Professor, Judge, Pastor




I have tried to demonstrate a number of places on this site that there are numerous connections between Shadyside Presbyterian Church and the Allegheny County Courthouse (here and here).  This would not be too surprising, as the Church was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.  They were the successors to the Courthouse architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, and completed work there after his death.


Allegheny County Courthouse, Judges' Chambers Tower seen directly below main tower, on right.

In late April 2008, the University of Pittsburgh sponsored a symposium called “The Allegheny County Courthouse in Context,” which featured nationally recognized Richardson scholars.  Professor Drew Armstrong of Pitt, who organized the symposium, arranged for a number of the speakers to tour Shadyside Church.  The symposium's lead speaker was Pitt’s Professor Franklin Toker, who is well known to fans of Pittsburgh architecture.  His books, Pittsburgh, an Urban Portrait and the more recent Buildings of Pittsburgh, are excellent guides to the city’s built environment.  He also wrote a monumental work on the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and his client, Edgar Kaufmann, called Fallingwater Rising.


Richardson's Plan for Courthouse & Detail Showing Judge's Chamber (red) & Courtroom (blue)  (1)

Professor Toker’s presentation examined Richardson as a participant in architectural competitions.  He pointed out that Richardson was successful in winning the Courthouse commission, in part, because he so carefully addressed (in fact and in presentation) the County’s expressed needs for the building.  A case in point is the relationship of the judge’s chambers to their courtrooms.  The chambers read as half-round towers on the outer walls of the structure.  They are adjacent to the courtrooms, an efficient and convenient arrangement.


Richardson's Plan for Sever Hall & Detail Showing Professor's Office (red) & Lecture Room (blue)  (2)

Toker showed how, in that respect, Richardson’s 1883 Courthouse program followed a solution developed at Harvard’s Sever Hall (finished in 1880).  There, professors’ offices were likewise immediately next to their lecture halls.  These offices had the same form later used in Pittsburgh:  half-round walls, expressed on the exterior, terminating in rectilinear inner walls.  No doubt, educators and jurists alike appreciated this convenient arrangement – and perhaps the novel shape that offered commanding views along the buildings’ facades.  (This visibility accounted for similar shapes, used for defensive purposes, in strongholds since medieval times.)


Sever Hall, Harvard, Facade and Detail of Tower Enclosing Professors' Offices 

(Photos Courtesy of Bob Marville, See his photography here.)

Justin Ide/Harvard News Office, Copyright 2006 President and Fellows of Harvard College (3)

Quarters of this shape for the person in charge are familiar to those who have studied Shadyside Church.  Our Pastor’s Study, part of the original 1890 sanctuary building, features the rounded rectangle form.  The Study forms a windowed tower at the eastern end of the north transept  Not surprisingly it connects directly to the worship space.  While it is a matter of some convenience today, it was more important to earlier worship orders at Shadyside, which built to a climax with an ending sermon.  The original sanctuary was a “preaching hall” with curved pews on a sloping floor, focused on the central pulpit.  The organ and pipes, along with a passage for the preacher, occupied the location of our present chancel.  The preacher’s entry to worship was akin to the professor’s to the lecture and the judge’s to the trial.


Plan of Shadyside Church as built in 1890, showing Pastor's Study (red) & sanctuary (blue), Exterior of study.

Today, our pastors and other worship leaders process down the central aisle as worship begins.  This signifies that they are fellow worshipers, arriving from among the congregation – rather than materializing mysteriously from parts unknown.  The present order of worship, in a more ancient Reformed tradition, includes various forms of congregational response to the proclaimed Word of the sermon.  

Basic form of 1890 building, showing Pastor's Study at far left.

It is interesting that our present sanctuary - with its divided chancel and balanced arrangement of pulpit, lectern, table and font - suits the present worship order.  The sanctuary was remodeled to its existing design in 1938, even though worship was sermon-centered until two decades ago.


Shadyside Church 1890 Nave & Preaching Platform.  Door to left leads to Pastor's Study

Apparently, Richardson recognized the analogy of judge/courtroom to professor/auditorium.  His successor firm may have had a similar relationship in mind when they designed and located our Pastor’s Study.  In any case, I am grateful to Professor Toker for revealing another connection between Shadyside Presbyterian and the Allegheny County Courthouse – and, by extension, to Harvard’s Sever Hall.

(1)  Published in Van Trump, James D, Majesty of the Law, Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 1998

(2)  Published in Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, H. H. Richardson Complete Architectural Works, Cambridge, MA:  The MIT Press, 1982

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