Architectural critics have praised the work of architect Frank Furness for years, but those eager to see his designs may not be satisfied because many of his buildings have been torn down. To fill the void, an exhibit on Furness' work opened last week in the Arthur Ross Gallery in the Furness Building, featuring photographs and illustrations of dozens of the architect's designs. The exhibit includes numerous blueprints and photographs of Furness' hospitals, libraries and legislative buildings, as well as articles of furniture he designed. Historic Preservation Lecturer George Thomas, the curator of the exhibit, said the show demonstrates the strengths of Furness' eclectic style, which became a dominant architectural force in Philadelphia in the late 19th century. "Any architecture that makes us look at it is great," Thomas said. "It makes a demand, and we respond to it." Thomas said that the show emphasizes Furness' pursuit of a "naturalistic philosophy" of architecture, in which he bases a building's design on its intended function. The exhibit also shows how Furness' philosophy was put into practice, with examples of his designs of Philadelphia hospitals, schools and railroad stations, such as an intricately detailed model of Broad Street Station, which was demolished in the 1950s. The furniture in the exhibit demonstrates how Furness' doctrine applies to a smaller scale of craftsmanship, and displays some of his humorous tendencies, such as a huge-eyed wooden owl from the trim of a fireplace. Thomas said that many of Furness' buildings went out of style almost immediately after they were built, never gaining artistic acceptance and eventually being demolished, because Furness' European contemporaries perceived his designs as "an affront to their historic attitudes" and were uncomfortable with Furness' "distinctive American architecture." Architecture Professor David De Long, who was chairman of the committee in charge of the restoration of the Furness Building, offered a slightly different reason for the widespread demolition of Furness' buildings in Philadelphia during the 20th century. "People in the '50s had a dim view of 19th century things, and tore down those buildings so they could see the 18th-century architecture around them," De Long said. The exhibit will be open through March 24 in the Arthur Ross Gallery. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.Comments powered by Disqus
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