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10 May 2013

Emulation: V.1 The Golden City

IN MEMORIAM: Henry Hope Reed, Jr. September 25, 1915 – May 1, 2013

Henry Hope Reed passed away on the first of May, and I wanted to add my voice to the list of those like my colleague Steve Semes, and David Brussat at the Providence Journal, in honoring Henry and what he stood for. Not that I always saw eye to eye with him. When I won my (rare for a classicist) fellowship to the American Academy in Rome (the Steedman Prize, no longer an Academy fellowship, yet won in the old fashioned way, by design competition—but that’s another story), Henry visited me in Philadelphia and encouraged me to do what Rome Prize winners had once done, measured drawings. While I did draw much on site in Rome, I have always believed we best process the lessons of the past when we try to design in the same manner (thus Emulatio…). But I would like to make a case for what Henry represented that I strongly endorse, something slowly withering on the vine of domestic "good taste."

A proposed chapel for the Notre Dame campus, by the author
Henry Hope Reed and Classical America co-founder John Barrington Bayley (who published Letarouilly on Renaissance Rome) advocated the Grand Manner. While this was partly a matter of taste—and a taste for European architecture in particular—it was also civic, and heroic. Henry’s book The Golden City (out of print—it deserves to be republished, and with a courageous foreword!) was not only an argument against Modernism, it was an argument for great architecture—not the merely pleasing, or “traditional”—and for heroic, civic architecture. An architecture of cities more than towns, and certainly more than the private and suburban. An architecture that lifts the spirits out of our value-engineered world, "embellished" in the old sense of making something more beautiful by enriching it. I have long maintained that, for those of us who aspire to doing great architecture, the opportunities are few if any today; but we must at least draw what we want to do, to show the world that it is, in fact, possible. It is only possible if we are capable, and we are only capable if we can prove that we are. Henry was himself highly capable—as advocate, polemicist, and connoisseur—but he was also heroic, urban, and grand in so many ways. He was not risk-averse, but he was prudent in his valuing of the past as a model for the future. Will we see his like again?