The Architectural Scheme

By John M. Carrere
Chairman Board of Architects

It is interesting, in comparing the last great exposition, held in Paris, with the first exposition, held in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, just fifty years ago, to note the marked development of the exposition idea in all its features. The growing importance of expositions is apparent in their size and in the number of their exhibits, which can now be assembled with comparative ease from all parts of the world. It has also been possible, as demonstrated in Paris, to develop the educational idea to the highest extent, and to illustrate very completely in each branch of exhibits the historical sequence of the development of the special industry, craft, or art in all countries.

Notwithstanding the magnificence and far-reaching industrial and commercial results of recent expositions, no feature has assumed greater importance or is now better recognized as an essential factor in the success of every exposition than the development of the artistic treatment of the grounds and buildings, that is the architectural setting of the Exposition. The great extent of expositions and the rapidity with which the buildings must be erected has led to the use of inexpensive materials, such as wood and plaster, which can be readily handled and made to express the artist's conception without regard to permanency.

The Point of View of the Exposition Architects

The question of permanency in scheme and treatment has been an interesting one, and the great pliability of the materials used has led the designers of expositions in Europe and in America to work from totally different points of view. The European has invariably attempted to express the temporary character of the Exposition in his designs. The American, on the contrary, has made every endeavor to impress his expositions with the character of permanency and reality. Both points of view are interesting and reasonable when properly applied, and undoubtedly the object-lesson of the Chicago Exposition was timely and beneficial.

The European, surrounded as he is by many fine examples of great architectural compositions and with many opportunities of executing extensive permanent schemes even to-day, would hardly be interested in producing in temporary materials, on a larger scale, perhaps, compositions of the character of Versailles, the Place de la Concorde, and other great monumental ensembles, as was done in Chicago. He could never expect to equal, much less surpass, the beauty of these permanent structures, built with great care and after much deliberation and study, the interest of which has been enhanced by the mellowing effect of time and the development and growth of their surroundings. He looks upon an exposition as an opportunity for artistic experiment and the execution, in temporary materials, of every dream of his imagination, no matter how fantastic. The fact that these experiments are temporary encourages him to dare, and one single great success justifies, in his eyes, the entire experiment. He dares to do in an exposition, and is allowed to do, what no sensible person would think of attempting in permanent form. In the American's case the conditions are entirely different - he must educate his artists and the public. He must create permanent works of art before he can afford such flights of imagination as the French indulge in.

The importance of the architectural setting of expositions becomes even greater when the matter is considered from the American's point of view. The Philadelphia Exposition, though it taught no special lesson, exercised, perhaps, in a general way as great an influence upon the arts and manufactures of the country as did the Chicago Exposition; but it did not make the same impression upon the public mind, because its setting was much less impressive than that at Chicago, which presented a magnificent ensemble of monumental buildings of classic style, severe and imposing, almost solemn in their appearance and at a most impressive scale. To most visitors this impression was entirely novel and lasting. It was a lesson which has already awakened in this country a better understanding and appreciation of monumental architecture and a broader interest in art.

At Buffalo, the Board of Architects of the Pan-American Exposition, with a full realization of the importance of the task imposed upon them and with the desire to avoid reminiscences of the Chicago Exposition, decided that the purpose of the setting of this Exposition should be to develop a picturesque ensemble on a formal ground plan, introducing architecture, sculpture, and painting as allied arts. They did not wish to go as far as the French in expressing the temporary character of their buildings, nor, on the other hand, to the other extreme as in Chicago, and yet it seemed essential to retain the balance and sympathy which are necessary in all artistic compositions. The adoption of a scheme entirely formal in its plan with well-balanced masses, but with absolute freedom in the development of the individual feature within these given lines, seemed not only a reasonable compromise with the two points of view previously mentioned, but also full of possibilities, for, without restraining the imagination it would tend to keep it within reasonable bounds and to make the Exposition more real in its application to the conditions of design in real life.

The very spirit of American planning on a large scale has heretofore been not only symmetrical, but even monotonously so, as is illustrated in almost every city of this country. The work of the future must be influenced by existing conditions which are beyond our control except in so far as we may modify or improve them - for we cannot eliminate them. It was therefore hoped that the attempt to combine the picturesque with the formal and to introduce decorative sculpture and color as factors of the design might be as suggestive in its way and as far reaching in its influence as the lesson taught at Chicago.

It would have been even finer if the Board of Architects could have gone a step farther in their object-lesson and designed a scheme of which at least the main features of the architectural composition could have remained as a permanent improvement in the locality. A few detached features or buildings always remain to testify to the beauty of an exposition, the greater part of which passes away and becomes but a memory. How much finer if the whole scheme could remain so that when the temporary buildings are removed their places might be taken gradually by permanent buildings, different in character, it is true, but with the proper setting. One can almost conceive the growth of an American Champs Elysees, with its Triumphal Arch at one end and its Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries at the other! Could anything be finer than to use an exposition as a means of obtaining permanent improvements of this magnitude; and is not, after all, an exhibition the only way in which we can ever expect to obtain any such results? Let us hope that it will be possible to conceive the next one on these lines.

