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In Memory of Fathers

Two important architecture awards have their origins in Boston–the Rotch Travelling Scholarship and the Harleston Parker Medal. Both were founded by sons to commemorate their fathers.

In October 1883, the family of Benjamin Smith Rotch (1817–1882), a relatively well-known landscape artist, provided an income of $2,000 for the benefit of architecture students to travel and study abroad. Rotch had studied painting in Paris in 1847 where he developed an appreciation for the “value of foreign travel in stimulating young architects’ imagination through contact with great buildings of the past.” Upon his death, his five children honored his memory by creating the traveling scholarship with a $50,000 endowment. Arthur Rotch (1850 – 1894), Benjamin’s eldest son, was an architect active in the Boston area. Arthur studied humanities at Harvard and graduated in 1871 before spending two years at MIT. From 1874–1880, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and in atelier of Emile Vaudremer. During his time in France he was placed in charge of the restoration of Chateau de Chenonceau. He returned to Boston in 1880 to partner with George Thomas Tilden, forming Rotch & Tilden. Their work includes the Memorial Library in Bridgewater MA, gymnasiums at Bowdoin College and Phillips Exeter Academy, as well as several buildings at Milton Academy and Wellesley College. Interestingly, his brother, Abbott Lawrence Rotch (1861 – 1912) became a famous meteorologist, founder of the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, the longest continually operating observation site in the US, and was awarded Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour) after ballooning above Paris in 1889.

The Rotch Scholarship is managed by the Rotch Trustees with the assistance of the BSA. In 1883, the BSA assisted by developing a scheme for choosing the first Rotch Scholar and by organizing the selection committee, which included Edward C. Cabot, Edmund M. Wheelwright, Arthur Rotch, Charles A. Cummings, and Robert S. Peabody. Since 1892, the competition has been a two-stage design process, which evolved from a review of applicants’ drawings to assess “architectural potential” to a preliminary competition to search for “imaginative capacity.” Today, the Rotch Travelling Scholarship is the oldest continuously operating architectural scholarship in the US. The first Rotch Scholar was Clarence Howard Blackall (1857 – 1942), whose later work includes Boston landmarks the Colonial Theatre, Wilbur Theatre, the Modern, and the Metropolitan (now the Wang Theater), as well as Boston’s first steel frame structure, the Winthrop Building. Former recipients include Henry Bacon, Ralph Walker, Wallace Harrison, Louis Skidmore, Edward D Stone, Gordon Bunshaft, and Victor Lundy. In 1992, Debi McDonald (currently at NBBJ), became the first woman awarded the scholarship. This year’s recipient is R. Taylor Dover, a Harvard Graduate School of Design graduate who now works for Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin, Germany.

In 2002, the Rotch Trustees expanded upon the mission of architectural education through foreign travel with the establishment of the Rotch Travelling Studio grant, which allows an architecture faculty and their studio to work abroad for about two weeks. The 2015 winners Associate Professor Gustavo Crembil and Ph.D candidate Mae-Ling Lokko from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who brought their studio to Accra Ghana. To learn more about the Rotch Travelling Scholarship and Studio, visit rotch.org.

In 1921, J. Harleston Parker FAIA (1873 – 1930), presented $1,000 to the City of Boston to establish the Harleston Parker Medal in memory of his father, Harleston Parker (1823-1888). His idea was “to stimulate the appreciation of good architecture by the public, and to give public recognition by the city to architects who have succeeded in doing what…is exceptionally good work.” Parker gave very little direction other than to recognize “such architects as shall have, in the opinion of the Boston Society of Architects for any private citizen, association, corporation, or public authority, the most beautiful piece of architecture, building, monument or structure within the limits of the City of Boston or of the Metropolitan Parks District.”

Parker’s path was similar to Rotch’s. He graduated from Harvard in 1893 before studying architecture at MIT. In 1896, he travelled to Italy before moving in 1899 to study at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. In 1900, he returned to the US to partner with Douglas H. Thomas and in 1900 formed the firm Parker & Thomas, which in 1907 became Parker, Thomas & Rice, with offices in Baltimore and Boston.

Their local work includes the Fenway Studios, the R.H. Stearns Building at 140 Tremont Street, 197 Clarendon, the Stephen L. Brown Building (formerly the John Hancock Life Insurance Company Building), and their best known building, the Art Deco style United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building on Federal Street. Interestingly, Parker, Thomas and Rice’s John Hancock Building won the Harleston Parker Medal in 1924, the second year of the award. Parker, who served as the Chairman of the Boston Art Commission, hoped “this medal will become an award to be prized by architects as presenting the greatest compliment that can be paid to them by the fellow members of their profession.”

Since the Harleston Parker Medal’s inception in 1923, 73 projects have been recognized, including one year, 1999, when two projects were awarded. During this same period, there have been 21 years during which no building was awarded. The first medal was given to Coolidge and Shattuck’s Boston Lying-in Hospital--now part of Brigham & Women’s Hospital--at 221 Longwood Avenue. During its first 35 years, Richard J. Shaw won the medal four times, including once for the Edward Hatch Memorial Music Shell. From 1959 through 1994, five names dominated the honors: Sert (later with Sert, Jackson & Gourley), won four medals between 1959 and 1976; The Architects Collaborative won three medals between 1961 and 1978; I.M. Pei won four medals between 1965 and 1983; Kallmann, McKinnell (first with Knowles and later Wood), won six medals (more than any other firm) between 1969 and 1994; and Ben Thompson won three between 1970 and 1977. Two winning firms have spanned more than 60 years: Perry, Shaw & Hepburn won first in 1934 for the Alice Longfellow Hall at Radcliffe, and later as Perry Dean Rogers Architects in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the ICA. Coolidge Shepley Bulfinch and Abbott first won in 1938 for the Lowell House at Harvard, and then in 2001, Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott was recognized for their work on the Boston Public Library renovation of its McKimm Mead & White building. Both firms were involved in five award winning projects. Read more about the Harleston Parker Medal.

 

Sincerely,

Eric White
​Executive director