Frank Furness’ world corresponds to the industrial culture that developed in Philadelphia and spread across the western world after the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Like Chicago, Glasgow, and Berlin where the next phases of modern appeared, Philadelphia’s institutions were led by industrialists, engineers, and scientists who in their work built the future rather than rehashing the past. Between 1878 and 1906 Furness designed nearly 200 commissions for the Reading, the B & O, and the Pennsylvania Railroads, the modern equivalent of IBM, Dell, and Apple. In these projects logistics determined plans and modern materials were freely incorporated into design.
The freedom to rethink architecture that was rooted in the experimental culture of industry and engineering flowed into Furness’ civic and domestic architecture and in the process turned Philadelphia architecture toward the future. To the rest of the country, Philadelphia architecture led by Frank Furness was incomprehensible – but to the engineers and industrialists, it expressed the world that they were creating. And to those who passed through his office and were attuned to the present and the future — Louis Sullivan, William L. Price, Albert Kelsey, and George Howe – Furness’ method was a roadmap to the possibilities of modern design.