The Method Employed in Buffalo

The designing of the Pan-American Exposition was entrusted to a Board of eight architects, who, after examining the site and studying the problem in all of its bearings, decided on the general features of the block plan in joint conference, and determined, in a general way, the character of the Exposition and the underlying principles which should influence its development. The subdivision of the work and the allotment to the individual architects was reserved until all matters of general interest had been determined and agreed upon. The main points decided by the Board, as already stated, were that the Exposition should be formal in plan and picturesque in development, and that the style of the buildings should be of the Free Renaissance; that apparent roofs with overhanging eaves should be used in preference to flat roofs with cornices and balustrades; that color and decorative sculpture should be introduced freely into the treatment of the buildings, and that the character of the Exposition should be as gay and festive as possible, so that it would be a holiday affair.

The work was then subdivided into eight parcels and allotted to the different architects constituting the Board, as follows:

R. S. Peabody, Peabody & Steams, Boston, Mass, Horticultural Building Forestry Building and Graphic Arts Building

James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect United States, ex-officio member of Board, United States Government Building.

George Cary, Buffalo, N. Y., Ethnological Building.

 August Esenwein ,  Esenwein & Johnson, Buffalo, N. Y., Temple of Music.

Edward B. Green, Green & Wicks, Buffalo, N. Y.,  Electricity Building and Machinery Building.

George F. Shepley, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, Boston, Mass., Liberal Arts Building and Agricultural Building

John G. Howard, New York, Electric  Tower

Walter Cook, Babb, Cook & Willard, New York, Treatment of Plaza and the entrance to the Midway, the Propylaea, entrance to the Stadium, and the Stadium.

John M. Carrere, Chairman, Board of Architects, and William Welles Bosworth, Associated, Carrere & Hastings, New York, Development of the Block Plan and the complete treatment of the grounds and all features thereof other than the buildings above referred to.

It was decided to resume the meetings of the Board from time to time in order to harmonize the work of the different architects and in order that all important questions should be decided by the whole Board, and not by any individual. Later Mr. Karl Bitter, as Director of Sculpture, and Mr. C. Y. Turner, as Director of Color, were made members of the Board, each having charge of his special department in consultation with the Board; the Building and Grounds Committee and, at times, the Executive Committee participated in these deliberations.

In selecting the Board of Architects the Building Committee evidently had in mind the record of the architects and their ability to perform this particular work; but they were specially fortunate in selecting eight men whose views could be harmonized and who could work together in a spirit of emulation rather than of competition. This was an important factor to be considered in the success of the scheme, because, having decided on the formal plan picturesquely developed, the difficulty of maintaining the general harmony in the execution of the design was greater than at Chicago, For instance, where the formality was carried into the buildings as well as into the scheme.

In passing judgment upon the work of the Board it is necessary to bear in mind that the object throughout has been to develop the greatest possible harmony in the general effect at the expense, when necessary, of individual preferences or even of the excellence of any single work. Each individual work must, of course, be judged on its own merits, but it must be considered first of all in its relation to the whole, because no man was allowed entire freedom and every one was more or less obliged to curb his imagination and to hold himself in hand for the sake of the general result.

The Scheme

The site had been selected by a Special Committee, and when the Board of Architects came into existence they found the general conditions already established. The site in itself offered no features which were characteristic of the city of Buffalo or of the locality, such as a site along the lake-front might have given, and there was the danger, on this account, that the Exposition might be lacking in local individuality. The plateau was perfectly level, virtually a vacant lot, without any commanding feature excepting a solitary row of poplars along Amherst Street and proximity to the Park, one of the most beautiful creations of Frederick Law Olmsted, and approached from the city through Delaware Avenue, which thus brought the city and the site together in a most attractive manner.

It was apparent that the Exposition must be strongly influenced by its proximity to the Park; but, as it was out of the question to alter the Park, even to the extent of removing any great number of its beautiful trees, and it was therefore impossible to extend the Exposition into the Park, it was decided to extend the Park into the Exposition, and to obtain a gradual transition from the natural scenery of the Park, which was not to be disturbed, into the formal setting of the Exposition, and thus to make them part of each other.

The relatively limited area of the grounds made it practicable to avoid the difficulty encountered in the designing of most expositions where a beautiful setting or picture, which should have a principal point of view from which it is intended to be first seen, is approached from other sides so that the intended first impression, which is always the most lasting, is frequently entirely missed. It was possible to paint this picture at Buffalo with a definite view point, placed at the Triumphal Bridge, and to make the principal approach through the Park, so that the spectator, as he approaches the Exposition, will see it develop gradually until he reaches the Bridge, when the entire picture will appear before him and almost burst upon him.

