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Romanesque Revival(1880-1900)
The Romanesque Revival style, like the earlier Gothic Revival movement, had its origins in medieval Europe, particularly in the churches of England, France, and Germany. Romanesque buildings featured heavy masonry with rounded arches and thick fortress-like walls. The first American usage of the Romanesque style appeared during the 1850s in public buildings like the Smithsonian's interpretation of the Renwick Castle.

Decades passed until Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), an American architect trained in Europe, revived Romanesque architecture in a profoundly personal style that became known as "Richardson Revival". Richardson arrived on the American scene when eclecticism was at its peak. Although his early training in France was in the Classic and Romanesque styles, he turned to the Romantic School for inspiration in his designs.

Richardson, who was influenced by the work of Richard Norman Shaw, incorporated elements such as half-timbering into his urban architecture. Richardson initially introduced the monumental style only in public buildings and churches, but later he translated its proportion and scale to Victorian city residences. Richardson's Romanesque adaptations became very popular for large public buildings during the 1880s, but he completed only a few more homes in this style.

Richardson was not the only American architect to explore the Romanesque tradition for ideas, but his thorough research revealed the inherent qualities and spirit of the style. With his personal insight and vision, Richardson continued to perfect these forms, motifs, and details in each of his successive buildings. Richardson could simplify his plans and identify each project's most important elements; he possessed the unique talent to express both strength and beauty through his designs, which were equally powerful and graceful.

With its respectable qualities, Romanesque Revival architecture came to represent the solid foundation and civic prosperity of American urban culture in the late nineteenth-century. At the peak of his architectural career, Richardson met an untimely death in 1886; a flattering monograph on his life and work was published, which further increased public interest in his style. Builders continued to use his popular designs during the 1890s' resurrection that established public and private buildings across America in the Richardson Revival style.

Largely through Richardson's influence, the Romanesque Revival became associated with: masonry walls, usually with rough-faced and squared stonework, asymmetrical facades with round towers and conical roofs, and round topped arches over windows. Because they were always of solid masonry construction (stone veneering techniques were not yet perfected), Richardsonian Romanesque structures were much more expensive to build than other Victorian styles which could also be executed in wood. For this basic reason, Richardson's monumental buildings are primarily architect-designed landmarks, located in the larger cities of the Northeastern United States, but scattered examples of his work also exist in a variety of metropolitan areas across America.

Source: "The Victorian Express" by Kristin Holmes & David Watersun Published by: Beautiful America Publishing Company copyright 1991

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