Sunday, November 25, 2012

Furness Steel Beam Drawing

Frank Furness is one of the first architects to push the steel beam out of the invisible interiors of engineering and into the public exteriors of architectural expression. In earlier posts, I had began tracing a steel-beam vernacular as it developed in the Philadelphia area, courtesy of Furness's wider influence during the 1870s.

This Thanksgiving, I am incredibly thankful for having seen the earliest graphic manifestation of the marriage between traditional masonry and steel construction. This is a drawing by Frank Furness and George Hewitt of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts building showing a section through the antique galleries. The drawing (no. 1876.6.26) is currently on view at PaFA. It is the Mother Drawing of steel beam vernacular.

My sketch here copies the relevant juncture. Furness used violet to mark the poche of a section, following a Beaux-Arts convention. His choice to demarcate the steel in blue ink, however, is new. One can only speculate on Furness's reasons for blue, but I cannot help to consider the synesthetic connotations of temperature and cold neutrality.

As my collaborators in Greece know, I have also been tracing the emergence of a steel-beam vernacular in the "traditional" architecture of Greece, which I hope to argue was wonderfully receptive of modernity before academic Modernism. There is no causal connection between steel beam vernacular in Philadelphia and rural Greece, but both represent a fascinating and undocumented phenomenon of unofficial integration.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States