Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Frank Furness, Architect of Penn's Fisher Fine Arts Library

Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library
(Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Link to November 14 Wall Street Journal article, "This Library Speaks Volumes: Frank Furness treated reading as an active enterprise". (via Lazyfeed)

Excerpt: It is hard to imagine an architect of libraries (of which he designed half a dozen) less bookish than Furness. His entire life seems a sustained effort to evade books altogether, no easy feat in his extraordinarily literary family. His father was the Rev. William Henry Furness, Philadelphia's celebrated Unitarian minister, who wrote a score of books and seemed unable to go from breakfast to dinner without writing at least a small pamphlet. Frank's brother Horace Howard Furness spent his life producing the mighty Shakespeare Variorum, a guide to every variant edition of Shakespeare's plays. Even his sister Annis translated German poetry into English, evidently for relaxation.

But young Frank shunned reading for more physical pursuits, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War for his battlefield exploits. When he began to practice architecture after the war, he had no patience for designers who took their inspiration from books. An awestruck Louis Sullivan, who began his own career as a draftsman for Furness, noted how he made his buildings "out of his head." Another draftsman observed that the only book Furness ever praised was Viollet-le-Duc's richly illustrated Dictionnaire RaisonnĂ© de l'Architecture. (With characteristic perversity, Furness—who had no French—cited the one book he was unable to read.)

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