look strange with a red roof? No
doubt, considering the dignified and “quiet” treatment of exterior
color we have come to know. However,
in their initial proposal, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge urged a
polychrome combination with the gray-tan stone façade:
excerpt from the architect’s early offering reveals yet another tie to
the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, which was completed under
Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge after the death of Henry Hobson Richardson.
the Courthouse has a black roof, you say?
Close inspection of the main roofs reveals a warm, orange-red hue
where the black soot of decades has been chipped away.
tiles covered those roofs that were not stone (the central tower and some
smaller towers used stone roofs). So, we might ask
whether the Courthouse with a red roof would look strange?
County Jail Tower - Soot chipped from red Akron tile roof
an interesting reversal, while the planned shingle tile roof was executed
in slate at Shadyside, Richardson’s Courthouse proposal specified slate but red tile was actually
applied. We do not know where
in the bidding and design process Shadyside’s roof changed to slate.
Nor do we have a record of the reason.
We can engage in some informed speculation, however.
as to the application of red tile roof covering,
made extensive use of it in his masonry buildings, large and small.
The early examples are on structures that employed polychromy on
their exterior walls. The
shown here displays tan and chocolate stone walls topped by red tile and brown
stone roofs. This same palette
Richardson’s early triumph in Boston. There are also numerous
instances of red tile roofs over masonry in Shepley, Rutan &
H. Richardson's Albany City Hall
the walls were monochromatic, Richardson, like
many architects, often provided some contrast in the roof color.
This changed on frame residential structures such as his Shingle
Style homes. There, the roofs
and walls were sometimes two slightly different tones of the same hue.
applied this scheme to a masonry building at Sever Hall on the Harvard
campus. Red brick walls
duplicated material in the surrounding Georgian buildings.
Sever Hall has been much admired for the harmonizing effect
achieved by executing the roof in red tile.
H. Richardson's Sever Hall at Harvard
trend in Richardson’s later masonry designs was toward the quieting effect of monochrome
walls with little or no carved ornament.
Was his intent in the original Courthouse scheme to approximate
the harmony of Sever Hall with slate over granite?
The granite that was finally chosen has a subtle pink cast.
This was complemented by
Richardson’s specification of a special formulation of red mortar.
It may be that the red
tile roof material was an extension of the palette of the masonry work.
These reddish hues were duplicated at
Chicago’s Glessner House, a
work contemporary with the Pittsburgh
Church, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge proposed exterior walls of Beaver
sandstone along with the red tile roof.
It is conceivable that Shadyside and its architects decided that a
“quiet” treatment called for the monochomy of gray slate over gray-tan
stone and mortar. The
environmental effects of Pittsburgh's sooty atmosphere may also have influenced color choices.
was well known during the late nineteenth century that Pittsburgh’s stone structures soon became blackened by soot. Richardson
took that into account when deciding to minimize the use of carved ornament
at the Allegheny
buildings. This sooting
continued at least to some degree until the second half of the
twentieth century, when pollution control and shrinking industrial
activity cleared the air. Blackening
did occur on both the Courthouse and Shadyside
Church. Because of the porosity of
the tile roof material, it blackened in a way that would resist
non-destructive cleaning. Thus,
a red roof, once soot-covered could only harmonize again with the red
palette by replacement.
Soot-darkened Shadyside Presbyterian
Church in 1963 Historic American Building Survey picture
on the other hand, is harder and more easily sheds soot when washed by
rain. Was this in mind when
Shadyside was designed? As the
stone of the church turned a dark gray-black, it remained (accidentally?)
compatible with the slate color. While
not unattractive, it was not according to original design.
Thus, the church’s walls were restored to their original color by
chemical cleaning in 1991. (The
Glessner House underwent a similar cleaning.
The red mortar and pink cast of the granite walls have been
restored, but the tile roof remains blackened.)
United Methodist Church - Pittsburgh
few blocks away from the church is a clue to how Shadyside might have
looked with a red tile roof. First
at Center and Liberty Avenues has such a roof over monochromatic gray-tan
masonry walls. Completed in
1893 (as Christ Methodist Episcopal), it is also a Richardsonian
Romanesque lantern church. With
a little photo editing, we can also imagine how Shadyside
might look, had the original proposal been executed.