PUZZLE (advanced)

Academy Architecture

Larger view

The design of the Hinsdale Academy, now the Youth Center, followed the pattern of the Maplewood Academy in Pittsfield, according to architectural analyst and historian Jim Parish, who conducted the survey of many of Hinsdale's historic houses in 1979. He knew of a letter from the Maplewood Academy president saying that the academy plans had been loaned to Hinsdale, when another group had also asked to borrow them. The original Maplewood Academy was razed in 1941.

A detailed description of the Hinsdale Academy's south facade, the much photographed view, in architectural terms would identify the style and all of the separate sections of the facade.

Its over-all style follows one of the five classical Greek orders of architecture, the Ionic Order, identifed by the pairs of volutes, the spiral-shaped structures at the top of each column. Each detailed part of the whole front has a name, like the parts of a recipe or an automobile, so the ancient architects could talk about what parts they wanted to use in putting a building together and achieve varying effects, like a chef making a recipe. A contractor and carpenter aware of the separate parts could order lumber and assemble sections more conveniently.

Hexastyle, meaning it has six columns, these columns each rest first on a base with a.plinth, the square block at floor level. Above each plinth in the base are two

toruses. A torus is a big circular ring that looks like a giant doughnut. The toruses in the Academy column bases in recent years have been painted black, probably because they tend to accumulate dirt washed down the columns by rain and melting snow.

Above each base is a fluted column. The fluting is the set of vertical concave grooves around the surface of each column. The columns are actually tapered slightly, a practice the ancient Greeks called "entasis," a tapering that makes each column look completely round from bottom to top when viewed from the human eye level. At the top of each column is the capital, the part with the volutes. Each Order of Architecture had a different kind of capital.

The columns support first a set of horizontal surfaces called the entablature, like a table top resting on four legs. Each horizontal strip in the entablature also has its own name: the lowest strip is the architrave. then the frieze, the flat wider surface that in some buildings is decorated. The frieze in the Hinsdale Academy has a plain, undecorated surface. Above the frieze is a narrow horizontal strip called the cornice.

Above the entablature is a triangular space below the eaves called the pediment. The Hinsdale Academy has a small half-circle window in its pediment for ventilation of the attic which is just inside. Some pediments also have elaborate decorations like the Greek Parthenon in Athens.

To see the smaller separate parts, a viewer has to stand on the green lawn above the basketball court. From a distance, the three larger sections, the columns, the entablature and the pediment. all in the classical Ionic Order, create the facade that has attracted photographers and caught the eyes of generations of tourists since the Academy was dedicated on January 11, 1849. The style also reflects the good judgment of the 1848 Committee of Four who made the decision about the design and the location: Henry Putnam, Charles J. Kittredge, J. M. Tuttle, and Henry Merriman.

(Reference: A Dictionary of Architecture by John Fleming, Hugh Honor and Nickolaus Pevsner; Penguin Books, New York City, NY, 1977 edition.) (L. F. Swift, May, 2004)