Medieval Forms




Clearly, Henry Hobson Richardson referred for inspiration to monumental medieval sources, such a churches.  However, as noted Pittsburgh architectural historian James Van Trump points out (1), he also looked to more modest and rustic models.  In assessing Pittsburgh ’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Van Trump finds precedent for its form in the thirteenth century Tithe Barn at Great Coxwell at Berkshire in England .  The contrast of this elegantly simple North Side church with Trinity Church in Boston demonstrates Richardson ’s genius.


Emmanuel Episcopal Church (l), Tithe Barn (r)

In a different corner of the city,  a church built nine decades later shows a remarkable debt to both Emmanuel Episcopal and the Tithe Barn.  East Liberty’s Emory United Methodist Church has the broad, sloping roof and elemental shape found in the earlier buildings.  One of Emmanuel’s distinctive features is the its intricate brickwork detailing.  The Tithe Barn’s wall are punctuated by square openings, likely for ventilation.  The wall details at Emory are inversions of these openings:  square projections.


Emory United Methodist Church, East Liberty

Richardson ’s successors, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, found another medieval model for the Chapel at Shadyside Church .  A common building type in England was the “open hall.”  These were often dwellings that consisted of one large room in which a fire was built.  At each end of the hip roof ridge, was a small vent of triangular form.  It is termed a “gablet” or little gable.

Open Hall Building form (l), Medieval House, North Cray, Kent England (r) (2)

Because of subsequent additions and surrounding buildings, the chapel’s form is difficult to discern today.  The simplified rendering bellows depicts its principal volume.


Chapel, Shadyside Presbyterian Church, photo & simplified rendering

The architectural firm selected this as a functional form for the chapel, which because of its origin, was compatible with the main church, yet contrasting with it.  To provide adequate natural light in the second story, dormers were used.  This imparts a more formal feeling than would be suggested by the open hall precedent.


Gabelet on Chapel, Cloister seen through colonnade (view toward southeast)

Originally the church and chapel were free-standing structures, connected only by the roofed colonnade.  At the time of construction, the worship space of the chapel occupied the whole ground floor.  Below it was a kitchen and social space.  A lower hip roof to the north represents the 1908 chapel extension.  During 1938 additions, the main church and chapel were joined on the south by offices, enclosing the charming cloister area familiar to Shadysiders today.

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(1)  Van Trump, “The Church Beyond Fashion” in Life and Architecture in Pittsburgh , Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1983

(2) Copyright © 2003 Weald & Downland Open Air Museum