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Architecture: Ancient and Modern Essay

Every art has its construction; even music, seemingly the most ethereal and most decorative of them all, is built around a constructive skeleton; and after careful analyzing of what seems the most complicated musical poem, the one or more simple motives around which it has been built up can be found. What Beethoven has done for music in the Sonata form, the Doric builders have done for Architecture in the Temple form. If in any work of art the construction is imperfect, the work cannot be beautiful ; and if the construction can be altogether separated from this work without destroying it, it is no art at all. In the art of Architecture, construction seems to be more prominent than in the other arts, but this is only apparently so. There is no more and no less construction in the Greek temple, than in the sonata or poem or piece of statuary ; but in modern times construction has been separated from architecture almost entirely. This fact one can observe daily in any of the large cities where some building is going on, and the steel skeleton is put up and finished long before the ‘”architecture” is pasted against it ; in fact, in many cases the architecture is put on at different heights at the same time, showing plainly that it does not grow organically. Consider the growth of leaves and flowers and observe how they develop gradually with the framework, which carries and holds them together, in all stages of their existence.

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Remove the substance of the leaves, the veins, the skeleton will remain, but the tree will die, and the veins and twigs and stems will slowly decay and disappear; but remove the columns and cornices from the modern building, and it will stand as firmly, or perhaps more firmly, than before. There never has been a period in the history of architecture when a greater change in the aspect of buildings should neces sarily take place, or with a greater opportunity for the architect to design new forms of architectural art than at present. Think of the materials now generally used, such as iron and concrete,used as they never were before. The Romans did use a con struction similar to the modern concrete ; they also found that this material needed stiffening, and they made re-inforced con crete, not with iron or steel as we do now, but with brick layers and arches. The results were practically the same, for the Roman as well as the modern concrete building should be con ceived as cast out of one large mass of material, a monolith without elasticity, as though hollowed out of one huge piece of rock.

The modern architects, ? or let us rather give them their proper name, ‘engineers’? have gone much further in the use of re-inforced concrete than their Roman brethren; but, notwith standing this fact, the modern building is much inferior, for in a far less degree does the construction grow together with the architecture, or as it would be better to say, the architecture with the construction. The Roman did exactly what is done at present; he erected the core, the skeleton, and upon its completion, he called the Greek artist to cover the building with a beautiful envelope of costly marbles, bronzes and other materials. The Greek archi tect, however, an artist through and through, did not under stand this huge new structure, foreign to his own principles, and covered the building with marble and placed columns before the walls. These he provided with their entablature, because to his trained eye and love for truth, a column which did not carry its proper load had no reason for existence; but this en tablature which necessarily implies the idea of the horizontal lintel, he placed under the arches and vaults introduced by the Roman.

The Greek artist went still further, for following the curved lines of these arches and vaults he used the forms which symbolize the principles of horizontal architecture, thus proving his misunderstanding of the forms he was compelled to cover. The Roman building therefore can be divided into two parts, the engineer’s or constructive part, and the architect’s or the part of architectural art, and this very possibility of distinct di vision constitutes the defect. This same defect is precisely the great weakness of modern architecture, with this difference, that the Greek architect, who was compelled by his conquerors to decorate the Roman building, was still a true artist, and did his work of embellishing with as much truth and devotion as was possible under the circumstances, and still created a build ing which was both beautiful and magnificent. He used ma terials in accordance with their nature and character, he could not do otherwise being a Greek, and the modern architect ap parently understands his huge structure far less well. He nails and wires all sorts of forms and ornaments against this building, not in accordance with the material used, and sug gesting to the beholder dynamic functions which it is impossi ble for them to fulfill.

