Benjamin Latrobe is an English-born American architect and engineer who was a neoclassical architect and worked in a variety of styles. He was the first professionally trained architect to practice in the United States. Most of the designs were inspired by his travels to different European countries. He was an immigrant to the US in 1796 and is known as the father of American Architect.
Latrobe was born on May 1, 1764, at Fulneck Moravian Settlement in the City of Leeds, England. His father Reverend Benjamin Latrobe was the Moravian clergyman and his mother Anna Margaretta Antes was an American-born daughter of a wealthy landowner. Later she attended the Moravian school at Fulneck.
In 1790, Latrobe married Lydia Sellon and had 2 children; a daughter and a son (Henry Sellon Boneval Latrobe). After Lydia’s death in 1793, Latrobe moved to America. Later he married to Mary Elizabeth Hazlehurst in 1800 who he met on his visit to Philadelphia.
In 1776, Latrobe attended the Moravian school at Niesky, Upper Lusatia, Saxony. He traveled to Germany for a broad education in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Later, he went on the Grand tour where he traveled France and Italy and acquired a vast knowledge of French, Modern Greek, Italian and Spanish architecture.
After returning to England in 1784, he was apprenticed to John Smeaton who was a renowned civil engineer in the City at that time. Later he studied architecture from Samuel Pepys Cockerell who was a neoclassical architect. He also worked as the head draftsman in his office and was also a part of the designing of Admiralty Buildings in London which was regarded as a very large project to work on in his initial days of career.
In 1790, Latrobe established his own firm and in 1792, he earned his first commission from his design of Hammerwood Park in Sussex. In 1796, Latrobe moved to Norfolk, Virginia where he became friend with Bushrod Washington, nephew of President George Washington. Due to lack of opportunities in Virginia, he shifted to Philadelphia in 1798 where he stayed till 1807 and worked on several projects including designs for Public Buildings and private residents.
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson appointed Latrobe as surveyor of public Buildings and was in charge to oversee the construction of the US Capitol. Gradually he became the young nation’s preeminent architect and along with his architectural projects, he also educated many future architects, engineers and craftsman including Robert Mills and William Strickland.
In 1797, Latrobe designed the State Penitentiary in Richmond which was the first major project of Latrobe in the United States. This building had well-developed sanitation conditions and ventilation facilities. On his visit to Philadelphia in 1798, Latrobe designed the Bank of Pennsylvania located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is considered as the first structure of the Greek revival in America where he combined this revival portico with Pantheon (like Roman Dome).
In 1805, Latrobe designed the Basilica of the Assumptions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (The Baltimore Basilica) situated on Cathedral Hill at Cathedral Street. This project is considered as the most famous work by Benjamin Latrobe. It was the first Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States designed in a neo-classical style. In 1969, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was declared as the National Historic Landmark in 1971.
Hammerwood park near East Grinstead in Sussex (1792)
Ashdown House in Sussex (1793)
Basingstoke Canal in Surrey
River Blackwater plan improvisation from Maldon to Beeleigh (1793-1795)
William Pennock House in Norfolk, Virginia
Center Square Water Works in Philadelphia.
The Center Station Pumping House in Philadelphia (1799)
Green spring mansion near Williamsburg
Fort Nelson in Virginia (1798)
Design for Mill Hill Plantation House near Richmond. (This house was not built).
Sedgley House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1800); the first Gothic Revival design of domestic architecture in America.
House of William Cramond on the Banks of the Schuylkill River (1801)
A canal Linking the Chesapeake and Delaware bay (1801)
Princeton’s Nassau Hall (1802)
Adena House in Chillicothe, Ohio (1805)
Supreme Court Chamber in the US Capitol (1806)
The Custom House in New Orleans (1807-1809)
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Decatur House (1811)
Ashland (Adamesque Federal Elegance of Henry Clay) in Lexington (1812)
Baltimore Exchange (Merchants’ Exchange) Building in Baltimore (1816)
Awards & Honors
In 1789, Latrobe became the member of the American Philosophical Society.
1n 1804, he was selected as the chief engineer in the United States Navy.
In 1815, Latrobe was elected as the member of the American Antiquarian Society.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe died on September 3, 1820, at the age of 56 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the US from yellow fever. He was buried at the Saint Louis Cemetery (the protestant Section) in New Orleans.