Influences

Furness was shaped by the dual forces of his father’s New England, Unitarian and transcendentalist beliefs that natural forms were purposeful and the utilitarian and engineering-based culture of Philadelphia that was inventing the industrial future. Institutional boards led by industrialists, engineers and scientists encouraged Furness’ use of the materials of the industrial age, for example the exposed steel truss on the side of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the giant iron stair and steel girders spanning the reading room of the University of Pennsylvania Library. When Louis Sullivan entered the office in 1873, he found Furness’ partner George Hewitt mining history for designs while Furness in Sullivan’s memorable phrase “made buildings out of his head.” In fact he was drawing on the imaginations of Philadelphia’s industrial designers and in the process giving them an identity. © George E. Thomas