Benjamin H. Latrobe


Benjamin H. Latrobe was born in 1764 in Fulneck, England. He was raised in England. As a young man Latrobe was taught at the Morvian school in Fulneck. This was where Latrobe received a base for his further education. After Morvian, he transferred to Nieski school in Germany. There he received an impressive education. Which was composed of a broad curriculum. He was taught in all the liberal arts and also classical and modern languages. Latrobe started his career training under England's most renowned engineer of the day John Smeaton. Under Smeatons teachings Latrobe gained a strong grasp of technical and theoretical English civil engineering and meticulous draughtsmanship (Carter 1981, 1-2). Latrobe's interests in engineering soon led him to develop an interest in architecture. Latrobe decided to pursue his interest in architecture. He decided to work with S.R. Cockrell and become his apprentice. While Latrobe worked along with Cockrell he gained further experience and rapid advancement in architecture. Latrobe did many side jobs designing public works where he also gained experience and individuality. During Latrobe's partnership with Cockrell he also met other renowned architects of the time. Two of which were Gorge Dance and John Soane. Both of these architects were very influential to Latrobes own work. In fact, all three architects were very influential. They all helped mold and create Latrobe's architectural style. During this advancing time period in architecture there were mainly three distinct styles of architecture. The first style was Old school. This style was strict Palladianism which was inspired by Palladio himself. The second school was Roman in origin and had a lot of functional space and had a lot of decorative detail. Latrobe found both these styles to be over rich and also to elaborate in detail. Latrobe found the Third school to be the most attractive. This style was sometimes called the "Plain Style," which was characterized by simplicity, geometric power and rationalism. With all these great teachers and mentors. Latrobe was able to develop his own style which would start a new form of architecture and create the Greek revival (Carter 1981, 12).
Latrobe decided to move to the United States. With him be brought his architectural gift and curiosity. He was very interested in the US and he studied its history, its legends, the dress and manners of its people, and of course its architecture. Geological formations, waterfalls, the courses of rivers, and the nature of the soil and terrain were all carefully observed. He admired the engineering skills of beavers as they built their dams and realized their natural ability. With all these observations he was able to come to a better understanding of architecture and how to use architecture in a more natural and simpler state (Carter 1981, 22). This strange new world offered the possibility of many new and interesting things to come. The natural growth of the United states increased because of this construction was booming in every state in the nation. Many more houses were needed to accommodate the rising population, but public buildings were also needed as well, to serve the government. Through out the country buildings were rising and new architectural ground was being broken. Latrobe introduced the ancient Greek style during this time period of increased need for homes and public buildings. Because of Latrobes knowledge, experience, and creative imagination, he could play an important role in the progress of his new country. The introduction of the Greek style caused an overall chain reaction which took over much of the north and southeast. This style grew popularity after a few years and became what is now known as the Greek Revival. The Greek style is more known and more popular in public buildings but there were also many private buildings designed in this style. Some of this buildings were torn down over the years but many are still intact(Hamlin 1955, 5-7).
Philadelphia gave Latrobe the opportunity to create two of his most memorable masterpieces the Bank of Pennsylvania and the city's new waterworks. The Bank of Pennsylvania is often referred to as the first Greek Revival structure in America. It was more truly a modern building of the Roman period, and as such it was a monument like no other building standing in the united states. For the first time in this countries history a masonry vault was used