Thursday, May 24, 2012

Counterweights of Copley Square

Sualeh Fatehi

The Boston Public Library building, and the Trinity Church, on opposite sides of Copley Square, are both fine examples of Boston architecture. They add an imposing grandeur to this opening in Boston's busy streets. Copley Square allows tourists and busy office workers alike enough space to take in and admire the entire buildings. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the Back Bay was reclaimed from the sea, and developed with majestic public buildings. When built, the church and the library were seen as keystones in what would be a plan to bring cultural and scientific institutions into Boston.

Trinity Church
The Trinity Church was designed in a competition set out by the flamboyant preacher Phillip Brooks, and his congregation. Henry Hobson Richardson's firm Gambrill and Richardson won the competition, and Richardson moved from New York to Brookline to work on the church. Boston is where he developed his trademark style, Richardsonian Romanesque, of which the Trinity Church is the epitome.

The Boston Public Library was designed in 1888, during a period of popularity of classical design, when American Neoclassicism was popular. It was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead, and White shortly after Richardson's death. McKim, Mead, and White were the intellectual heirs of Richardson. Both Charles Follen McKim and Henry Hobson Richardson trained at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris after studying at Harvard University. McKim was a draftsman for Richardson during the Brattle Square Unitarian Church project.

Boston Public Library
Although the Boston Public Library is very different in style, and serves a different purpose than the church across the square from it, it is a building of great weight and significance. The Boston Public Library was designed as "a palace for the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning", and modeled on the Venetian palazzo of the Renaissance. In some sense, the square grey building is a quiet foil to the more colorful and ornate exterior of the Trinity Church, its counterweight at the other end of Copley Square.

The Trinity Church is decorated in polychromatic stone, which over the arches forms a checkerboard pattern of pink Monson granite, the main building material, and red Longmeadow sandstone. The Boston Public Library is more staid, at least on the exterior, with its light granite fa├žade. The use of granite turned the tide of the "brown decades" in Boston architecture. However, the Library has a hidden inner courtyard, which was designed by McKim to resemble the interior courtyard of Bramante's Palazza della Cancelleria at the Vatican. The courtyard is in yellow stone, which forms a surprising contrast to the grey exterior. Just as the courtyard forms the quiet and serene interior of Library, the Church's Greek cross plan makes for a large interior space conducive to spiritual reflection.
Trinity Church is articulated with round-headed Romanesque arches. The Richardsonian Romanesque style draws on the visual strength of rusticated raw rock faces, with structural features like arches and lintels made of a different type of stone. In contrast to Trinity Church's deliberately unfinished look, the Library has smooth granite walls, topped with a copper creneau, and cast iron sconces.