Otto R. Eggers was an architect and delineator most noted for the work he produced when working with John Russell Pope, first as a draftsman, eventually as a partner. Though he worked for other architects before Pope, and had his own firm after Pope’s death (Eggers and Higgins), he flourished when associated with Pope, and was as much an influence on their work as Pope himself. It is no small claim that John Russell Pope owed much to Otto Eggers for his firm’s success, its reputation, and the legacy of the work.
Early on, the firm’s work initially centered around very high end country homes for the newly wealthy American business-and-banking upper class, banks, civic buildings, a few tentative “skyscrapers” (mostly unbuilt), and large scale urban works, such as Union Station in Richmond Virginia. The later period of their work together is famous for monumental civic projects; The National Archives, The National Gallery, The Jefferson Memorial, schemes for the Lincoln Memorial, and studies for the Federal Triangle. They did quite a bit of college and university planning, culminating in their work together on the master plans for both Yale University and Dartmouth College.
The Dartmouth College sketches have found some exposure on the web, and so I include just a few here. The Yale images, however, are virtually unknown. And though Rizzoli published a monograph on Pope (“John Russell Pope, Architect of Empire”, Rizzoli, NY, 1998), the chapter on campus planning touches only upon the wider view, aerials, and plans. The suite of individual building sketches remains unpublished other than the original portfolio, “University Architecture: John Russell Pope FAIA”, published in 1925 by William Helburn, Inc., NY. I’m presenting perhaps two dozen, of thirty six from the folio. The volume is fairly scarce, and difficult to come by today. At 14×18 inches, with the plates reproduced at about two-thirds their original size, the effect of one plate after another of Eggers’ pencil sketches is staggering. The reduction in scale is just enough to tighten the images to the point where some appear nearly photographic, that is until you peer into them and find casual evidence of a confident, even occasionally facile, human hand everywhere.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to view a number of Eggers’ originals for the Jefferson Memorial and National Gallery projects. Some of the originals were four feet across, and represented, to me (as a professional renderer) a period we are not likely to see again: where the time and effort expended to illustrate a building were a valued part of the design process itself. Especially when consulting, an illustrator is usually brought in to take a snap shot at the end of the process. Rarely today are the illustrations themselves part of the design process (the office of Robert Stern is one exception). If they are executed by an illustrator during the conceptual phase, they are invariably sketchy, and very informal. But Eggers’ (and Pope’s) illustrations for the numerous schemes for the memorials treated each equally, and all were executed formally. It was never as if the illustration or idea got short-shrift until the final version was decided upon, at which time it might get a little more effort in the production of a formal rendering. Their efforts throughout produced a unified set of schemes, all appearing equal, and all receiving their due diligence.
First though, some images from the firm’s lesser know work. Followed by four (of the ten) Dartmouth renderings, a few from the Johns Hopkins University studies, studies for the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and finally, the Yale series. Again, of some 36 plates for the Yale Master Plan Series, nearly all of them aerials or eye level perspectives by Eggers, I am presenting ‘only’ two dozen.
Enough talk… Enjoy.
A typical straightforward sketch of Eggers for a small residence. There’s nothing here but some freehand trees and their shadows, plus a roof, and yet somehow he’s drawn a house. The negative space constitutes the stucco wall surfaces. Basically, the idea is “draw everything but the building, and thereby draw the building”.
One of many Beaux Arts Residences executed by John Russell Pope, with Eggers as designer and delineator. Their method, especially with homes of this scale, was for Pope to verbally describe and elucidate his idea, describing the effect desired. Eggers would then turn almost immediately toward designing in perspective, often from photographic reference. He’d quite literally compose and design the massing three dimensionally, picturesquely. It’s a dangerous way to fly, but in their hands, the method was fruitful.
