Peter Ellis (architect)
Ellis designed Oriel Chambers in 1864 at the corner of Water Street and Covent Garden in Liverpool, considered by many architectural historians to be one of the most influential buildings of its age, a precursor of the modernist style in architecture and one of the earliest attempts to break away from the classical tradition of commercial architecture. It was described by Charles Reilly, Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University as the "oddest building in Liverpool, at once so logical and so disagreeable...as a cellular habitation for the human insect it is a distinct asset to the town," and by Nikolaus Pevsner as "one of the most remarkable buildings of its date in Europe."
Ellis's only other known commission was 16 Cook Street, Liverpool, of 1866. This building has been noted for its "surprisingly modern" spiral staircase, cantilevered out from the main building and clad with sheets of iron and glass.
It is possible that Ellis's career as an architect was adversely affected by criticism of Oriel Chambers, such as that which appeared in The Builder of 16 June 1866, where it was described as a "large agglommeration of protruding plate glass bubbles", a "vast abortion" without any aesthetic qualities.
Although he practised for a further eighteen years after the Cook Street commission, his entry in the 1867 edition of Gore's Directory of Liverpool describes him as both architect and civil engineer. In the 1884 directory the term "civil engineer" precedes "architect", suggesting that architecture became a secondary strand in Ellis's career.
Ellis's work may have influenced that of the American architect John Wellborn Root who came to Liverpool when 16 Cook Street was being constructed. For example, in the Rookery Building, Chicago, Root used a glass and iron spiral staircase similar to that in 16 Cook Street.
Quentin Hughes has suggested that Ellis's career would have been very different if, like Root, he had gone to Chicago where his use of oriel windows to provide interior daylighting was adopted and exploited by American architects.
- Ellis' obituary appeared in the Liverpool Daily Post, October 21, 1884.
- Peter Ellis, of Liverpool, architect of Oriel Chambers and 16 Cook Street. 1804-1884, Architectural Review vol. 119, 1956 May, pp. 268-270 (also in: Architectural History vol. 1, 1958, pp. 84-90, 91-94, and Architectural Forum vol. 123, no. 4, 1965 Nov., p. 48-51).
- Adam Caruso, in: Mario Rinke, Joseph Schwartz (eds.), Before steel. The introduction of structural iron and its consequences, Niggli publishers, 2010.
- Q. Hughes, Seaport, Bluecoat Press, 1993, pp. 59-60.
- C. Reilly, Some Liverpool Streets and Buildings in 1921, Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, 1921, pp. 40-41
- R. Pollard and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England - Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West. Yale University Press, 2006, p.342.
- Hughes, p,65.
- Hughes, p.62.
- Hughes, p.63
- Q. Hughes, Liverpool - City of Architecture, Bluecoat Press, 1999, p.87.
- Q. Hughes, review of Carl W.Condit, A History of Commercial and Public Buildings in the Chicago Area 1875-1925, in Town Planning Review, 36(4), January 1966, p. 294.
- Adam Caruso on the impact of Liverpool’s pioneering Ellis Buildings, bdonline, 8 January 2010.