Research Resources

Evolution of Architectural Practice in Baltimore

John McGrain meticulously researched Baltimore City and County newspapers, recording all information about buildings and their architects. The 19th and early 20th century newspapers included much more information about new buildings than is found in newspapers today.

Several observations have become clear as a result of this research:

Before the mid-19th century, most buildings were designed by their builders, many of whom were trained in apprenticeship to design buildings. This practice continued through the 19th century.

In the 18th and very early 19th centuries, very few architects were based in America and most of those undertook the construction of their buildings. American architects in the 18th century have a few known buildings to their credit in their own communities. Architects gradually became more numerous in America in the 19th century, most with practices limited to their own communities and a few had national practices.

The architectural profession, as we know it today—designers of buildings, not designers and builders—began to develop in the 1840s and was firmly established in the 1850s. Most members of the profession were local practitioners with local practices and occasional commissions out of town; a few professional architects had national practices.

The architectural profession was, and would remain for nearly a century, essentially a city profession. Architect-designed buildings in the counties were not few in number (with respect to the number of buildings built in the counties) but architects in the city were called to design them.

With the continuing development of the architectural profession after the Civil War, Baltimore architects received many commissions in the South and few commissions in the North, no doubt the result of Baltimore’s sympathy for the South in the War, the delayed development of the profession in the South during the early years of the Reconstruction, and the continuing development of the profession in northern cities.

The AIA was founded in 1857 as a New York City organization and it soon became a national organization. By 1870, the profession had developed to the extent that a local chapter in Baltimore was justified, the third in the nation after New York. The organizational development is reflected in the professional activity revealed by our research.

Most architects were trained in apprenticeship with earlier architects. Until about 1870, few architects had college educations and only toward the end of the 19th century did a few architects receive professional educations.

Members of the AIA have documented project lists suggesting or fully defining full-time professional practices. The larger numbers of the more obscure architects have few documented attributions, suggesting less-than-fulltime architectural practices.

The Baltimore Fire of 1904 resulted in a great increase in the number of architects in Baltimore. Like the founding of the AIA 33 years earlier, we see the period of the Fire as a distinctive turn in the profession locally, toward its present position.

An attribution to a particular architect cannot be made on the basis of style.

Most 19th-century buildings with even a touch of sophistication were designed by architects and not adapted by a good builder from a published design. In the case of adaptations of published designs, the adaptation was made by the local architect and not the builder.

Nineteenth-century architects were male, white and gentile. The first Jewish architect opened his practice in 1901 and we have not yet identified the first woman and African-American nor Asian-American architect in Baltimore.

More 20th century architects were in partnerships than 19th century architects, and offices often were larger, indicating the greater complexity in practicing architecture in the 20th century. This trend continues to our own times.

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