Henry Hobson Richardson (b. 1838–d. 1886) is considered one of the most important American architects of the nineteenth century. His achievements were celebrated during his lifetime and publications addressing his life and work have appeared almost continuously since his death. The second American architect to attend the École des Beaux Arts, his early designs show the influence of the contemporary Gothic Revival and Second Empire styles, but, about 1870, he began moving in an independent direction, creating a free interpretation of Romanesque precedents. Trinity Church, Boston, a Romanesque Revival design completed in 1877, brought Richardson national recognition and shaped his career as it led him to move from New York to Brookline, a suburb of Boston. Although most of his work is in New England and New York, as his fame grew he received commissions in Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, and Wyoming. In his later projects he often reduced historical references, emphasized the qualities of materials, and moved toward simplification of form to produce masterpieces, such as the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail in Pittsburgh and the Marshall Field Wholesale Store in Chicago. His projects also included emerging building types, such as small railroad passenger stations and free public libraries. His country houses catalyzed the development of the shingle style. Richardson was not a solitary genius. He engaged personally with a wide circle of friends and clients. In his last years, his office grew to a staff of approximately twenty. Following his early death, his leading apprentices continued the practice as Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. Richardson’s contemporaries understood his achievement in different ways, so his influence led in multiple directions. Unlike other leading architects, Richardson rarely wrote about his intentions, so scholars have presented his work through varying interpretive frameworks.
Richardson died in 1886 and interest in his life and work has continued for more than a century. Van Rensselaer 1969 (originally published 1888) is one of the very first biographies of an American architect; it remains the foundation of Richardson studies. Hitchcock 1966a, a pioneering scholarly monograph, documents and interprets Richardson’s career, framing his achievement in terms of its proto-modern character. Hitchcock 1966b provides new information about Richardson’s early career. O’Gorman 1987 reinterprets Richardson’s work in an American cultural and environmental context. O’Gorman 1997 is an illustrated general interest biography. Floyd 1997 is an illustrated biographical work that bridges general interest and scholarly approaches. Howard 2022 is a dual biography of Richardson and F. L. Olmsted accessible to a general audience.
Floyd, Margaret Henderson. Henry Hobson Richardson: A Genius for Architecture. New York: Monacelli, 1997.
A biographical study with large color photographs (by Paul Rocheleau) of most of Richardson’s extant buildings organized primarily according to their functional type. Includes multiple new findings and insights, but its coverage of unbuilt and no longer extant works is somewhat abbreviated.
Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. The Architecture of H. H. Richardson and His Times. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966a.
Initially published in 1936 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936; 2nd ed., Hampden, CT: Archon Books, 1961), an insightful critical and interpretive discussion of Richardson’s life and works set in the context of the late nineteenth century. One of the first works to establish American architectural history as a scholarly discipline. Although influenced by Hitchcock’s tendency to see Richardson as a proto-modernist, this remains an essential work in Richardson studies. The 1966 MIT Press paperback edition includes an appendix with Hitchcock’s revisions and updates.
Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. Richardson as a Victorian Architect. Baltimore: Smith College by Barton Gillet, 1966b.
An exhibition catalogue that presents Hitchcock’s reconsideration of Richardson’s early career. Hitchcock resituates Richardson early production in the context of American Victorian design and includes works omitted from Hitchcock 1966a.
Howard, Hugh. Architects of an American Landscape: Henry Hobson Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted and the Reimagining of America’s Public and Private Spaces. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2022.
A dual biography that explores in detail the intertwined lives and careers of Richardson and Olmsted. Howard addresses personal histories as well as the character of their architecture and landscape architecture, both independently and in collaboration.
O’Gorman, James F. H. H. Richardson: Architectural Forms for an American Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
A biographical study that presents a significant reassessment of Richardson’s architecture, primarily placing in the context of 19th-century naturalism and contemporaneous understanding of the American landscape. O’Gorman groups Richardson’s designs within thematic chapters addressing eclecticism, urbanism, ruralism, and commuterism. Lacks citations, but includes an appendix with a comprehensive chronological bibliography of Richardson publications.
O’Gorman, James F. Living Architecture: A Biography of H. H. Richardson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Although this well-illustrated biography (with color photographs by Cervin Robinson) is intended to be accessible to general readers, it is based on substantial scholarly research and includes concise descriptions and analyses of most of Richardson’s works.
van Rensselaer, Marianna Griswold. Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works. New York: Dover, 1969.
Initially published in just five hundred copies in 1888 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1888; facsimile edition with introduction by James D. van Trump [Park Forest, IL: Prairie School, 1967]), this is considered the first biographical publication addressing an American architect. Discusses most of Richardson’s works and includes many high-quality photographs, but it is somewhat weaker for works in the Midwest completed after Richardson’s death. Dover paperback edition includes an introduction by William Morgan.
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