Of all Eggers sketches, even the highly formal ones, this direct rapid sketch (McLean Family Mausoleum, above) may be my favorite. Not one move is wasted. There is an economy here that produces an image more powerful than some of his intensely formal illustrations, especially the formal Beaux Arts style watercolored elevations, where Eggers sometimes seems ham-strung and frustrated by the stand-offish nature of a pure elevation (see the Jefferson Memorial color elevation, below). He seems more at home and more inventive in the two-point perspective where, even when executed very formally (meaning ‘finished, tight, resolved’) he feels free to introduce a good dose of informality, lest things get too fussy.
Personally, what I enjoy about Eggers’ informality is the dirt. Leaves on the ground, grass in the cracks, stains on the stone. Try that today and any architect hiring you would wag a finger. Not so for Eggers. His buildings breathe a bit more I think because they have seen a little time. Note the top of this monument, where the pyramidal top (exposed to rain) is clean, but as the drip runs down the face of the monument, there is a touch of dirt to the limestone. The values of white are nearly identical, but the difference is enough to form the mass, and define the edge. Likewise, on the left side of the monument, the value is nearly the same as the front facing us, both bright white. But there’s just enough tree shadow breaking over the corner crease to establish for us the geometry of the design. He’s also not afraid to get dark where it will help. The upper right is nearly monolithic, but there’s no one looking at it that doesn’t accept it as a copse of trees.
Following are just some of the Dartmouth Plates from the “University Architecture” folio of 1925. The full series can be found on line elsewhere by moderate googling, if you are inclined.
Eggers also did a small series of illustrations for a new building at The Johns Hopkins University, which was to be the centerpiece of the masterplan. The aerial here is photographic in its execution. Its value range is infinite. Just to do the trees would be a two day effort…
Eggers and Pope worked on many monumental projects for Washington D.C., including schemes for the Lincoln Memorial, below. The pale palette and suppressed linework are perfect together. But the real genius here for me isn’t even in the palette or the atmospheric perspective (the trees at left fading blue as they feather back into the distance), the genius-moves in my book are the thin glint of china-white opaque paint on the small flat portion at the top of the stairs just below the horizon (which turns blaze-yellow/orange as it reflects the sky light at right), and the barely apparent break in the clouds allowing light to fall on a group of figures at low left. That move at bottom left keeps the eye from falling off the bottom of the page, and is more than enough to balance the bright sky at upper right.
There is precious little of Eggers’ watercolor work which has been published. Architectural Record (an Architect’s trade magazine still published today) did a lengthy article on Eggers, in 1919. In it, he was described almost solely as a watercolorist, even invited to furnish a series of six covers for the magazine. And yet today that side of his work is virtually unknown. I can’t help but blather on here… Note, in the image below, how the coffers of the ceiling structure receive a bluish cast from the bounced atmospheric light. The sky is a light source. Only in space, with no atmosphere, are shadows truly black, because they are absent any fill light. Our sky, though, scatters sunlight, and re-fills the shadows with some measure of bounced light. And because it is a blue light source, we have a ceiling here (and the upper portions of the columns at left) which are actually lit despite being in shade and shadow. Their darkness is mitigated by a lighter bluish fill light. This keeps the massive ceiling and shaded columns, which make up two thirds of the image, from making the image dark, ponderous, and funereal. Sure, this is gushing fan-boy language. I’ll admit it. But what I’m a fan of isn’t even necessarily the technique, because this is a phenomenon exploited by artist well before, and since. What I find impressive as an illustrator is that he did this for one of many illustrations, knowing full well the image was going to have a life of just a few meetings perhaps, and that in all likelihood they would go into a drawer and (as far as he knows) never see the light of day again. This was ‘merely’ one scheme of many. He did it more for the love of the image than for his employer, or the audience, even. He did it for himself. That, to me, is when ‘illustration’ becomes ‘art’.
Pope and Eggers did not win the commission for the Lincoln Memorial. But their work on the Jefferson Memorial eventually came to fruition, and the project was designed and ultimately built under the firm’s direction. When Pope passed away during construction of the Memorial, Eggers took over the entire workload of the office and the work was finished under his direction. Also at this time, the firm oversaw the design and construction of the National Gallery of Art. Eventually, he reorganized the firm into Eggers and Higgins, and went on to produce much work of similar scale and scope as he did under Pope.
