The Grain Exchange Building, Boston

We have seen how Shadyside Church shares certain features with the Allegheny County Courthouse.  These shapes and surface details were developed for the Courthouse by the architectural firm of Henry Hobson Richardson.  After Richardson ’s death, members of his firm organized as Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (SR&C) and designed the church.  It was a prolific office that survives today as Shepley, Richardson, Bulfinch and Abbot.

For several years after Richardson died, the variety of Romanesque Revival he developed remained popular and his successor firm was one of a handful of architects who were adept in applying it.  So, will we find similarities with Shadyside in SR&C’s other buildings?  It is interesting to consider structures other than churches to look for commonality.

Like their mentor, SR&C won commissions for a number of office buildings.  Near their present office in Boston is the Grain Exchange Building , now the headquarters of the The Beal Companies, LLC (who generously provided the color photos of their building here).  It is easy to recognize elements there familiar to those who know Shadyside (which entered the SR&C office a year after the office building). We are fortunate that The Beal Companies undertook a powerful preservation/adaptive re-use project.  A model for the composition of the Exchange can be discerned in Richardson ’s Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce – a building put to similar use on a similar triangular site (commissioned in 1885).

Grain Exchange                                                Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce (1)

A key feature of the Grain Exchange is the tall round-arched window form that dominates the façade.  It is composed of two narrower inset windows separated by a mullion in the form of a tall column.  In the space between the radiused tops of the windows is a round opening (an oculus).  Topping the inset, we find a typical Richardsonian arch formed by ashlar voussoirs. 

Left to right:  Grain Exchange, Shadyside, Courthouse Tower

Precisely this same composition was used for the six main windows in the transepts at Shadyside.  Here, of course, the glazing is stained glass.  SR&C also used this form in a Pittsburgh office building – Freemasons’ Hall, once located on Fifth Avenue, Downtown (designed a year earlier than Shadyside).  A walk up Fifth to Grant Street would have revealed a precedent for this shape, at the very top of the Courthouse tower.  Richardson earlier used these openings in his tower at the Albany City Hall .

Freemasons' Hall, Pittsburgh (2)

Chamber Building Showing Tall Window in Trading Room (1)

These tall windows at the Exchange enclose an equally tall room originally used by traders in flour and grain.  This was also the pattern of the Cincinnati building.  Today, it has been adapted as a spectacular open office space in the Boston structure.  The windows may be seen in the photo of what is called today “The Aquarium.”  The abundance of light and soaring height make this space analogous to Shadyside’s nave under its central tower, each with dramatic balcony perspectives.


Shadyside Nave

The Grain Exchange, Shadyside, Freemason’s Hall and the Courthouse all shared another window feature:  bands of shorter round-arch windows.  The round arch opening is a signature of Romanesque architecture.  Richardson and, later, SR&C applied them in series to form strong horizontals, often to terminate a section of structure.  All four examples here use them this way.

Grain Exchange

Shadyside (3)

A distinctive feature at Shadyside is the use of grotesques to form horizontal bands.  The faces are carved into modillion-like features, which when viewed from a distance form a dentil band.  A similar band (with the modillions not carved) is seen on the Grain Exchange above its short round arch widows.  Once again, precedent may be found in the Courthouse tower, below the tall openings, in this case with carving.

Shadyside’s exterior elevation terminates in its signature pyramid roof with picturesque dormers at mid-elevation.  The Grain Exchange is topped by an analogous roof, this time round and conical.  A series of dormers on the Boston structure surrounds the roof at the façade.  The effect is somewhat fussy and appears to be placing a regal crown on the otherwise dignified composition.


The simpler Shadyside roof model is also used on The Beal Companies’ headquarters.  On the Milk Street side (at right, above), a simple pyramid with inset dormers forms the roof.  This recalls the pavilions of the Allegheny County Courthouse as well as the church.

Another characteristic common to Shadyside and the Exchange is uncommon in designs by many Richardson imitators.  Both buildings sit comfortably on and relate well to their sites.  Both have a substantial, dignified permanence.  And while the business-oriented Exchange is logically busier looking than Shadyside, both exhibit excellent scale and proportioning of design elements.  In short, both express that Richardsonian ideal that cannot be achieved by the mere application of details: repose.

(1) From J. K. Ochsner, H. H. Richardson Complete Architectural Works, MIT 1982

(2)  From W. C. Kidney, Pittsburgh Architectural Landmarks, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 1997

(3)  Image from Tom Stepleton