"Inventing Architectural Identity: The Institutional Architecture of James Renwick, Jr., 1818-95"

Genau, Nicholas, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

James Renwick, Jr. (1818-95) ranks among the most influential architects in the history of American architecture. Throughout his proficient career, Renwick designed some of the most recognizable urban monuments and complexes while exhibiting great fluency in historical modes and modern methods of design. The architect’s work, indeed, established lasting models of various building types and institutions, which directed how contemporaries viewed certain institutional spaces through their enduring designs.

Renwick’s overall corpus embodies the architectural mosaic of late-nineteenth-century America, especially through its embrace of the period’s most fundamental cultural and societal developments. The myriad of building types in which Renwick showed proficiency in design, moreover, enhances even further his overall contribution to the urban landscape of his time. This dissertation shows how Renwick gave architectural image to a number of unprecedented building types in America, which still emerge as foundational models for historical conception and modern design.

Following a chapter that offers a survey of Renwick’s career, including discussion of his upbringing and education, the study examines a selection of the architect’s institutional design. First, it deals with St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its role as an icon of Catholicism in the United States. Next, this study analyses Renwick’s museum designs, which include the Smithsonian Institution and Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., whose unique architecture embodies the concept of cultural control within the museum setting. Lastly, Renwick’s health-care buildings on Blackwell’s Island, New York City will be discussed as major contributions to the fledgling practices of medicine and reform in nineteenth-century America.

This dissertation presents the first major study on James Renwick, Jr., whose prolific career will emerge not only as representative of contemporary trends, but also as foundational to the formation of the architectural legacies of numerous institutions that play a major role in the social, religious, and cultural climate of nineteenth-century America.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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