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Bucks County Courthouse

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1962, Carroll, Grisdale and Van Alen. N. Main, E. Court, and S. Broad sts.

The center of Doylestown was occupied first by the early-nineteenth-century courthouse and jail and after the Civil War by a brownstone courthouse designed in 1877 by Addison Hutton and John Ord. It was demolished in 1962 for this brick and precast-concrete modern design by a Philadelphia firm, who placed an office slab along S. Broad Street with the remainder of the site filled with a cylindrical volume containing courts and other public spaces. Airline pilots recognize it from the air by its shape and call it “the toilet.” At present the building seems grossly out of keeping with the historic scale of the three-story houses and shops around it, but it is easy to forget in how many ways modern design reflected the independent design traits of strong Victorian buildings that we now find interesting. Here different shapes represent the varied functions not unlike Frank Furness's University of Pennsylvania library ( PH147.3), or the modern Jon Huntsman Hall by Kohn Pedersen Fox, also at Penn ( PH147.14). Indeed, it is reasonable to wonder whether so much of the antagonism of the moderns toward the Victorians was in response to their shared values that rejected historical forms and sought direct response to modern problems.

If the courthouse is distracting, a walk around the courthouse square can be accomplished with the courthouse to one's back and the view toward a host of remarkable Victorian buildings. These include early houses in the Italianate and late Federal manner on E. Court Street and a remarkable cluster of buildings on S. Broad Street beginning at the corner of N. Main Street.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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