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Municipal Welfare Building (U.S. Post Office)
Next door to the restrained use of ornament for the library, this former post office seems lushly ebullient. Like the armory ( PA18), it rises on a skewed, sloping site, its most prominent corner celebrated by a dome at its lowest point. The picturesque balancing of two towers which differ slightly in size and detail in William Walker's armory contrasts with the absolute symmetry of this building—symmetrical at least if one stands on axis with the dome, so that the side elevations pivot from it like the covers of a book from its spine. This design coincided with a change of guard in the Office of the Supervising Architect in Washington and a transition from Aiken's essentially Victorian design to Taylor's Beaux-Arts classicism. The skillful employment of classical form here appears to reflect Taylor's intervention, although the momentum of Victorian design seems to have continued in the ebullient combination of shape and polychromatic use of materials. As Supervising Architect, Taylor was responsible for a number of fine turn-of-the-twentieth-century public buildings in the classical manner. The finest building in the state from his office, built a decade and a half later, is the Westerly Post Office ( WE17). Here the style is a lush “Venetian” Neo-Renaissance; in the Westerly building it is far more restrained, another rare Rhode Island example of twentieth-century Greek-inspired classicism. The contrast between the two reveals a broad trend toward more restraint in ornament and more simplicity in composition in the design of federal buildings under Taylor's aegis.
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