are framed by arches and lintels. The strongest similar element is that both churches have three entrances that are also framed by stone arches. St.-Jouin-des-Marnes was built with concrete blocks, and Trinity church is made of brick. Although they are made of different materials, both are constructed with block structures. Both facades have periods of “empty spaces” and decorated areas. Originally his design only consisted of a flat fa?ade and simpler front towers that would make Trinity more similar to St.-Jouin-des-Marnes, but after visiting St. Trophime in Arles, France, he designed an additional porch area which was completed after his death along with the towers.

Henry Hobson Richardson continued the trend of three entrances, towers, and sectioning the fa?ade of the church. However, the more recent renovations to the classical designs include the use of different construction materials. Pink granite was used for the main building with red Longmeadow sandstone for the trim. The plan and interior space is hidden by the strong fa?ade of Trinity such as St.-Jouin-des-Marnes. If one walks around Trinity, he will discover more defining outer structures that describe the interior space. The backside of Trinity shows the apse with buttresses ending in colonnettes between the windows and the Parish House with an attached cloister and exterior staircase. Trinity’s nave grew higher and longer from the naves of the Medieval St.-Jouin-des-Marnes and the Old Cathedral because Romanesque churches wanted to make room for more clerestory windows. The Old Cathedral gives far more definitions on its exterior to its interior spaces with its bay areas similar to Trinity. The Old Cathedral was a work in progress for a few hundred years including the addition of the New Cathedral; therefore, it has Medieval, Gothic, and Romanesque elements. St.-Jouin-des-Marnes is not as revealing with its exterior structure and at most you can see the size and length of its nave.

Trinity Church is Henry Hobson Richardson’s most famous church, and its designed is often copied. Richardson ignited revivalism bringing classical architecture into his 19th century creation. He based his designs on past architecture and influence from his many travels. The similarities with Trinity and other past churches are clear, but the distinctions are just as clear. Richardson found his impact on man through his architecture. He found ways to overcome structural obstacles that added to the character of his design. Trinity began with a contest and ended in a massive, disciplined and ordered, beautifully aesthetic formation.

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