2016-04-28 / Around Town

ARCHI-TEXT

McKim, Mead & White: After the Shingle Style
By Ross Cann


Beacon Rock, built in 1888, will be among the four properties scheduled for the tour portion of the Architectural Symposium. Others will include the Commodore Edgar House (1885-86), Edgehill (1887-89), and Rosecliff (1899- Beacon Rock, built in 1888, will be among the four properties scheduled for the tour portion of the Architectural Symposium. Others will include the Commodore Edgar House (1885-86), Edgehill (1887-89), and Rosecliff (1899- Perhaps no American architectural firm rose faster in prominence or was more productive in the decades just before and after 1900 than the firm of McKim, Mead & White.

Although Charles Follen McKim and his partner, William Rutherford Mead, had enjoyed some success with another partner, William Bigelow, it was not until Bigelow was replaced with the flamboyant but extremely talented Stanford White that the partnership truly took flight and became one of the most predominant American design firms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1880 the firm completed the Newport Casino, its first project as a partnership. It is a prime example of McKim, Mead and White’s early work in the Shingle Style, a term first coined by the prominent architectural historian Vincent Scully. Characterized by decorative use of cedar shingle siding, asymmetric arrangement of masses, towers and surrounding porch elements, these informal, rambling, and uniquely American buildings are emblematic of the “Newport Cottages” of the 1870s through the 1890s still so much a part of the city’s architectural heritage.


The Isaac Bell House is one of the best surviving examples of shingle style architecture in the country. The house was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White in 1883 for Isaac Bell, a wealthy cotton broker and investor. The Isaac Bell House is one of the best surviving examples of shingle style architecture in the country. The house was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White in 1883 for Isaac Bell, a wealthy cotton broker and investor. It did not take long before their designs began to evolve into the more formal and referential style for which they are also known. It should be remembered that Charles Follen McKim was the second American-born architect to complete his studies at the famous École des Beaux Arts in Paris, just a few years after Richard Morris Hunt. As such, McKim brought back to America the more formal, symmetric and elegant traditions of architecture taught in Paris. It is hard to say whether architects were looking to Europe on their own to advance more formal and derivative styles, or whether the clients, with their increasing wealth and social aspirations (to be seen as the equals to their European counterparts), were demanding buildings like those they had seen in Europe while taking their Grand Tours. The two forces were probably working in concert with one another. The extent of this remarkable shift is evident in the stylistic difference between the Isaac Bell House (1883) and Beacon Rock (1888), designed just five years later. While both are Newport residences of a certain size and comfort, the Isaac Bell House is an eclectic, inventive and informal assembly of masses. Beacon Rock, in contrast, is highly referential to the ancient Roman villas that were uncovered and restored during the late 19th century. With its paired gables facing the drive and flanking an entry courtyard, and with the red tile roof, the building looks if it might be more properly situated on one of the seven hills of Rome rather than on a prominent outcropping high above Narragansett Bay.

It is this dramatic shift in focus and design that the seventh annual International Tennis Hall of Fame Architectural Symposium will address on Saturday, May 7. Entitled “McKim, Mead & White: After the Shingle Style” the symposium will offer three one-hour lectures by prominent scholars and architects in the morning, a lunch on the Horseshoe Piazza at noon, and then tours of outstanding examples of the later work of the firm that exists here in Newport. The lecturers include Richard Guy Wilson (Commonwealth Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia), Laurie Ossman (Director of Museum Studies at the Preservation Society of Newport County) and Richard Sammons (from the New York City-based firm Fairfax and Sammons). The four buildings that are scheduled for the tour are the Commodore Edgar House (1885-86), Edgehill (1887-89), Beacon Rock (1888) and Rosecliff (1899-1901).

The symposium will offer a unique opportunity to learn and observe firsthand the evolving vision of the firm and, by corollary, the evolution of the broader American culture at that time as well. It is perhaps fitting that this year’s topic is on the subject of Mc- Kim, Mead & White: the first, held in 2010, was on the Shingle Style period of McKim, Mead & White just as the Casino Theater was being restored. This symposium will, in a way, close the loop and complete that story that was first taken up so many years ago at that first assembly.

In those years, the Architectural Symposium has grown from a small meeting of local enthusiasts to a well-respected academic gathering with attendees and scholars coming from far and wide. Space is limited; each year the event seems to sell out more quickly than the year before – so if you would like to be part of this interesting and scholarly assembly, do not delay!

Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA, LEED AP, holds degrees from Yale, Cambridge and Columbia and is an historian, educator, author, and practicing architect living in Newport and working for A4 Architecture.

TO GO:

2016 Architectural Symposium

WHEN: Saturday, May 7 WHERE: Begins at International Tennis Hall of Fame MORE INFO: 401-849-3990 or tennisfame.com

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