May 01: how to become an architect, by A. J. Davis

2012/05/01 § 4 Comments

During this month in 1831 Alexander Jackson Davis officially started his professional career in architecture.

Less-well known than other antebellum architects in America, Davis (1803-92) was one of the most famous among his contemporaries.  He was one of the partners of the first architectural firm in the US.  He worked on major public buildings, including the Patent Office in Washington, the Custom House in New York and North Carolina’s State House.  He published successful books starting with Rural Residences, which helped to popularize Picturesque styles for homes across America.  He was a founding member of the American Institute of Architects.  His practice was wide-reaching; Davis was truly an American architect on a broad national stage.

But to his understanding, none of these achievements made the distinction between amateur hour and professional status.  Town and Davis dated from the 1820s, the federal work in the 1830s; his own career as an author also dates to the mid-1830s; the AIA didn’t come about until the late 1850s.  Neither business arrangement nor building commission nor professional organization membership defined “architect” to Davis.  What did made him an architect?  A book.  In particular, a book about ancient Greek architecture, which opened to Davis (and so many of his generation) not only the elegance of Attic architecture, but the enduring principles that assured beauty for those who followed its guidelines while allowing latitude for creative innovation along the way.  Davis recorded the significance himself: he became an architect on the day in May, 1831, when he first reviewed a copy of The Antiquities of Athens by Stuart and Revett in the Boston Athenaeum.

Image: Note the wheat and corn motifs in the “Americanized” Orders on Smith Hall, Chapel Hill (from this source)

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§ 4 Responses to May 01: how to become an architect, by A. J. Davis

  • Melinda says:

    Thanks for using my image and for the credit link~!

    • Clio says:

      Melinda, Thank you for having such a swell image of this under-represented building! The Muse is wild for those column capitals.

  • Susan Barsy says:

    Melinda–Absolutely gorgeous photograph!

    The fact that I always confuse Alexander Jackson Davis with his contemporary and colleague Andrew Jackson Downing provides me with a perfect excuse to beg Clio to write a post sometime soon about park architecture–you know, park pavilions, follies–the most beautiful beachhouse in the world–that sort of thing. . . .It would be such a tonic on a warm summer day. . . . SB

    • Clio says:

      Susan, Although it is unusual for inspiration to transfer from mortal to Muse, I may make an exception here. Park structures are, indeed, tasty. (Or can be.)
      The Muse admits to mixing up AJ Davis and AJ Downing as well. It was very bad manners and really rather thoughtless of them to not flip a coin and decide who would change his name to Chauncey or Wilberforce.

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You are currently reading May 01: how to become an architect, by A. J. Davis at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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