Finally, the Yale series. The study, entitled ” Yale University: A Plan for its Future Building” was commissioned of Pope by Francis Patrick Garvan, Yale ’98, and originally published in book form.
Again, the images below constitute only about two-thirds of the renderings in the folio. Another twelve vignettes and formal renderings fill out this volume of work. The control of the vignette and edges, the values, and the pairing of selective detail with looser sketch work is an example how something can be made to look so easy, almost facile, and yet ultimately be so compelling. There are lessons here enough to keep an artist busy for some time. One thing to keep in mind, none of these buildings were “designed” in the true sense of the word. The master plan intent was to establish the locations and scale of the proposed buildings to guide future development. Eggers took the rough massing (how tall, how wide, how many stories) and fleshed them out as he drew, in an effort to imbue the overall scheme with a sensibility and theme. These were not buildings that were fully-fledged and their designs complete, and then turned over to him for his illustrating. He worked with a rough mass, and developed the building as he developed the perspective drawings. Every detail in these images was intended merely as a placeholder, and a suggestion. This was a concept, rather than anything literally to be built. But the impact was profound and emphatic.
The lead off image in the series is highly unusual when compared to the rest. It’s the loosest, least exact, most sketchy. But the atmospheric effect is so powerful, and the idea so concrete, that we might be forgiven for thinking this is actually what was built.
From the caption in the folio: “The Intellectual centre of an educational institution is its library- a building that should dominate in dimensions and quality the entire University group.”
Note the dark right foreground, dark near blacks in the window constituting a reflection of buildings and sky, and the atmospheric tower beyond.
There are a number of vignettes in the series which constitute an experiential path through the scheme, up to and inside buildings, or down narrow pathways and arcades. The experience is almost ignored today in architectural illustration, in favor of the “stand back and get it all in” single shot of a building. It may be said that it is an economic concern, that no one wants to spend the money on that many images. Well, we knowPope and Eggers didn’t do this for free. I’m inclined to think that today, many buildings are considered objects to be looked at, at arm’s length, and that all too often the experience isn’t treated as equally important. Yet the experience is one of the chief things which integrates buildings into their context. One of the threads of experience in their Yale presentation was the Library. After the ‘approach’ views above, comes this view of the courtyard entrance of the library, which is followed by yet another, closer view of the entry (not included here), and then still further by the interior shot below.
I can tell you that if I were charged with “making up the interior” of this library as one part of three dozen images, I don’t think I’d take on the challenge of free-handing the lierne vaulted ceiling, the way Eggers did here. I’m guessing, of course, but the evidence that he did this on the fly is the very slight issue of the perspective at the far end, when the vaults don’t quite recede or compress enough. Far from being a mistake, it actually points out to me that he did this without any sort of underlay, or constructed perspective to draw on top of. This, to Eggers, was a “rough” sketch.
From the Folio: “Physical Training is as essential as mental and its home is in the Gymnasium. The plan suggests a Gymnasium architecturally treated in a manner fitted to its salience”. Almost makes you forget to ask, as a client, “How much is this going to cost us, Mr. Architect?” Which, frankly, is sometimes half the goal….
The lighting in this arcade sketch is a tour de force. The shadows of the door frame at left are created by indirect lighting from the light bouncing upward from the paving stones. The blown out values in the middle are obviously from direct sun, and they are the light source for the entire coffered ceiling maybe 25 feet above. By the time that light reaches the ceiling, it produces a soft nearly shadowless light.
After Pope’s death, Eggers and a fellow associate, Daniel Paul Higgins, continued the work of the firm. In 1937 they changed the name of the firm, which Pope founded in 1903 as the ‘Office of John Russell Pope, Architect’, to ‘Eggers & Higgins’. They played a major role with New York University on the redevelopment of Washington Square, and the firm became engaged with Indiana University as their university architects for more than 30 years. Higgins passed away in 1953. Otto Reinhold Eggers died in 1964, in New Rochelle, New York, at the age of 81.