Connections in Architecture

Exploring connections in architecture including architect Paul Philippe Cret and Frank Furness.

Many years ago, a former colleague reminded me what an impressive piece of Art Deco architecture the Cincinnati Union Terminal is.

Cincinnati Union Terminal

Architect Paul Philippe Cret was acting as a design consultant in 1933 to the architect of record for the design of the Cincinnati Union Terminal.

Architect Paul Philippe Cret

Cret moved to the US from France in 1913 and eventually taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where young Louis Kahn was one of his students (more to come on his connection to Frank Furness, an architect who did his fair share of railroad station design). In 1934 Cret designed a railroad engine for the Budd Company and developed the streamlined train called the Burlington Zephyr (below)which initially traveled from Denver to Chicago and became known as the “Silver Streak” due to its stainless steel unibody construction. The Burlington Zephyr also was the first diesel powered train in the world.

Cret’s 1934 design for the Budd Company

Cret taught architecture in a building at Penn designed by Frank Furness, who had designed over 60 railroad stations throughout the east and Midwest, both large and small for the B&O and Pennsylvania Railroads. Furness and Cret had railroads in common as well (note that Louis Sullivan worked for Furness during this timeand likely contributed).

Furness had served in the Civil War and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Upon his return he made quite a few social connections in Philadelphia and was able to secure over 600 prestigious commissions, such as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (below).

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

The fine arts library on the Penn campus that Furness designed in 1890 is where Paul Phillippe Cret taught architecture. There is a connection then with Furness to Cret and by extension Louis Kahn, as Kahn also taught in Frank Furness’s fine arts building at Penn. This building is now called the Fisher Fine Arts Library and has been used in several movies, such as the film Philadelphia, and is the building in which I attended graduate school. At that time however it was just simply called “The Furness Building”, after Frank.

Frank Furness (left), The Furness Building (right)
Fisher Fine Arts Library exterior (left) and interior (top right) at the University of Pennsylvania, movie clip from Philadelphia (bottom right)

Since Furness had done so many of the Pennsylvania and B&O railroads, I have always wondered if the small station in my Appalachian hometown in 1907 for the Pennsylvania Railroad was done by him (most of the 60 stations he did were in small towns around the turn of the 20thCentury). Below are a few of original photographs and a present-day color photo of the station, which is currently a yoga studio.

Pennsylvania Railroad station 1907 (top) and present (bottom)

There are three other train stations I have admired, each one different from the other. The first is the 30th Street station in Philadelphia designed by William H. Gray. The station is currently being upgraded by SOM. I spent a lot of time traveling through this station with a very dramatic interior during my college years.

30th Street station in Philadelphia

The second is the Los Angeles Union Station. This California Mission Revival train station has a sense of understated elegance, particularly compared to its early 20th Century east coast counterparts.

Union Station, Los Angeles

The third is a series of underground train stations in Washington D.C., the Washington Metro, whose stations were designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese and completed in 1976.

From my point of view these Washington Metro stations are the greatest set of stations that exist with their simple contemporary design. The lighting is subdued and indirect and illuminates the architecture in a seductive and theatrical way. It transports you to the future.

Washington Metro station

Below is a more current underground train station at the new Metro Line 14 Gangxia North Station in Shenzhen, China.

Metro Line 14 Gangxia North Station, Shenzhen, China

Blog post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.

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