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Coburn & Barnum, Architects, Cleveland, OH

June 23, 2016

The professionalization of architecture falls into three periods, each lasting about fifty years. From 1857 to 1899, architects organized the American Institute of Architects and began to lobby state legislatures for recognition. Illinois was the first to define and restrict architectural practice in 1899, but it took fifty-two years (in 1951) for Wyoming to complete that process. The profession continued to evolve during the century’s second half but may have entered yet a fourth phase, with the very definition of architectural practice being called into question. “If public health and safety are the main motives for ‘Title & Practice’ laws, and there seems to be little difference between buildings designed by architects and those designed by non-architects,” the public asks, “what’s gained for the public welfare?” We may see a day when anyone can practice architecture and malfeasance will be judged in the courts. The A-A phenomenon straddles the transition from Phase I to Phase II.

Late 19th century practice increased complexity in several ways:

  • Partnerships increased in number for two reasons: specialization among the partners and/or multi-city and multi-state practice;
  • Specialization allowed firms to dominate certain building types; and
  • Advertising in periodicals facilitated regional and even nationwide practice.

The project has identified several firms that exhibit these characteristics, and yesterday’s post has added one more to the list: Coburn & Barnum of Cleveland, Ohio.

Forrest Coburn and Frank Barnum joined forced in 1878; Coburn was thirty and Barnum was just two years younger. In nearly twenty years of practice, others came and went, but their work was limited to northern Ohio. A diverse but typical list of projects includes a dozen churches, mostly Protestant and all but one in Cleveland.

C&B seem to have designed two First Congregational buildings for the same site in west Cleveland, one in 1883, the other ten years later. It could be a case of replacement (due to fire, for example) or a project that was phased (sanctuary first and Sunday School later). Photos of the now-demolished church, however, reminded me of North Presbyterian Church on the other end of the city (and still standing), a building which was also designed by C&B. So I’ve begun to explore their output and can report at least one other design — Olivet Baptist of 1894 — with Akron characteristics. C&B weren’t major players in the A-A phenomenon, but they were no mere copyists.

OHclevelandCongoNort Presby Church

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