Peter Harrison 1716-1775: Greatest American Architect
John Fitzhugh Millar
Peter Harrison is arguably the greatest architect who ever worked in America. Born in Yorkshire, UK, but for many years a resident of New England, his first design at age 17 was for Wentworth-Woodhouse, still the largest private house in Europe. His papers were mostly destroyed after his death, so in spite of his having designed over 560 buildings he remains very little known on either side of the Atlantic. In 1745, he invented the first practical flush toilet, which he incorporated into his various hospital projects. He designed predominantly in a neo-Palladian style, and invented “wooden rustication,” a way of making a wooden structure look as if it were built of stone blocks.
The late Wendell Garrett asked John Millar (a freshman at Harvard in 1962) to begin research on Harrison. The research has eventually resulted in two books: The Buildings of Peter Harrison: Cataloguing the Work of the First Global Architect 1716-1775, published 2014 by McFarland & Company, Inc. and Peter Harrison (1716-1775) Drawings, published 2015 by Thirteen Colonies Press. The work has taken 55 years.
Material-culture historian John Fitzhugh Millar has written many published books on historic architecture, ships, and dance. His book now in preparation concerns the work of Elizabeth Lady Wilbraham, the world’s first woman architect and Christopher Wren’s teacher. Millar is responsible for the construction of three full-sized, operational copies of Revolutionary War ships for the Bicentennial. He lives in a Peter Harrison-designed house in Williamsburg, Virginia, which he runs as an historic bed & breakfast called Newport House.
This lecture is in conjunction with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art New England.
King’s Chapel, designed by Peter Harrison, is often noted for its grand glass chancel windows and Georgian interior, but what else is known of the architecture of this historical landmark? Schedule a rare books appointment to take a look at A brief sketch of the history of King's Chapel or King's Chapel : the first century, 1686-1787 for some insight into the early days of the creation of King’s Chapel. Or check out John Millar’s book, The Buildings of Peter Harrison : Cataloguing the Work of the First Global Architect, for a preview into this lecture.
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