More grace in glass additions

The assemblage that makes up the Royal Opera House, in London. (

The assemblage that makes up the Royal Opera House, in London. (

In researching glass additions worthy of downtown Providence’s Grace Episcopal Church, I came across the image above of the Royal Opera House (formerly Covent Garden), designed by Edward Middleton Barry and completed in 1858, with its elegant glass addition followed by a bungled modernist addition with a glass “hinge.”

The “addition” is actually the former flower market of Covent Garden, which was built in 1830 but absorbed into the opera house in the 1990s. A next-door neighbor became an addition, which doesn’t quite fit the program of Grace Church. Still, it offers an idea for how a glass addition could work.

Tietz Dept. Store, in Berlin. (Michael Rouchell Collection)

Tietz Dept. Store, in Berlin. (Michael Rouchell Collection)

Awkward moment in downtown Providence. (Photo by David Brussat)

Awkward moment in downtown Providence. (Photo by David Brussat)

Another idea comes to us from the Tietz Department Store, in Berlin. Completed in 1900, it no longer survives. But this photo does, and while it has little to say about the fate of Grace Church under the shadow of glass, it does suggest an infinitude of possibility that need not bring an air of sterility, or worse, into the makeup of Richard Upjohn’s local masterpiece.

The department store suggests that even the plainest glass, fitted into a well-articulated frame, can prove enchanting. Even a one-story parish hall of glass is not going to be made entirely of glass. So what framing is contemplated? Something as flat and featureless as glass (bless its heart in all other regards) requires, to set off its asceticism, a degree of ornament in the vertical and horizontal framing members that enclose each pane of plate. It needn’t be elaborate but it mustn’t be as plain as the glass itself.

After visiting Grace yesterday I came across the abomination at bottom left, in which a modernist brick building clouts an elegant pediment from an earlier building. The treatment of the glass in the modernist building is precisely what Grace must strive to avoid.

Traditional Building magazine is a treasure trove of companies that provide a more elegant sort of glasswork. Centerbrook Architects, hired by Grace Church, is certainly aware of that. Let us hope the board of directors at the church is aware of it, too. All of the examples cited here are of greater scale than is contemplated for the single-story addition at Grace Church. This means that a new glass parish house in sync with the church’s original design should be affordable.

Below, coming in just before I sent this post, is an amazing building called the Palmenhaus Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria. It is an actual greenhouse, built as part of the Schönbrunn Palace. It was bombed in World War II, rebuilt, and reopened in 1953. Hats off to Seth Holman for sending it to TradArch in the nick of time.

I hope all of this will amount to something interesting to chew on as Grace Church completes its planning for a new parish hall.

Palmenhaus in Vienna, Austria. Hats off to Seth Holman for this photo!

Palmenhaus in Vienna, Austria.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to More grace in glass additions

  1. Pingback: No, not halfway to Houston | Architecture Here and There

  2. mrouchell says:

    I believe the Palmenhaus in Vienna is part of the Hofburg Palace, not Schonbrunn Palace.


    • Perhaps, Michael, but here are the opening lines from Wikipedia: “The Palmenhaus Schönbrunn is a large greenhouse in Vienna, Austria, featuring plants from around the world. It was opened in 1882. It is the most prominent of the four greenhouses in Schönbrunn Palace Park…”


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