George Howe played an important and catalytic role in both the architecture of Philadelphia and that of the United States. After a successful practice which had emphasized traditional styles in residential architecture, he turned to the International Style. He left his former firm of Mellor, Meigs & Howe, established a new firm with Swiss architect William Lescaze, and designed the landmark Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building at 12th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. Howe was born in Worcester, MA, the son of James H. and Helen (Bradford) Howe. He received his early education at private schools and his B.A. in Architecture from Harvard University in 1908. In that year he was admitted to the Atelier Laloux in Paris and in 1912 graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. When he returned to the United States, he settled in Philadelphia, where his mother's family resided, and entered the firm of Furness, Evans & Co.. He was still in the office at Furness's death in 1912 and by 1913 had been asked by Allen Evans to remain as a partner in the firm.
By 1916, however, Howe joined the younger, but successful, firm of Mellor & Meigs. Nonetheless, with the outbreak of World War I, Howe left the United States and did not return until 1919 after years of distinguished service to his country. In his absence, the firm continued designing the residences for which it had already received some recognition. Howe followed this tradition, but also began designing branch offices for the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society. It is not surprising, therefore, that when he left the Mellor, Meigs & Howe office in 1928, he took with him the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society account. In mid-1929 Howe established a new partnership with William Lescaze, a younger Swiss architect who had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Zurich. The first commission attempted by the new firm of Howe & Lescaze was the Oak Lane Country Day School in Philadelphia (demolished 1960). It demonstrated the interest in the International Style which the partners would again use in the main office for the iconic Philadelphia Saving Fund Society in Philadelphia.
Howe & Lescaze remained in operation until 1932, when Howe returned to independent practice. Howe's independent designs again were primarily residential in type and included Square Shadows in Whitemarsh, PA, for Walter Stix Wasserman (1932-34) and the Robert F. Welsh residence in Laverock, PA (1934-35), both expressing the influence of European design and the International Style. In 1940 Howe turned to the design of housing developments, working in association with Louis I. Kahn and Oscar Stonorov.
From 1941 Howe performed as a consultant to the Public Buildings Administration in Washington, D.C., and, by February, 1942, had been appointed Supervising Architect for that adminstration under the Federal Works Agency, succeeding Louis Simon. In 1945 he resigned this position and began working in association with Robert Montgomery Brown and devoting more time to the education of young architects. In this area he served as a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome (1947-49) and as Chair of the Architectural Department at Yale University (1950-54). After his retirement from the latter position in 1954, Howe returned to Philadelphia and was asked by the Philadelphia Chapter of the AlA to report on the use of land facing Independence Historical Park, then under consideration for enlargement.
Howe was a member of the T-Square Club and for many years served as the editor of its T-Square and Shelter magazines, in the process luring several of the most prominent architects of the modern persuasion to contribute. He was elected a fellow of the AlA in 1943. He also served on a number of committees relating to the education of architects in the United States, including the committee of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University for the new Graduate School of Design there, the advisory council for the Department of Architecture at Princeton University, and a national advisory group in connection with design instruction at the California Institute of Technology.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- T-Square Club
- Beaux Arts Institute of Design
- Ecole des Beaux-Arts
- American Academy in Rome
- Harvard University
- Princeton University
- Yale University
- California Institute of Technology
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