Best trad buildings of 2019

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Berlin City Palace: real or Memorex? Men in tan shirts a dead givaway. (apollo-magazine.com)

Compiling the best of the world’s traditional architecture completed in 2019 depends on what the meaning of “completed” is. I had hoped to open this annual post with Berlin’s Baroque-style Stadtschloss (City Palace), built in 1845, damaged by bombs in 1945 and demolished in 1950 by the communists. You can find online articles claiming that it was completed in 2018 and in 2019, but that its “opening” has been postponed until 2020.

Perhaps I am remiss in opening this post with a discussion of a new building (it certainly is that, even if it boasts a prior existence), and one outside of the United States to boot. It seems to have been a very desperate year for new traditional architecture. I have found two (2) new buildings that inarguably were completed in 2019. They will be celebrated below. I’m sure there must be many more unknown to me. [Update: I’ve discovered several more today, so I am not quite as glum as this paragraph suggests.]

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Crown of entrance at Riding Hall in Budapest. (Pinterest)

The indeterminate completion status of the Stadtschloss in Berlin is equivalent to that of another building I would have liked to include in this report. Online articles and recent images of the Riding Hall at the Royal Palace in Budapest were equally if not more uninformative. I had celebrated its ongoing reconstruction in “Rebuilt riding hall in Buda” on the second to the last day of 2018. The hall was obviously not complete, so I omitted it from the best trad buildings in that year’s compilation, posted on Jan. 3. (Hey, there’s an idea! Why not omit this year’s compilation and post it in a few days, next year, in the hope of rustling up news of a few more entries? … No. It would make more sense to omit this shilly-shallying over the definition of completion and, instead, title the post “Only trad buildings of 2019” – except I’m deeply sure that’s not the case.)

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Boch Chapel and Mausoleum, in Norwood, Mass., designed by Eric Daum. (Photo by Eric Daum)

A punctilious classical building I dearly want to include, and insist upon including this year, is the Boch Chapel and Mausoleum by Eric Daum. It was completed in 2018, but I did not find out about it until early this year. I am assured that the furniture was not installed until early this year. That sounds like a perfect definition of completion.

Here is a paragraph from my own description of the building, from “Daum’s lovely domed chapel“:

It may be nearly impossible for any work of classical architecture to avoid commenting on modern architecture in some way. Daum’s inability to resist using the marble columns of the Great Room to make a point is much to his credit. Most observers will not know enough to grasp the point unless they read it in Daum’s description of the building. To explain the meaning of this or that architectural feature in any building may heighten appreciation of its beauty, but such esoteric explanations are not in the least necessary for an observer to feel its beauty. The beauty of the Boch temple speaks for itself and, without necessarily aiming to do so, and whether its architect agrees or not, the temple throws a shad- ow that puts every work of modern architecture into the shade.

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Christ Chapel, Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Mich. (Duncan G. Stroik, Architect)

The largest classical chapel built on a college campus in 70 years is Christ Chapel, at Hillsdale College, which was dedicated on Oct. 3, 2019. Can a building be dedicated before its completion? I shall take the liberty, in this case, of assuming that dedication followed completion. The office of the esteemed architect, Duncan Stroik, celebrated for his focus on ecclesiastical architecture, has been asked to clarify this point – normally a minor one but one that has, for good or ill, taken over as the theme of this compilatory post.

Christ Chapel architect speaks on design process” ran in the student newspaper, The Collegian. The dedicatory remarks were delivered by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Here is some more information about the chapel:

The 1,400-seat Christ Chapel at Hillsdale College boasts the first structural brick dome in North America in 50 years. In the nave, eight load-bearing 17-ton limestone columns support the balconies and the roof. A coffered barrel vault is intersected by transverse arches with the wood railings leading the eye toward the chancel.

Regardless of our assessment of the status of its completion, the chapel’s classical beauty cannot be gainsaid.

