Henry Hobson Richardson uses strength and materiality to convey a sense of place. His architecture is full of meaning. A particular favorite of mine is the Ames Gate Lodge in North Easton, Massachusetts, built around 1880. It is the entry structure for an estate belonging to the son of the president of the Transcontinental Railway. The Gate Lodge uses form and materials to conjure images of Massachusetts, the railroad and America.
The massive rubble stones evoke the image of the walls that divide New England farm fields, but in a more primordial way. It has permanence, almost as though it had been deposited there eons ago.
The arch, reminiscent of the many Roman arches he studied in France is simply a railroad tunnel. But it’s not just a railroad tunnel. The way that it pushes back against the immense walls gives it muscularity. The arch, as powerful as it is, would not create such emotional impact without one thoughtful detail; the eyelid dormer. It gives us the impression that the arch is not only pushing up on the mass of the building, but pressing through it. It breathes life into the building. The arch and dormer rise up as though the building is shouldering the weight of time. Richardson brings life to buildings through materials like no other architect.
It is the combination of mass, rugged texture and muscularity that bring us the image of America. The building symbolizes America’s view of itself at the time; a wealth of raw, natural resources and potential energy.