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Friday, December 8, 2017

Gridley J. F. Bryant

Boston's old City Hall, designed by Gridley Bryant in 1860-65.
Boston's Old City Hall,
Gridley Bryant 1860-65.
Depending upon the size of the firm, today the role of architect, like that of virtually every other profession, has changed drastically in the past two-hundred years. Today, ar-chitects deal one-on-one with clients, sometimes even whole committees of clients. Then they retire to some quiet stu-dio/office and conceptualize, putting ideas and solutions to problems down on pa-per to present to the decision making clients for approval. In some cases, where there is a formal competition for the job, all such work is done on specu-lation. Once the concept has been revised, and approved, a team of draftsmen, designers, and engineers is formed with the initial architect becomes the principal architect responsible for coordinating the group through the remaining design stages, the cost analysis, con-tracting, and supervising all phases of construction and interior design until the project reaches completion, sometimes several years later.
Broadway Savings Bank in South Boston, 1833, Gridley Bryant's first major structure.
Two-hundred years ago, the role of an architect was much broader and a good deal simpler. Although architectural firms were coming into existence, very often the principal architect was something of a one-man-band, seeking commissions, making proposals, drawing up plans, selling them to the client then singlehandedly shepherding the project though to completion. That's not to say others weren't involved. Some architects were not structural engineers, others utilized the services of a whole stable of draftsmen (before the days of copying machines) while in other cases the principal architect would consult with others for both the interior and exterior design details. That was the world Gridley J.F. Bryant was born into two hundred years ago in 1816.
An Architect of the Old School.
Gridley Bryant was born in Boston, his mother was Maria Winship Fox, his father Gridley Bryant, a noted railway pioneer, in Scituate, Massachusetts. In his youth he moved to Gardiner, Maine, and attended the Garrdiner Lyceum for his secondary education. He studied mathematics and engineering there before leaving to join his father's engineering office. He also interned with local lithographers and artists to experiment with design and artistic manipulation Later, Bryant apprenticed with engineers before opening his own architecture practice in 1837. He was but twenty-one years old.
Bigelow Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA.

Washington Tower, Mt. Auburn
Cemetery, Gridley Bryant
Working alone and collaboratively, Bryant designed numerous public, commercial and residential buildings throughout New England where he became closely identified with the Boston Granite Style. Partnering with Arthur Gilman, Bryant designed Boston's Old City Hall, built between 1860 and 1865. He was also the principal architect for the Hort-icultural Hall, built in 1865, for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Other notable works includes the Suffolk County Jail dating from 1848 to 1851, the Mercantile Wharf Build-ing in 1857, the Boston City Hospital in 1864, along with several houses in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. At Mount Auburn Cemetery, Bryant worked with Jacob Bigelow to design two signature buildings, The Bigelow Chapel, in 1845, and The Washing-ton Tower (above, right), 1852-1854. The Tower was sited 125 feet above the Charles River, atop the highest point in the Cemetery, Mount Auburn. At 62-feet tall, it serves as both a landmark, visible from the surrounding neighborhoods and as a vantage point, with views from its observation deck of the cemetery below, Cambridge, Boston, the Charles River, and beyond.

1-2-3 Arlington, Boston, Gridley J. F. Bryant
Gridley J. F. Bryant grew up in a world of granite construction. Although brick was the predominant building material used in Boston, major architectural landmarks erected after Bryant’s birth in 1816 were often built of granite derived from regional quarries. The architect’s father worked as a mason and constructed many of these buildings. Indeed, the elder Bryant was best known as the inventor of mechanisms and devices to transport and manipulate the heavy stone used in construction. His most famous accomplishment, the “Granite Railroad” in Quincy. Arlington 1-2-3 (above) were designed to give the appearance of one large, monumental building, in the French Academic style popular in Paris during the 1850s and 1860s.  Arlington 2 (the middle house) is recessed slightly further back from the street than the two flanking houses, whose mansard roofs project outwards slightly to frame it. As originally designed, there was a five foot wide passageway at the rear of 2 and 3 Arlington, running parallel to Arlington and underneath the rear ells, to provide access to the alley for all three houses.

The Quincy Market, 1925, Alexander Parris with the "help" of Gridley Bryant (doubtful, in that he wasn't even living in Boston at the time).
By the time Boston was incorporated as a city in 1822, downtown commercial demand had grown beyond the capacity of Faneuil Hall. To provide an expansion of shop space Quincy Market was built, as an indoor pavilion of vendor stalls. Designed by Alexander Parris, and according to tradition, with the help of his protégé Gridley Bryant in 1825. The latter claim is doubtful. Bryant would have been just nine years old at the time (maybe he worked sharpening pencils). Quincy Market was built immediately east of and "behind" Faneuil Hall which at the time sat next to the waterfront at the town dock. In an early example of Boston's tendency toward territorial growth via landfill, not to mention employing school boys as "architects," part of the harbor was filled in to extend a plot of land for the market.

The Charles Street Jail before repurposing.
From a social point of view, one of Bryant's most important and enduring structures was his design of Boston's Charles Street Jail complex (above). The jail was constructed between 1848 and 1851 to plans drawn by Bryant and the advice of prison reformer, Rev. Louis Dwight, who designed it according to the 1790s humanitarian scheme pioneered in England known as the Auburn Plan. The original jail was built in the form of a cross with four wings of Quincy granite extending from a central, octagonal rotunda with a 90-foot-tall (27 m) atrium. The wings allowed segregation of prisoners by sex and category of offense, and thirty arched windows, each 33 feet high, provided ventilation and natural light. The original jail contained 220 granite cells, each 8 by 10 feet (2.4 m × 3.0 m), which was state-of-the-art penal standards at the time. The jail served its purpose for more than a century, closed in 1990 due to overcrowding. The prisoners were moved to newer facilities while the jail was refurbished and reopened in 2007 as a 300-room luxury. The Liberty Hotel (below), as it is now known, has retained much of the historic structure, including the famed rotunda.

I wonder if they still have guards.


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