Richardson in Brick
Romanesque architecture has always been executed in masonry. During the Romanesque period and through much of its century-long Revival, stone has been the typical material. However, brick was sometimes the choice of architects, including H. H. Richardson, who launched the most important phase of the Revival (the final quarter of the nineteenth century). [See The Other Romanesque Revival for non-Richardsonian brick structures.]
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh H H Richardson 1886
Emmanuel Episcopal Brick Patterning
Emmanuel Episcopal Brick Patterning
While the selection of brick was doubtless for reasons of economy, the brickwork is one of the church’s most appealing features. Unlike most of his buildings, Emmanuel Episcopal’s wall surfaces do not have a rough surface, moldings, belt courses or other projections to break up the planes or produce shadow lines. (The bricks do project from the main wall surface just below the eave line. This is accomplished in two steps of different dimension to give a pleasing string course effect.) Stone is used only as sills for the windows, as springing for the three entrance arches and where the foundation is exposed.
plainness is relieved, in part, by patterning the brickwork.
Of particular note, the repetitive triangular pattern at the
roofline is called “mousetooth.” The
brick patterning gives the impression of finely woven fabric. The
sharply incised windows and doors produce dramatic voids. The quiet
surface treatment and use of elemental shapes and shadows is only seen in
Emmanuel Episcopal, leaning wall, Richardson's Lionberger House, St. Louis 1886-88 (1)
One of the best
known features of Emmanuel Episcopal Church is a mistake. The lower
section of the side wall is intended to slope inward as it rises (this is
called battering). The upper wall outward slope started to take
place shortly after construction. As Richardson had died by this
time, the church engaged his former employees, Longfellow, Alden &
Harlow, who were unsuccessful in pinpointing the cause. However when
that firm added the parish house to the far side of the church, the slope stopped increasing.
Point Breeze United Presbyterian, Pittsburgh - Lawrence Valk 1887 - Now St. Paul Baptist
Where brick was used
In addition to ample
surface ornament, architect Lawrence Valk of New York (who had a national
practice including many churches), designed a building
made up of a multitude of masses of varied shape and size.
This also contrasts with Emmanuel Episcopal.
This is not to say that the result was “un-Richardsonian.”
Point Breeze Presbyterian - Ornament Detail
Park United Presbyterian Church, Zelienople, PA 1895
North of Pittsburgh,
a competent example of a Richardsonian brick church is found in Zelienople
at Park United Presbyterian. No
brick patterning is used, but at the eaves the bricks are laid up to form
corbelling and give a sense of depth.
Stone trim highlights door and window openings.
Unusual to Romanesque buildings, this church uses carved wood as
ornament. A dressed stone
course forms a water table at the base of the main story.
Where the ground slopes away, a rough stone foundation story is
revealed. This feature anchors
the church to the site, imparting a stable appearance to the compact
Park Presbyterian - Wood, Stone & Brick Detail
Free Methodist Church, Ellwood City, PA 1895
Almost due west of
Park Church, a smaller, fundamentalist congregation raised a brick
Richardsonian building in
Stone window sills,
stone buttress caps and a quarry-faced ashlar foundation are features seen
in earlier examples. Rather
than terra cotta, carved brick or wood, shadow lines are formed by
projecting bricks. A
restrained use of brick patterning appears where a window opening might be
expected. Overall, the outcome
is too busy to be elemental, too spare to seem quite finished.
Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School, Frederick, MD J A Dempwolf 1895
One of the finest
examples of a brick Richardsonian church is not a church at all.
Except that its identity is chiseled in stone, one would easily
assume that Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School is a church building.
Ample & Varied Detail Evangelical Lutheran SS - now the Schaeffer Center
Of all the buildings
here, this Sunday School (known today as the
The building rests
comfortably on a foundation of light colored local stone.
The stone is set in the same pinkish-red mortar as the brick.
The polychrome seen in the brick, brownstone and foundation is
extended by the slate roof capped by copper with an appealing patina.
The high relief of projecting brick and deep recesses cast dark
The spare elegance of Emmanuel Episcopal Church does not seem to have served as precedent for other Richardsonian churches. We have seen here that there are many ways to execute a Romanesque church in brick. On buildings where the usual picturesque massing is complemented by extensive detail and ornament, the prowess of the architect and skill of the craftsmen can produce a pleasant if not radical result.
(1) Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, H. H. Richardson Complete Architectural Works, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1982