Scott learned that after some ten years of inaction the civic authorities of Hamburg had at last decided to hold an architectural competition to rebuild its town hall, or Rathaus, which had been destroyed in the great fire of 1842. He had been preparing for this ever since 1845, when Karl Sieviking, who was a city trustee of Hamburg, told him that the Cloth Hall at Ypres was ‘a most suggestive model’, and Scott visited Ypres the following year. The competition conditions appeared on 4 February 1854 and stipulated that the designs had to be submitted by 14 October 1854, but Scott says that it was not until ‘Late in 1854 I competed for the New Rathaus’. In the Cloth Hall, a tall tower and spire over the entrance is centrally placed between two long low uniform wings, but in Scott’s Rathaus design these wings contain rooms, rather than the big space of the Cloth Hall. Scott’s tower is much higher and more slender, and he marks its increased importance as the carriageway entrance to the courtyards behind by projecting it in front of the side wings. This feature, together with open colonnades at ground floor level, stopping against the sides of the tower, was clearly taken from the town halls at Brussels and Oudenarde. However, the first and second floor windows of the Rathaus are shown with alternating brick and stone arches, as he had seen on buildings in Verona and Mantua in 1851. This is the first major design in which Scott attempted his so-called constructive polychromy, apart from the minor essays on Longton Church and Camden Church in 1854.
Scott duly submitted his drawings, which included a large perspective of the Rathaus from the river, with small insets showing the internal courtyard and the rear of the building, and he accompanied his drawings with a memorandum in German explaining his approach to the design. He explained that his design was symmetrical ‘because I felt that the character and position of the building called for unity and splendour, which would be more in keeping with the neighbouring buildings than picturesque irregularity’. The large perspective shows that the neighbouring buildings were all in the dull classical style which characterised the reconstruction of Hamburg after the fire. Scott was relying on scale and lavish ornament to dominate these surroundings.
Following the submission of the designs on 5 November 1854, Reichensperger in the Kolner Domblatt, reiterated, but much more powerfully, Scott’s message to the competition judges. He said that it demonstrated how appropriate a Gothic building would be for a free imperial city dating from the Middle Ages and listed several German Medieval town halls as examples. Reichensperger may have helped his friend as early in 1855, as Scott recalled, ‘the competition was decided in my favour’. August de Meuron (1813-98), a Swiss-born architect, who is known for his classical houses in Hamburg, was placed second, and Ludwig Franz Karl Bohnstedt (1822-85), a German who practised in St. Petersburg, was placed third. Scott’s design was masterly. The simplicity of the massing with the tall tower in the centre of a long facade provided a classical stateliness appropriate to an important public building. Yet it was entirely Gothic, allowing it the freedom, at least in theory, to express its historical and regional characteristics, as well as those of its function and construction. His design was widely acclaimed. It was published in The Ecclesiologist and in The Builder, with a plan and a copy of the perspective. Riechensperger reprinted Scott’s memorandum in the Kolner Domblatt on 2 March 1855, and when Scott sent a perspective of his design to the Paris Exhibition later in the year, Adolphe Lance, in a pamphlet, proclaimed that ‘The Town Hall of Hamburg is a most beautiful and most rational construction of these times. Happy is the artist who can put his name to it, and happy is the town that can count it amongst its monuments’.
Unfortunately, the publication of the results of the competition coincided with a disastrous flood when more than half of Hamburg was inundated by the river Elbe and, not unnaturally, the city authorities decided that the funds set aside for the Rathus should be used in the more urgent work of improving the city’s flood defences. The scheme was postponed indefinitely.
Scott was obviously delighted with the tall-tower-in- the-centre-of-a-long-facade formula, as he used it on several later occasions, particularly in 1856, in his entry in the Government Offices Competition and his subsequent Gothic India Office design, and most spectacularly in 1866 for Glasgow University; but it is a measure of the extent of the esteem in which Scott was now held that almost as soon as it was produced, it gave rise to a spate of imitations, which persisted over the next decade. These ranged in scale from a town hall for the small Cheshire town of Congleton, by Scott’s friend and admirer, Edward William Godwin (1833-86), to the Canadian Parliament building at Ottawa by Fuller and Jones in 1859, and included Manchester Town Hall by Alfred Waterhouse in 1868, and Prichard and Seddon’s entry in the Government Offices Competition. The ubiquitous formula was so popular that by the 1880’s it had become boring and dull.
