Dell Upton is a historian and renowned professor of architecture and Urbanism at the University of California. He has published several books on architecture; one of them is “Architecture in the United States”, published in 1998. In this book, Upton analyzes the architecture of the United States in different aspects, such as nature, money and art, thus depicting the great variety in architectural forms, and how throughout the decades, different interests have lead communities to different ways of building, different purposes and materials, thus reflecting their way of thinking and their relationship with the environment. By exploring so many different architectural styles, Upton reveals the great diversity and richness that has always, and continues to characterize American architecture.
For Upton, “architecture is an art of social story telling, a means for shaping American society and culture...” (11), and it is up to the historian to choose which of many possible stories to tell. In his approach, he refused a chronological order and relied instead on five thematic structures: community, nature, technology, money and art. In the very first chapter, Upton introduces the symbol of the house in the United States; it represents the American dream and the concept of social mobility. He analyzes one of the most famous houses: Monticello, designed by Thomas Jefferson. In describing how this house served as a home for not only family members and numerous visitors, but for slaves as well, Upton proposes that Jefferson “organized Monticello to convey his sense of himself as the patriarch at the centre of his universe” (28).
In the Community chapter, Upton studies how the architecture of societies has represented the Americans through time. It starts with the Declaration of Independence, the development of the inner cities as well as the establishment of their respective grid. It also studies Native American architecture, dwellings, and the ceremonial mounds that were an integral part of the community at the time. Furthermore, it follows the development and growth of a nation with the creation of buildings such as the Capitol. It also explores the different revivals throughout history of styles such as colonial and Chinese. By analyzing a community’s architecture we are able to see their interests and beliefs, which dramatically changed towards the nineteenth century, with the construction of buildings such as The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, libraries and monuments which were more of an embellishment.
The Seventh Regiment Armory building is a good fit for this chapter because it was built in Gothic Revival Style with a very specific purpose: military facility, yet it also comprises extensive embellishments. It is a historic building located on Park Avenue, designed by architect Charles Clinton and completed in 1881, with “decorative sensibilities of the Aesthetic Movement and woodwork mostly in the Renaissance Revival style” (Seventh...