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1 Introduction Looking back at the life of Gridley J. F. Bryant (1816–1899) in 1901, his friend Henry Bailey characterized him as “An Architect of the Old School.”1 What Bailey referred to as “old school” was an era of unregulated building, when traditions of craftsmanship were being replaced by products of the machine age. Bryant’s career began in the early nineteenth century, when there were few professional architects. By the time of his death, wellestablished schools, both in the United States and abroad, provided formal training and offered degrees in architecture. The American Institute of Architects was working to establish professional standards that included fee schedules, regulated competitions, and the licensing of architects. By contrast, Bryant typified the unregulated, aggressive practitioner who advanced his career and profession by his own high standards and work ethic in an age of intense competition. Although Bryant was a product of his times, he played a lasting role in shaping the architecture of Boston and New England. Following his death, all six leading Boston dailies featured accounts of his life and career under such headlines as “Great Builder,” “Famed Bostonian,” and “Work Lives”— this despite the fact that much of his architecture was no longer in fashion and he died penniless in an old men’s home.2 For a young man of Bryant’s era the best option available for training was to work in an architect’s office. Typically, young men started out having to pay as students, only later receiving compensation as draftsmen. Alternatively , an aspiring architect might apprentice with a carpenter, housewright , or mason. After learning a trade in the construction industry, anyone could teach himself the rudiments of drafting and declare himself an architect. 2 Introduction As far as is known, Bryant never traveled to Europe. He learned his architectural history from books and from better-educated colleagues, applying ideas to buildings through his grounding in neoclassical design learned from Boston architect Alexander Parris, the city’s leading practitioner after Charles Bulfinch departed for Washington, D.C., in 1818. Parris, who worked in both the Federal and Greek Revival styles, also owned one of the best architectural libraries in Boston. Bryant’s training under Parris was grounded in the traditions of neoclassical architecture, and that influence would always be strongly reflected in his work. But Bryant also learned about building construction from his father, who not only was a mason but also possessed remarkable innovative skills related to his work as a masonry contractor. Gridley J. F. Bryant grew up watching his father work as a builder and could have chosen to continue in that line of employment. Being more ambitious, young Gridley attended the Gardiner Lyceum in Gardiner, Maine, where he received an elementary education in mathematics and engineering before joining Parris. He also took lessons from a Boston artist and lithographer. At age twenty-one, at a time when the country was in an economic depression, Bryant established his own architectural practice in Boston. For Bryant, architecture was above all a business. In his understanding of the commercial aspects of the profession, he was one of the first truly modern architects.3 He recognized that as an advocate for his client, an architect should seek to obtain the best expertise available in the preparation of design solutions and should complete the building as economically as possible, using sound construction practices. Bryant understood that he could best serve a client by ensuring that a building was constructed efficiently and durably. At the same time, Bryant frequently tried to persuade a client to spend more than he might have planned, in the interests of erecting a structure with greater aesthetic value to the community. Much of Bryant’s work was done in collaboration with others. In the early nineteenth century, it was not economical to maintain a large office of draftsmen. The small number of drawings an architect was required to produce did not warrant keeping many paid employees on hand; nor did the uncertainty of being retained for the more time-consuming work of construction supervision. Yet if the architect was to provide a more useful service than simply drawing pretty buildings, it was important to be able to offer a client assurances that his project would be properly constructed according to budget. This was particularly important in an age when new building materials were frequently being introduced as the construction Introduction 3 industry become more industrialized. One solution Bryant devised was to avoid the...


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