Monday, January 03, 2011

Ethan Anthony: Learning from Ralph Adams Cram

Ethan Anthony, the president of Cram and Ferguson Architects of Boston, MA. (see our 2009 interview with him), recently published an article in the December 2010 edition of Traditional Building, Learning from Ralph Adams Cram.

Here is an excerpt:

Ralph Adams Cram yearned for a philosophical and learned approach to architecture. Reading in his father William's study in the parsonage of the First Unitarian church in Westford, MA, talking with the men of his extended family as they made shoes in a little shed on his family farm through the long New England winters in Hampton, NH, or practicing French in the one-room school house where he was taught by his mother, Sarah Blake Cram, he was inducted into an intellectual way of life.

Intellectual curiosity led him when he was at last on his own as a young architectural apprentice at the firm of Roach and Tilden in Boston, to yearn for an architecture that was more than mere slavish copy of a master work. He sought an architecture that had an inner spirit. And having found that inner spirit most powerfully resident in religious architecture he sought to design churches.

Through designing churches, Cram hoped to change his society. Early on, he hoped to improve the artistic impulse of the people, to educate the public through his position as a crusading art critic for the Boston Transcript and thus to create a climate where inferior art would be shunned in favor of more sophisticated and more intellectual work.


He soon found ample opportunity for crusading in his architecture. From the first, he criticized the architecture around him, even holding it up to ridicule in his books. But for the most part, he concentrated on setting a good example through his own work. His ideal world was one where public life centered on spiritual fulfillment and religious worship. He planned and designed his academies and colleges always placing the chapel at the center of campus life and always finding his starting point in the master works of other eras whose values he sought to emulate

You can read the entire article at Traditional Building.

[On a separate but related note, this same issue also has a review of Denis McNamara's work, Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy.]

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