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Hotel Bennett, in Charleston, S.C., designed by Fairfax & Sammons. (Charleston Business News)

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Library razed for Hotel Bennett. (charlestondailyphoto.blogspot.com)

Although it was expected to open in 2017, delays in the construction of the Hotel Bennett, in Charleston, S.C., pushed its completion, or at least its opening, to January 2019, thus earning inclusion in this post. Designed by the New York firm of Fairfax & Sammons, it sits on the city’s Marion Square in the long shadow of St. Matthews Lutheran Church (see photo above) and on the original site of a wing of the Citadel military academy. Yet, how pleasing that it was a modernist building, erected in 1960, that was razed to make way for the hotel. A suit by preservationists trying, incomprehensibly, to save the library delayed construction, even though its replacement was to be a classical hotel far more suitable to its location in beautiful Charleston. That history, for those who are aware of it, only adds to the layers of charm that grace this lovely new hotel.

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The Commons, six new residential halls at Villanova University. (Villanova)

As usual, RAMSA, or Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the major designer of traditional work in the United States (and probably the world) has produced a number of traditional buildings that were completed this year. Above are the new residences, six halls called The Commons, at Villanova University, in the town of Villanova, Penn. Last year’s best trads included a delightful pedestrian bridge, also by RAMSA, on the campus. Last year’s best trads also included two buildings in Charleston, S.C., an apartment complex and a commercial office building that, I had thought, could be interpreted as having been completed in 2018. This was Courier Square’s first of three phases. (“Phases” cause headaches for definers of completion!) I am reliably informed that the completion date for both first-phase buildings was 2019.

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Top: 520 Park Ave., NYC. Bottom: One Bennett Park, Chicago.

My informant at RAMSA, Peter Morris Dixon, sent me a list of five buildings designed by his firm and completed this year. His list included Courier Square but not the Commons at Villanova. It also includes two residential towers, one at 520 Park Ave. (64 stories, 35 apartments) in New York City and the other, One Bennett Park (69 stories), in Chicago. Both feature attenuated versions of the classical towers of yore, with syncopated setbacks that narrow either tower as it rises upward, and modest but elegant embellishment centered around the entrance and the roof.

A very elegant golf clubhouse on Kiawah Island, by RAMSA’s Gary Brewer, who designed the splendid Nelson Fitness Center at Brown University several years back, must give way, in this compilation, to work that does not fall into the category of housing for the wealthy (at least the towers are not tucked away out of public view). Its place may be taken by RAMSA’s completion of the three phases of the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, in Athens. A three-phase project – begun in 2012 and, with Phase III, completed in 2019 – is rife with opportunity for those who would toy with the completion status anxiety of your correspondent. But Dixon is incapable of succumbing to the temptation to play such games. Bless his heart.

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Terry College of Business, Phases I-III, 2012-2019. Phase III is at lower right. (RAMSA)

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Walsh Family Hall, the new home of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture. (Notre Dame)

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Bond Hall, lately abandoned for Walsh Family Hall. (Wikipedia)

The British classicist John Simpson was hired by the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame (blessed institution!) to design its new facility, or shall I say campus, which was indubitably “occupied,” that is, completed, in January of 2019. Walsh Family Hall, as it is known, “illustrates the importance,” says Dean Michael Lykoudis, “of unifying old knowledge and new knowledge, and embracing stewardship in the present to ensure that future generations have the same opportunity to flourish.” Notre Dame has the only architecture school at a major university in the United States, and probably the world, to offer a full program in classical architecture. Some graduates of sentimental outlook may regret the school’s departure from Bond Hall (1917), but its new home is more spacious, more expressive of classicism’s principles, and is amply described in a piece in Traditional Building.

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Allow me to stick my neck out and cite a lovely commercial building in Russia. Its completion in 2019, in the city of Saratov (pop. 838,321), I learned about from Michael Diamant, the founder of a marvelous blog called New Traditional Architecture. The architecture firm that did the work, Classico Art, used online voting to choose, in Diamant’s description, “the five famous Saratovians [who] were chosen to have their portraits cast in bronze as figurative detailing on the façade.”

This is the sort of modest, quasi-public building that, if they were suddenly deemed fashionable to produce in similar circumstances (nice background buildings that used to line the streets of most cities and towns worldwide), would, in not too much time, make the globe and its populations much happier and, by some scientific reckoning, much healthier than today.

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Providence has nothing to offer for the “Best trad buildings of 2019,” but next year two buildings from the hand of Buff Chace – winner of a Bulfinch award for patronage – promise to shake our world in 2020. One of them is photographed below.

