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Born: 1863, Died: 1942

Every architect who aspired to ecclesiastical work in Philadelphia during the early twentieth century had to at least acknowledge the influence of Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram, whose buildings were extolled in journals devoted to religious architecture and whose writings on the topic reached a large audience. According to Cram's biographer, Douglass Shand Tucci, Cram has been called the American Ruskin. A native of New Hampshire, Cram apprenticed with Rorch & Tilden in Boston. During the 1880s in Boston Cram would surely have known the work of H. H. Richardson and would have encountered the influence of both Ruskin and William Morris. By 1884 Cram's views of such controversial topics as Boston's Copley Square were gaining publication in the Boston Evening Telegraph, and by 1889 Cram had launched his own architectural office (Cram & Wentworth). A succession of firms continued the Cram influence across the country: Cram, Wentworth & Goodhue; Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson (Boston and New York); and finally Cram & Ferguson.

Throughout this long period of productivity Cram published books and articles dealing with the aesthetics and value of ecclesiastical design, but it would be a misrepresentation of the work of his offices to limit that productivity to church design. Cram's firms also designed college campuses (Rice Institute campus, Houston, TX, 1909-1941), hotels (Washington Hotel, Panama Canal Zone, c. 1915), residences (Parker House, Cambridge, MA, 1889), and libraries (Fall River, MA, 1896). Although church work comprised most of the output of his offices, it did not, in other words, represent the entire work of the architects involved in those offices.

Nor did Cram's entire career as an author depend upon his interests in ecclesiastic design. He explored the Gothic Revival in all of its forms, but he also produced an early and worthy treatment of the influence of Japanese art and architecture on the world. His books continue in reprint, available to new generations of architects and historians.

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

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  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)


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