American Architecture Comes of Age
European Reaction to H.H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan
Here is a book that examines one aspect of a pervasive American concern. The question of American cultural independence, identity, and maturity has preoccupied writers from Jefferson on. The matter of a dialogue – of mutual, interacting influence – between cultural ambassadors representing the various arts in Europe and in America is a familiar theme in the work of Henry James. James himself was one of the first American artists to have had an impact on the other side of the Atlantic: more than merely gaining recognition and admiration, he exerted a positive influence on English letters, as Poe earlier had on French literature.
However, it has until now been the received judgment that no American influenced European architecture until Frank Lloyd Wright made his massive presence felt around 1910, largely in Germany and the Netherlands. But Eaton argues that both H. H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan substantially affected architectural practice in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth throughout Europe – except, interestingly, in the Romance countries.
The author authenticates the influence of Richardson and Sullivan on a number of European architects, including Adolf Loos in Austria, Karl Moser in Germany and Switzerland, Eliel Saarinen in Finland, Ferdinand Boberg in Sweden, Hendrik Berlage in the Netherlands, and Sir John James Burnet in England. About 140 illustrations compare the work of these and other European architects with the buildings erected on the other side of the ocean by their greatest American counterparts during this period.
Eaton writes, “More than one author at the end of the century remarked that two decades previously it would have been unthinkable for a European to go to the United States for study, whereas by the late 1890s, it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. American solutions to the problems of the tall office building and the individual dwelling house were particularly admired.... That European architects turned to Richardson and Sullivan for inspiration seems sufficient proof that American architecture had come of age in a broad cultural sense by the decade of the nineties.”