School of Architecture
University of Notre Dame
|Benjamin H. Marshall, Chicago Architect|
by John Zukowsky and Jean Guarino
Over the last few decades a number of monographs have made available the work of several important architects from the first few decades of the previous century, mainly in major east coast cities.
Every major American city and many minor ones had architects in those decades who produced superb classical public and private buildings that the nation’s new wealth and social order called into existence. Classical architects would be well served if they were better known.
Attention to them so far has come mainly from preservationists who categorize them according to the criteria that can lead to their designation as landmarks. This is a valuable undertaking, but it carries with it a peril and a deficiency.
The peril is that in the currently dominant practices in preservation the designation will describe a style that was of its time that must be distinguished from any alterations or additions that are made in our time or some later time, a peril that lies beyond the scope of this comment.
The deficiency is that the buildings are treated as treasures locked away in a past and irrelevant to the concerns of present-day architects. Paying attention to them will inhibit the creativity expected of them.
Publications of those achievements is perhaps the best way to remedy this deficiency. Beautifully produced books and other outlets including this web site can enlarge the audience of the general public, architects, and potential clients about how satisfying a well-done classical building can be.
The situation is vastly improved since 1972 when I arrived to teach in Chicago. I quickly learned that Chicago’s architecture groupies formed a cult that knew about the World’s Columbian Exposition that Louis Sullivan hated, Richardson’s long-gone Marshall Field Warehouse that had inspired Sullivan, and Sullivan’s role as the lieber Meister of Frank Lloyd Wright while the more professionally-minded knew about their predecessors among the short-lived but seminal Chicago School of Architecture and Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.
The day after arriving in the “city of broad shoulders” I paid a visit to the icons of architectural history, but at Sullivan’s Old Stock Exchange all I found was the hole in the ground where its basement had been. Its destruction was for Chicago what Penn Station’s demolition was for New York. More personally, for the first time I realized that among the icons I had learned about when completing my doctorate with its focus on architecture and art from the Renaissance to the present day were some buildings that are mere objects of commerce. “Chicago doesn’t talk, it builds,” was the slogan in the architecture community.
|John B. Murphy Memorial Auditorium|
designed by Marshall and Fox
A decade or more later Jane LePauw and her husband Didier who had long lived in Paris were so impressed by Marshall’s superb understanding of French École des Beaux Arts design they launched the Benjamin Marshall Society. Under Jane’s leadership the Society sponsored the publication of Benjamin H. Marshall, Chicago Architect with John Zukowsky and Jean Guarino as authors. Lavishly illustrated, its Acanthus Press publication in 2015 was underwritten by the Society and by Richard H. Driehaus who had bought and restored an excellent auditorium by Marshall; it is the site of Driehaus Prize festivities.
|Murphy Memorial today|
The then Dean had promised me that I would have an opportunity to publish the other half, but nothing came of that. In the meantime I had moved in 1982 to the University of Virginia where I published the excised half as "The Classical American City in Image and in Chicago," in Modulus 23 The University of Virginia Architectural Review [(1995), 52-71.
Living and working next to Thomas Jefferson’s academical village gave me additional insight into two questions I had formulated in Chicago: Was Burnham’s plan Renaissance or Modern? and, When did the Renaissance end in architecture? I developed sensible, unpublished answers that were merely the exercises of an historian. The scales fell from my eyes when I realized, prompted by Demetri Porphirios and Léon Krier, whom Dean Jaquelin Robertson had brought to Virginia during my first year there, that classicism is not a style and that history and practice are the same endeavor. Ever since then I have sought to provide a pathway back and forth between old buildings and new ones that allow architects to contribute to the common good rather than merely stroke their narcissistic egos and flatter the narrow band of people who flutter around the work of starchitects.
So why are publications important? Only if people know the alternative can they seek it. So find the Benjamin Marshalls and Alfred Alschulers in the cities all across America and let the people know about them.
Contributed by Carroll William Westfall
School of Architecture
University of Notre Dame