Our Architectural Lineage



[This feature on our architectural lineage includes links to related, updated articles on ShadysideLantern.com .  They are worth viewing for added detail.  Each opens in a new window, so that it is easy to return to your place in this text just by closing the link.]

During late Summer 2012, Shadyside Presbyterian Church will be pleased to welcome visitors from a Chicago architectural organization.  The group will also visit the world-acclaimed Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, considered by its renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson to be his masterwork.  Groups and individuals visiting Pittsburgh often make a point of seeing both buildings.  Their connection goes beyond sharing an architectural style and excellence in design and execution.


Allegheny County Courthouse & Jail

During a University of Pittsburgh symposium on the Courthouse in 2008, early conference arrivals visited Shadyside Church.  As a guide for the group at the church, I tried to point out some of the deeper similarities I perceive between the two.    As an attendee at the following day’s symposium, I learned of an additional link between the civic building and the religious structure.

We often speak of mother-daughter church relationships and sister church relationships.  This usually connotes spiritual, organizational or missional ties.  Shadyside Church was privileged to help start new Presbyterian Churches (some times called daughter churches) around Pittsburgh in the first half of the twentieth century.  Honoring an older heritage, Shadyside members often make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to renew familial bonds with the Mother Church of all Christendom.

There are also architectural lineages that inform our understanding of buildings.  It is tempting to characterize Trinity Church, Boston and Shadyside Presbyterian as architectural mother and daughter.  After all, they share an architectural style (Richardsonian Romanesque), an architectural form (a lantern church), and continuity of design professionals (H. H. Richardson himself and Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, his designated successors).


Trinity Church, Boston (1)

Closer examination may warrant a different familial link between the two church buildings:  mother-niece.  If we may assign civic buildings male gender (and who wouldn’t, for a complex that includes a jail), the Allegheny County Building project is a younger brother to Trinity Church.  While the family resemblance remains, compared to Trinity, the Courthouse/Jail relies more on monochromatic masonry walls and attenuation of surface ornament - typical of Richardson's later work.  These qualities are emphasized at Shadyside Church (a daughter of the Courthouse?) as they are at her uncle, the Glessner House of Chicago.

Please see Courthouse Connections.

Attenuated surface ornament & monochromatic masonry at the Courthouse (2), Glessner House (3) and Shadyside Church (below)

Please see a whimsical comparison of features in Morphing the Courthouse.

In Courthouse Connections, I trace two possible routes from Richardson to Shadyside:  first, through the Allegheny County Buildings and second, through Emmanuel Episcopal on Pittsburgh’s North Side.  This elegantly simple gem of a church belongs to the branch of the Richardson family that includes his rail station in New London, Connecticut and St. Louis’s Lionberger House. 


Elegant simplicity in brick - another stream of Richardson's late work, seen at Emmanuel Episcopal & the Lionberger House (4)

These are all brick structures whose appeal comes from their massing and from delightful patterning and form of the brick surfaces.  Stretching the family metaphor, we might claim Emmanuel Episcopal as Shadyside’s cousin.  Please see Medieval Forms.  The unexecuted Emmanuel design may have been recycled at Immanuel Baptist, Newton, MA and may have been an influence at Shadyside.

Unexecuted design for Emmanuel Episcopal (5) & Immanuel Baptist, which may both be in Shadyside's lineage

The parentage of the ungainly Immanuel Baptist does come into question.  Henry Russell Hitchcock blames its design on Richardson’s overwork and reliance on what the critic characterized as a less talented office staff.  If so, they learned fast, because those very assistants produced the very successful Shadyside Church and Chapel, which became the pattern for the congregation’s subsequent and generally successful building campaigns.  Having finally visited Immanuel Baptist in person, my own opinion of it has risen somewhat.  A lot of what seems awkward proportion may well be the outcome of the church’s needs, which included a worship space raised above ground level.  In any case, I now try to refrain from calling Immanuel Shadyside’s “crazy aunt.”

Finally, at the Pitt Courthouse symposium, I was captivated by Professor Franklin Toker’s study of Richardson’s skill in understanding a client’s program for a proposed building and in presenting his solutions in an effective, usually successful way.  Toker illustrated his claim with the Courthouse and with Harvard’s Sever Hall.  When he noted that similar architectural features were part of Richardson’s plans for both buildings, I realized that Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge incorporated the feature at Shadyside to similar effect.  See this in Professor, Pastor, Judge.


There is a connection through the Courthouse between Shadyside's Pastor's Study & Havard's Sever Hall (6)

I may be reaching to assign Sever Hall as another Shadyside uncle (the patriarch, perhaps, of the Emmanuel Episcopal branch).  It does seem clear, though, that Shadyside Presbyterian Church has benefited from the quiet repose that resulted from Richardson’s on-going development, manifested in his late monumental buildings.


And so, we look forward to hosting the architectural group at Shadyside Presbyterian this Summer.   We welcome the exchange, confident that we will learn more about our beloved church and its architectural family legacy.

(1) Photo credit:  Adam Mizrahi By permission

((2) Photo credit:  Allie Caulfield Creative Commons

(3) Photo Credit Eric Allix Rogers Creative Commons

(4) Photo Credit joseph a Creative Commons

(5) James F. O’Gorman “Selected Drawings - Henry Hobson Richardson and His Office” Harvard College Library

*6) Photo Credit:  Bob Marville  By permission