Leopold Eidlitz and the architecture of nineteenth century America
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This dissertation examines for the first time the theory and practice of American architect Leopold Eidlitz (1823-1908) and his role in the creation of the American architectural profession. Though Eidlitz is now virtually forgotten, during the fifty years of his practice (1843-1897) he was both vocal and influential in his attempts to raise the standards of American architectural practice, education, and taste. Unlike his early mentor, Richard Upjohn, Eidlitz was not a historicist interested in reconstructing the architecture of the past. Instead Eidlitz (who was Jewish, born in Prague, and educated in Prague and Vienna) was a proto-functionalist who manipulated form and space in strikingly original ways. He synthesized the latest developments in England and Germany, including the theory of the Rundbogenstil and the Gothic Revival, to create an organic architecture that fused structure and ornament. Despite and perhaps because of the originality of his endeavors, Eidlitz was misunderstood and marginalized by his peers in New York. Eidlitz was a founding member of the American Institute of Architects in 1857, but his strong opinions about the ethics and aesthetics of architecture brought frequent disagreements with the mainstream of the profession, as embodied by Richard Morris Hunt and his atelier. These conflicts centered on differing visions of style, technology, architectural education, and the social role of architecture, and they culminated in a bitter and protracted debate over Eidlitz’s designs for the New York state capitol at Albany (1875-83). By analyzing these professional conflicts, his theory, and his remarkable Gothic- and Romanesque-inflected designs, I recast the accepted story of nineteenth century American architecture and show that the push toward an appropriately American architecture, one that was organic and functional, actually began well before the Civil War. Though by the end of the nineteenth century New York’s most powerful Beaux-Arts practitioners either ignored his accomplishments or dismissed him as an outmoded revivalist, Eidlitz was in fact a major figure in the formation of an independent American architecture that was later taken up in the 1880s by John Wellborn Root, Louis Sullivan, and the architects of the Chicago School.