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Bad boys of architecture rise to greatness

Thinking out of the box leaves lasting impression

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Architect Frank Furness was a mustachioed bulldog of a man who, by contemporary accounts, seemed more renowned for his legendary swearing ability than for his architectural skill. Yet in his greatest projects, which date from the 1870s and '80s, Furness gleefully took Victorian eclecticism to another plane entirely, if not to another planet. He replaced conventional Victorian detailing with his own peculiar idiom – strange piston-like columns, weirdly pinched openings, outlandishly overscaled ornament – and composed them into wildly polychromed brick and stone facades filled with such tense vitality that they seemed ever on the verge of exploding. It was these remarkable buildings, many of them long destroyed, that were skewered by one modernist-era critic as "relics of the low water mark in American architecture." Thanks to the tenacity of such anti-Victorian sentiments, Furness's reputation remained at rock bottom for nearly a century before being revived amid the more ...