Public buildings have always been so much more than a utilitarian pile of building materials. Their design and construction self-consciously encompass the aspirational values of the builder, the user, and the society of which it is part. Technology-driven utility may be at the heart of these structures, but their final form is an artistic expression of a desire to awe, inspire, ennoble or educate. We may look back and think of them as quaint or amusing or beautiful, but in 1867 these edifices filled the same needs as their counterparts of the early 21st century.
This article was originally published with the title "The Grand Face of Public Architecture, 1867"
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Dan Schlenoff edits the "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago" column for Scientific American. He is a keen student of the role of science in history.