Architectural Praise

“The Golden Arches of Old Allegheny are actually brick: they form the magnificent triple-arch entranceway to the Henry Hobson Richardson masterpiece, Emmanuel Episcopal Church.”
~ Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr., Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

“Although it is very small and simple, it is certainly one of Richardson’s best later works.”
~ Henry-Russell Hitchcock, The Architecture of H.H. Richardson and His Times (1936).

“Richardson here ignored the two venerable crutches of American church design—the spire and the transept—and conceived Emmanuel with nothing more than the vividness of the brickwork and the power of a severe triangular gable set low on an arched and battered base. The brickwork designs are richer than any Richardson had designed before, which shows his trust in the skilled Pittsburgh laborers who executed them.
To the shape, texture, and color of the exterior shell Richardson added his expertise at rhythmic groupings, so that the interior of the church, with its three bays demarcated by laminated wood arches, is perfectly expressed in the one-over-three rhythm of the exterior windows. Entering this dynamic space, the worshipper feels enwrapped in a spiritual cocoon.”
~ Franklin Toker, Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait (1986)

“Massive and rugged, Emmanuel Episcopal Church lifts its great gable, its dramatic roof, against the industrial sky of Pittsburgh—a memorial to certain immemorial usages in architecture and a portent of the structural climate of our own day. Medieval builders might have rejoiced in its rigorous honesty, its forthright functional rigour, and modern church builders will find it no less interesting. The architect of the mid-twentieth century is hereby invited to inspect its history, its sinew and its enduring bone.fchrch2This largely unadorned structure has an elemental grandeur, a monumental simplicity, which was not eminently characteristic of the Eclectic age which produced it but which today commends it highly to the modern aesthetic view. Beyond Fashion and beyond the caprices of the changing stylistic seasons, it seems to possess a curious timeless serenity, more than a hint of architectural immortality.

The basic form of Emmanuel is as architecturally elemental as a hill or mountain; it has the inevitable taken-for-granted quality of a natural object. One has the sense that it may be, in a solid terrestrial way, that “house not made with hands” of which St. Paul spoke, for it appears not so much to have been built as to have emerged from the earth on which it stands.

Emmanuel is often called the “bake oven” church, and this homely simile, this likening of the building to such an ancient and common object of use, underscores again the elemental nature of the work. No matter how Emmanuel may look to us—like a hill or an oven or even a loaf of bread—it speaks insistently of the earth and the ultimate simplicities of life.

The heirs and assigns of the Vestrymen, the good burghers of the ‘Eighties, who built Emmanuel have long since fled to the suburbs, and their Eclectic mansions now crumble in the stagnant streets. Commerce and light industry have eaten up many of these fugitive domestic castles, so that Victorian decay and the harshest of modernity now ring the church around. But Emmanuel, an indissoluble tabernacle, still sits calmly in the inter-determinate streets, and—like a hill or an oven or a loaf of solid bread—it seems to exist beyond the vagaries of our changing city in this our uncertain season. For Henry Hobson Richardson, it is not the least memorial to his talent and for us it remains an embodiment and a reminder of eternal architectural verities.”
~ James D. Van Trump, “The Church Beyond Fashion,” Charette, April, 1958.

“Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”
     ~ Proverbs 22:28