Leopold Eidlitz: Becoming an American architect
Architectural History and Criticism
Leopold Eidlitz (1823-1908) was born in Prague and trained in Vienna as a land manager, a position in which he would have worked for the Austrian government as a building inspector or designer of small, rural structures. He came to the United States seeking work as an architect in 1843. Arriving alone, he quickly settled into American society, and within three years moved from a job with Richard Upjohn, the English-born designer of Trinity Church, Wall Street, into his own practice. He subsequently married into an old New England family and began a career in which he worked with the most prominent members of the New York City and State political and architectural communities Although Eidlitz's architectural ideas were progressive, they were not unique for their time. He held that a building's massing should emerge from its plan, that materials should be used in a rational manner, and that ornament should be used to enhance structure, materials, and function. For these reasons, some have considered him an organicist or proto-functionalist. However, his philosophical and architectural concerns were more complex. Eidlitz approved of the emerging convergence of engineering and architecture, but he also believed in the socially redemptive role for art advanced by German Idealist philosophers. He considered architecture to be an art and was certain that science would assure its progress by eliminating the arbitrariness associated with indefinable and unsupportable notions of "taste." In this way, art would be reconciled with technology and assure its progress. Emulation of or rupture with the past would not be necessary for architecture because beautiful forms would be valued for the knowledge they imparted rather than the precedent they conveyed.