It was not until 1876 that the city authorities of Hamburg decided to revive the Rathaus project by holding another competition. The sketchbooks show that by 16 August 1876 Scott had crossed the North Sea and was in Cologne where for the fourth time he sketched the great cathedral which was now almost complete after centuries of building. While he was there he probably met Reichensperger who may have persuaded him to enter another competition for a new Rathaus at Hamburg. This was announced in The Architect on 14 May 1876 as an ‘Important Competition’ and designs had to be submitted by 1 October. Scott travelled to Hamburg and returned home by way of Trier and Munster where he continued sketching, as well as making ‘elaborate sketches’ of his proposals for the Rathaus. Again, there was another rush to complete and although The Architect implied that the competition would be open to British architects, it must have been a shock to discover that the conditions debarred him from submitting his design. Only architects who were Germans, or Austro-Germans, or who had studied in Germany, were allowed to submit designs in the second Rathaus competition. Whether this condition was designed to specifically exclude Scott is not clear but certainly his previous competition successes had aroused resentment among the German Architectural establishment. He nevertheless made a design in his characteristic secular Gothic style and an ‘alternative design’ in an early German Renaissance style.
In both designs he reproduces his composition of 1854, with a tall tower in the middle of a long façade. But the entrance under the tower is no longer a carriageway and the grand simplicity of the main elevations is compromised by four large dormers. In the Gothic design the central tower is another manifestation of the familiar clock tower first used at Kelham, while at the top of the tower in the Renaissance design he used corner turrets, as at St Mary’s Edinburgh, to change the shape of the tower from square to octagonal, capped by a small classical cupola. The Builder described this tower as ‘a very fine and effective feature with a great deal that is unusual in appearance’ and much better than the Gothic tower. The flanking wings of the Renaissance deign seem to have been based on the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings in the courtyard of Heidelberg Castle, which he had probably seen in 1873, and his design for corner turrets is shown in the sketchbook that he had used on the 1876 tour, the last time that Scott went abroad.
This is a quite extraordinary design for Scott. The sketchbook confirms that it was his personal design and yet it is quite unlike anything that he had ever produced before. Perhaps he was trying to show that he was capable of new ideas. His High Gothic style was now old-fashioned but the Foreign Office shows that he could handle Renaissance architecture with panache and he probably provided this scheme to appeal to the particular composition of the jury. This was led by Professor Wilhelm von Lubke, a noted specialist in the German Renaissance and admirer of Semper, and included his old rival in both the St Nicholas and the Reichstag competitions, Johann Strack of Berlin. His designs for the Rathaus were not published in Scott’s lifetime but in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy immediately after his death, two pen-and-ink perspective drawings ‘of stupendous size’ were exhibited as Scott’s last design for a great public building. They were made ‘in little over a fortnight’ from Scott’s sketches by Weatherley and Francis Ebenezer Jones. Both versions were later reproduced as double-page spreads in The Building News in October and November 1878.
The competiton attracted 126 entries and although Scott had prepared two alternative designs, he was not allowed to submit them. The winners of the competition were Mylius and Bluntschli of Frankfort, but again, amazingly enough, nothing happened. In the end the work was given to two Hamburg firms of architects, Grotjan & Robertson and Haller & Lamprecht, apparently because they had entered the competition with designs that retained Scott’s idea of a dominant tower in the centre of the façade. The building, which Hitchcock calls ‘a vast and turgid edifice’ was finally built, complete with tall tower, between 1886-97, by no less than nine architects.
Fisher, G., Stamp, G. and Heseltine, J., (eds), The Scott Family, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Avebury Publishing, Amersham, 1981), 35 a & b, 79, 80, 83, 85.
Scott’s Recollections, II 162-3.
Scott, G. G., Remarks on Secular and Domestic Architecture, Present and Future (John Murray, London, 2nd ed. 1858), pp. 206, 285.
Germann, G., Gothic Revival in Europe and Britain, Sources, Influences and Ideas (Lund Humphries, London, 1972), pp. 158-9.
Hitchcock, H. R., Architecture, Nineteen and Twentieth Centuries, Pelican History of Art (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1963), pp. 38, 155.
Companion to the Almanac or Year Book of General Information of 1856 (Knight and Co., London, 1856), p. 225.
Muthesius, S., The High Victorian Movement in Architecture, 1850-70 (Routledge & Kegan Paul Books, London and Boston, 1972).
The Architect, XV, 13 May 1876, p. 316.
The Building News, XXXV, 4 October 1878, pp. 342, 352-3.
The Builder, XXXVI, 11 May 1878, p. 480.
The Building News, XXXV, 29 November 1878, pp. 567-9.
The Builder, XXXVI, 11 May 1878, p. 480.
Scott’s Sketch Book (RIBA), p. 46.
Mallgrave, H. F., Gottfried Semper, Architect of the Nineteenth Century (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996), p. 230.
Pagan, H., Catalogue 16 (1993), p. 24.