Nashua, New Hampshire is the town I live in. Most days I drive past the old library – the Hunt Memorial Library – and always notice the proportions of its design. I am teaching a class at Thomas More College (which is in nearby Merrimack, NH) at the moment on traditional ideas of harmonious proportion and how they have been used (or ignored) in architecture over the centuries from ancient Greece up to the present day. We are studying original architectural sources such as the Roman architect, Vitruvius; and Alberti from the High Renaissance; and writings on proportion and harmony that influenced architecture such as De Musica and De Arithmetica by Boethius. As an exercise, we will take a walk down the main street of Nashua and consider how these shops, banks and offices incorporate proportion, or not. the main street is a mixture of late 19th century and early 20th century, where architects use traditional proportion in some way; and more recent where it is ignored. I am trying to train the students to be able to recognise and will challenge them to consider how those modern buildings might be improved by the addition of proportion.
As part of my research for this, I recently discovered that the old library is listed on the national register of buildings in the US and was designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram. The building was completed in 1903 and this style is neo-gothic described as ‘Elizabethan Gothic’. Notice how Cram has used white stone, inlaid into the brickwork, to break up the verticals into different sized portions. This is most obvious in the corner tower in which there is a clear rhythmical progression as each successive layer gets smaller.
Cram was a very well known architect who designed much of the Princeton University campus, Rice Univerisity campus in Texas and the cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City. Here however I feature far less grand buildings – this town library and an apartment block in Brookline, a suburb of Boston. These demonstrate, I feel, that is possible to bring the same grace and beauty into the ordinary buildings of everyday living as it is the great showcase buildings of our cities and universities.
and now Richmond Court. This is earlier, dating from about 1890
The old library building ceased to be used as a library in 1971. Without further comment except to say that I include the following by way of contrast, here is the current Nashua library….