First Modern

First Modern

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

by George E. Thomas

Foreword by David R. Brigham

Supplement by Isaac Kornblatt-Stier

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

120 pages, 248.00 x 267.00 x 0.00 mm, 150 color illus.

  • ISBN: 9780943836430
  • Published: October 2017



From the Crystal Palace to the skyscraper and on to the functional aesthetic of the German Bauhaus, the development of modern architecture required less than seven decades. Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts warrants a central place in this narrative. Unlike the earlier buildings that made fragmentary and disconnected use of the latest industrial materials and systems, the Academy project combined the critical elements of modern logistical planning—steel and iron construction and modern plumbing, heating, and ventilation systems designed to serve a workplace and a school—with the architectural expression of the age. Moreover, rather than seeking to reify the past, architects Furness & Hewitt had chosen the most dynamic of modern forces, the machine, as both inspiration and ornament. Instead of being based on the rearview mirror, the new Academy, opened in 1876, looked to the present and the future. This created a civic museum and school building whose expressive style referenced both its updated purpose and a novel attitude toward history. The Academy's machine for making art can rightly be termed the first modern building.