Frank Furness (1839-1912) has remained a curiosity to architectural historians and critics, somewhere between an icon and an enigma, whose importance and impact have yet to be properly evaluated or appreciated. To some, his work pushed pattern and proportion to extremes, undermining or forcing together the historic styles he referenced in such eclectic buildings as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania Library. To others, he was merely a regional mannerist creating an eccentric personal style that had little resonance and modest influence on the future of architecture. By placing Furness in the industrial culture that supported his work, George Thomas finds a cutting-edge revolutionary who launched the beginnings of modern design, played a key part in its evolution, and whose strategies continue to affect the built world.
In his sweeping reassessment of Furness as an architect of the machine age, Thomas grounds him in Philadelphia, a city led by engineers, industrialists, and businessmen who commissioned the buildings that extended modern design to Chicago, Glasgow, and Berlin. Thomas examines the multiple facets of Victorian Philadelphia's modernity, looking to its eager embrace of innovations in engineering, transportation, technology, and building, and argues that Furness, working for a particular cohort of clients, played a central role in shaping this context. His analyses of the innovative planning, formal, and structural qualities of Furness's major buildings identifies their designs as initiators of a narrative that leads to such more obviously modern figures as Louis Sullivan, William Price, Frank Lloyd Wright and eventually, the architects of the Bauhaus.
Misunderstood and reviled in the traditional architectural centers of New York and Boston, Furness's projects, commissioned by the progressive industrialists of the new machine age, intentionally broke with the historical styles of the past to work in a modern way--from utilizing principles based on logistical planning to incorporating the new materials of the industrial age. Lavishly illustrated, the book includes more than eighty black-and-white and thirty color photographs that highlight the richness of his work and the originality of his design spanning more than forty years.
"Frank Furness's architecture brought together two seemingly opposed realms: one derived from the newly developing industrial machine, the other from nature. There is a fantastical juxtaposition of ferocious hissing, steam-driven piston power coupled with lyrically delicate ornament derived from leaves and stems of plant life (and, almost paradoxically, implanted in stone by the then newly invented steam-powered chisel). George Thomas's book places Furness's architecture in the apocalyptic climax of this moment when nature and industry could be thought of as one organic, dynamic whole."--Turner Brooks, Yale School of Architecture
"By returning Frank Furness to his central position at the birth of Modern architecture in America, George Thomas helps us understand the depth of the American roots of Modernism . . . [and] reminds us of how many significant turning points occurred when insights into contemporary life, culture, and technology became a spring board for creative design. His Modernism--and Frank Furness's--is not merely a theory but a mirror held up to society."--Alan Hess, from the Foreword