Genius of Geniuses: An Appreciation of Claude Bragdon’s Architecture, Art, and Design

Genius of Geniuses: An Appreciation of Claude Bragdon’s Architecture, Art, and Design
Univ 1

First Universalist Church, Clinton and Court, 5/2/18 [Photo: David Kramer]

Claude Bragdon’s architecture can be found across Rochester. In “Alone in the Dawn” Restorationist James Caffrey joins the conversation with more on Adelaide Crapsey, we learned about the murky relationship between Bragdon and famed Rochester poet, Adelaide Crapsey.


Otis Arch designed by Claude Bragdon. From Saying goodbye to the “Downtown: The Way It Was” photos

In Saying goodbye to the “Downtown: The Way It Was”photos, we saw the triumphant arch Bragdon designed for the homecoming parade of General Elwell Otis on June 15th, 1900.

In The Bevier Memorial Building at Night: Another Dimension of Claude Bragdon, George Cassidy Payne offered a nocturnal look at the Bevier Memorial Building in which he sees “something geometrically flawless.”

Today, George adds to our appreciation.

Genius of Geniuses: An Appreciation of Claude Bragdon’s Architecture, Art, and Design

One of the early 20th century masters of architectural design, Claude Bragdon made an indelible print on the cultural landscape in Rochester. In fact, the First Universalist Church is arguably the artists’ crowning achievement. The Romanesque Revival with its unmistakable pyramidal roofs is one of the most stylistic church buildings in the world.


First Universalist Church, 5/2/18 [Photo: David Kramer]

Bragdon’s own religious sensibilities leaned towards Theosophy, which is the attainment of direct, unmediated knowledge of the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe. Like all of his buildings, First Universalist Church (1907) embodied Bragdon’s beliefs about astronomy, physics, human anatomy, and world history. To examine the building’s exterior is to see a map of the planets. To study the church’s windows is to look through the hour glass of time. And to worship in the pews is to be a participant in a force more powerful than prayers.

Maplewood YMCA

Maplewood YMCA [Photo: George Payne]

Yeah, Claude Bragdon was a genius of geniuses. He was a thousand steps ahead of everyone else around him. In books on architectural theory, he wrote masterpieces such as The Beautiful Necessity (1910). In Architecture and Democracy (1918) and The Frozen Fountain (1932), he radically changed the language of entire disciplines.

Always a student of eastern religion, especially the thought of P.D. Ouspensky,  Bragdon fell in love with a building design based on the hypercube. To understand the hypercube is to begin to grasp the level of genius that Bragdon was operating at. According to one scientific dictionary, “In geometry, a hypercube is a n-dimensional analogue of a square (n=2) and a cube (N=3); it is a closed, compact, convex figure whose 1-skeleton consists of groups of opposite parallel line segment aligned in each of the space’s dimensions, perpendicular to each other and of the same length.”

Bevier Memorial Building

Bevier Memorial Building [Photo: George Payne]

Not only did Bragdon understand the math, he was able to communicate the math into the most intricate physical details. In structure after structure, Bragdon made the obscure world of numbers translatable into the most marvelous shapes of brick and masonry. He was always a high priest of mathematics who decided to make his esoteric knowledge available in the most public and democratic art form possible. In Bragdon’s words, “only an “organic architecture” based on nature could foster democratic community in industrial capitalist society.”


Maplewood YMCA [Photo: George Payne]

Yeah, Bragdon was that kind of genius. Whether we are talking about his New York Central Station in 1914,  the Maplewood YMCA, the Bevier Memorial Building, or Shingleside in Charlotte, as a Rochester artist, Bragdon created a new ornamental vocabulary that has come to represent admiration itself.

The Shingleside

Bevier Memorial Building [Photo: George Payne]


“Alone in the Dawn” Restorationist James Caffrey joins the conversation with more on Adelaide Crapsey

The Bevier Memorial Building at Night: Another Dimension of Claude Bragdon

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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