Other minor entrances had to be provided, the most important one at the north for the railroad, and yet the view of the Exposition as the visitor approaches it from the north will be nearly as complete as the main view from the causeway. The travel by street-cars necessitated an entrance at Elmwood Avenue, but every inducement is here offered the visitor to travel along the Park line to the Bridge, rather than in other directions, so that it can be said that this Exposition has but one entrance, and that the great majority of visitors will certainly approach it for the first time through that entrance. This important feature having been determined, the scheme developed gradually on very simple lines. The main axis had to be north and south; around this axis were grouped the secondary axes. The first important one, the Axis of the Esplanade, with its curved ends and its background of buildings, its Pergola on the south facing the lake gradually leading into the natural landscape of the Park; farther north, Amherst Street with the row of poplars, which has been maintained and made a part of the scheme. The buildings were grouped around this main axis on secondary axes, but in each instance the symmetry was preserved, not only in the ground plan, but in the importance of the buildings and their corresponding masses.

The Electric Tower was placed at the apex of the composition, and early in the proceedings it was decided that it should be the most conspicuous and highest feature. The general height of the other buildings in their relation to each other and to the Electric Tower was also determined on symmetrical lines, and here the visitor will see what is meant by “formality picturesquely developed" when looking at the attempt to balance two buildings as totally different in character, purpose, and design as the Horticultural Building on the one side of the Esplanade and the Government Building on the other, or the Electricity and Manufactures Buildings on the one side of the main axis and the Liberal Arts and the Agricultural Buildings on the other.

In order clearly to define the importance of this architectural setting, and also to make room for the numerous secondary buildings and side-shows, which could not well be brought into harmony with this main part of the composition, the very interesting feature of the canal was adopted at the suggestion of the laymen of the Board. This canal places the main part of the scheme within well-defined and formal limits and permits of all the more freedom beyond its boundaries. It is the means of separating the discordant elements of the scheme and yet of harmonizing them.

It was necessary on arriving by rail on the north, to approach the composition somewhat gradually, and, for this reason, the Plaza was introduced and treated as a small Court of Honor. Being such a distinctive feature of the Exposition, when looked at as a whole, it was thought advisable that its development with the Stadium on one side, the Midway Plaisance on the other, and the Propylaea as the final line of demarcation of the Exposition, should be treated as a whole; for this reason the Plaza, with its surrounding buildings, was allotted to one architect. It is the only feature of the grounds which was thus treated independently from the general development of the grounds and landscape work.

The Landscape Theme

The detailed treatment of the grounds should be considered not only as individual features which may interest the visitor, but in its relation, to the general scheme and to each building. It is intended to harmonize the ensemble and to bring the buildings into proper relation with each other. Each part of the landscape work is studied not only as a setting for the building adjacent to it, but also to form a continuous and uninterrupted scheme, tying the whole composition together, accentuating its principal features, enhancing the salient characteristics of the individual buildings, giving accent and adding color to the perspective, and maintaining the scale of the whole scheme.

The Relation of the Sculpture to the Plan

The sculpture, which is a most important feature of the grounds, cannot be properly judged and appreciated unless it is considered not only as individual works of art, but also as a decorative feature forming a part of the entire artistic scheme of the composition. In the study of the landscape work, the placing of the sculpture, its general character and mass, were carefully considered from its very inception, and it was in no case purely accidental. It was intended that the general treatment of the grounds should suggest the necessity for sculpture at the different points where it has been placed, and that, in turn, the sculpture should be so designed as to belong clearly to the place where it is set. This has been carried so far that the story which the sculpture tells is intended to be a continuous tale in itself; nevertheless the special subject of each piece has direct relation to its immediate surroundings.

The Color Treatment

The color treatment of the Pan-American Exposition does not mean only the paint which is applied to the surfaces of the buildings, the bunting, and other brilliant spots, but it means what the artist calls color, the play of light and shade, form, outline, proportion, as well as actual color, all blending or contrasting with each other, as the case may require, and producing an artistic effect from whatever point one may look at the Exposition, like a well-composed landscape, of which, in this case, architecture, sculpture, and painting, as well as nature, are component parts.

The Scale

In conclusion, one of the most important factors in the harmony of the entire artistic composition, which are generally felt but not understood by the layman, is what the artist calls  “scale," by which is meant the proper proportion of detail to the masses, and the proper relation of these masses to each other and of the whole to the human stature, so that each building may look its actual size, and each part of the building may in turn bear its proper relation to that size. It must be apparent to anyone that to maintain the scale in a composition of this character, conceived, studied, and executed in a very short space of time, under the most difficult conditions and by different architects, constitutes a real difficulty, and yet the entire harmony of the composition, from the artistic point of view, would suffer in no case more than in the lack of scale. For this reason the main effort of the Board of Architects has been to maintain this scale in every part of the composition, whether in the buildings, the grounds, the sculpture, or the color.

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