I end this post with more optimism than when I started it a few days ago. No doubt I could find new traditional buildings in China, but it’s 25 minutes to midnight, and I must join the family downstairs to watch the new year burst upon us through a miasma of glitz. Pray for us all!

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Building under construction on Westminster Street, in Providence.

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I almost forgot to add that I invite anyone who knows of a new traditional building completed this year – oops, I mean last year – that I neglected to include here to send me a word about it and I will add it to this post.

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, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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11 Responses to Best trad buildings of 2019

  1. Well, I know a lot more from Europe 🙂 You can find them in the answer I gave you on Facebook here (https://www.facebook.com/groups/Klassisknyproduktion/permalink/2485426145004561/). Kindly Michael Diamant

    Like

  2. Terry E. Kearns says:

    John Simpson spoke to the ICAA Southeast in 2017 and featured his work Norte Dame. I’m not sure we’re allowed to say this about traditional architecture fans: His talk was thrilling.

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  3. Brian Heller says:

    Thank you, David – and Happy New Year. You just made ours a little happier.

    Brian and Christine Heller

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  4. STEVEN W SEMES says:

    David, Happy New Year! I appreciate your list of 2019 buildings, including our new Walsh Family Hall at Notre Dame, but I am a bit puzzled by your fixation on completion date. It is not unusual for “completion” to be rather hard to define, especially for large, complex projects. In practice, there is a legal and contractual concept of “substantial completion,” but this allows for further work on “punch list” items, and the process of occupying and actually using a building by its intended occupants might stretch further beyond that. For example, furnishing a large building may take months after the “architectural” construction has stopped. My suggestion is to worry less about the actual date of “completion” and simply note buildings that were publicly visible without scaffolding or other obvious evidence of ongoing construction within the calendar year you are celebrating. For those projects that were published, the year of publication might serve as a criterion of “completion.” Somehow, I think getting the news out about distinguished new traditional work is more important that trying to pin down a moving target like “completion.” Best wishes, Steve

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    • You are right, Steve, and I even criticized myself in the post (“It would make more sense to omit this shilly-shallying over the definition of completion …”). In this shilly-shallying there is, I suppose, a desire to cover up my frustration by using it to amuse readers. Fact is, I could start looking for those buildings a lot sooner than I usually do. Completion is indeed a moving target, worthy of being ignored in favor of getting more new trad buildings into the post. Still, although accuracy apparently is no longer a required or even an admired quality of journalism, I am old fashioned and hesitate to include buildings that do not fully satisfy the target, however movable it may be. But yours is sage advice. Having got my frustration out of my system, I will start earlier and avoid shilly-shallying about completion dates in the best trads of 2020!

      Like

  5. Brian Heller says:

    Happy New Year, David.

    Thank you for this glint of optimism.

    Rest assured you are in my prayers along with Providence.

    Brian Heller

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  6. LazyReader says:

    When traditional architecture is looked up and presented today, they assume the Grandiose. The concert halls, the big buildings, etc. THey forget the most built building in America. Small businesses and homes.
    Bevan and Liberatos are a SOuth Carolina based architecture firm, as opposed to the gargantuan and well received they design things based on the Charleston model. Small, homely and amalgamated. Working inside the inner block network. What needs to change is the notion tradiational is the elite. It’s blue collar roots must be extolled and virtue signaled 😛 again

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    • Lazy, I met Jenny and Christopher a few years ago when TradArch held its first annual meeting. They do excellent work, and I hope that if they have completed anything this year that falls outside of the bounds of housing for the wealthy, they will send it to me.

      I’m not sure I understand your point, but if you mean that traditional architecture is only for modest jobs, not major jobs for rich clients (public or private), then I must disagree. It is for both, and in fact trads are kept out of the running for major jobs – so even as they get much work for individual housing (often for the rich), they have a greater need to garner publicity for the few major commissions they do get.

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      • LazyReader says:

        The emphasis should be, that traditional elements need not be expensive. Mass production 100 years ago brought those same embellishments to the working and middle class folk. Look at the cornices and marble steps of baltimore the shotgun houses of the South, etc.

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