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a life in architecture

The astonishing Massachusetts State House in Boston pervades the life of Loyd Grossman, TV personality and a tireless commissioner for English Heritage. His father's family lived a stone's throw from it, and his uncle, who ran Boston's railways and public utilities, had an office inside.

'Boston is the classical, intellectual American city. One of the paradoxes is that its showpiece building, a relatively austere embodiment of the democratic aspirations of the new republic, has this rather glitzy gilded dome which dominates the skyline and is a thrilling sight,' says Grossman.

Built of Boston red brick in 1793 by Charles Bulfinch, it is a crisp synthesis of ground-floor arcaded brick, with a white wood Corinthian colonnade forming the piano nobile, a rather austere pediment and then its golden dome. 'It was based on Chambers' palatial Somerset House but is much more dramatic,' says Grossman. 'In a way what Bulfinch was building was a palace for the people, with the soberness and sense of responsibility the new republic expected of its citizens.' For Grossman, Bulfinch is the first truly American architect, familiar with the work of Adams, Chambers and Gibbs but struggling free from colonial influences.

Trinity Church in Boston, St George's Hall in Liverpool, Radcliffe Camera, St Mary-le-Strand and the Pazzi Chapel in Florence are some of the many buildings Grossman repeatedly returns to.

Deborah Mulhearn

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