This is not only the method of proceed ing with so-called steel frame buildings, but with buildings constructed of any material. The ”architecture” is simply placed around it, and has as little to do with the structure as an overcoat has to do with the body of the man it covers ; it can be changed at any time at the command of the changing fashions. Examine the modern buildings, such as the railroad station, custom house or bank, dressed up in their so-called monumental architecture, like the carnival prince in the masquerade; archi tecture inspired by, if not copied altogether from the Doric, Ionic or Corinthian temple or Roman bath. Here and there a touch of Renaissance is used ; much French at present, because it is the fashion; or Italian, if more to one’s taste; and as a great light in architecture recently said, “always improving on the classical forms. … !” I do not mention the church, for everyone will easily under stand that, no matter how free-thinking a community may be, the Christian principles cannot be expressed in the form of a Greek temple or Roman bath. Such a period of imitative architecture, of servile copying of the great works of the past, has never existed before. Let them all pass before you in imagination, the temples and palaces of antiquity, Assyrian, Egyptian and Greek; let us go further until the best period of the Renaissance has faded away, and nowhere will you find that the one copied mechanically the forms of the other, although more or less profoundly influenced by their predecessors. This is true even of the Renaissance; for when they began to excavate and study the classic buildings, intending to copy them, it proved impossible, simply because times had changed. The classic forms were not understood, especially the universal use of color in ancient architecture, as ascertained in relatively modern times, was unknown.

The first buildings of the Renaissance show plainly the lack of life, and one of the princi pal reasons was the total absence of color. The artists soon observed this defect, and began to use sculptured ornaments which took the place of the ancient coloring. Influenced by the classics as the Renaissance was, yet this style produced an utterly different building because of the changed conditions of society. Take for instance those build ings of the Florentine school, such as the Pitti Palace and many others ; do they not all express plainly the difference in civiliza tion, politics and morals of that particular period as compared with the buildings of Rome and Greece? The early Italian palace was a fortress for the strong, as well as a dwelling for the proud and rich. The powerful families lived in a constant state of warfare and the strong walls of the palace afforded safety to the besieged. Art in general and architecture in particular is the mirror of time ; what would be left of history if those monuments of an cient architecture did not fill the gaps in the documents gath ered from other sources. Each nation spoke a different language in art ; and at the time, this language was understood not only by the select few, but by the whole nation.

The legends and history of the past as well as those of the present were told and retold to the people ; religion, forms of govern ment, conditions of life, even the very products of the soil were recorded and expressed in the petrified books, belonging to the whole community. As late even as the reign of Louis XIV, architecture still expressed the contemporary life of society. During the long peiod which lies between the reigns of the two great rulers, Charlemagne and Louis XIV, architecture in France had developed on new principles. The final highest ex pression of these new principles was the cathedral, built for the people by the people, and again the natural outcome of the social conditions. In the cathedral the whole universe is embodied,viture, vice and passions, arts and sciences, in short the entire history of humanity. It was Louis XIV who extinguished the last sparks of this art which were still glowing at the time he succeeded to the throne; and marvellous it is indeed to observe in architec ture the last struggle for the maintenance of the sound and true principles of mediaeval architecture, which this strong nation still possessed. Louis XIV crushed the art of the nation, introducing a foreign art most expressive of his personal power and love of pomp, but killing the art of the people, which in architecture has never since come to life again.

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The reign of terror may have ended the political traditions of the Grand Monarque. The germs, however, of that corrupted art, lived and multiplied even until the present day, and pene trated deep into the new world, where the imitation of the art of the Louis of France is still the dream of the rich. The Parthenon is certainly a beautiful building and will re main so forever. Even if it were taken from its foundations on the rock of Athens, and placed wherever human fancy might decree, still it would be beautiful, but only in its fullest degree for those who understand the purpose for which it was erected, the symbols of its forms and the meaning of its statuary. By a modern nation, as a whole, the beauty of this building cannot be appreciated, simply because it is a poem in a foreign lan guage, which has first to be mastered before the contents can kindle their minds and touch their hearts. When the columns of the Parthenon are taken away from the base and put before the wall of a modern building, the spaces between the columns pierced with windows belonging to differ ent stories, and the whole building placed in a climate, possibly where the rays of the sun do not touch and retouch the forms calculated for the clearness and vividness of the Greek atmos phere, then these stately columns, once full of life and beauty, become a dead mass of stone, without any meaning.

The symbols embodied in the very shape, symbols expressed through forms indicating action and character of material, and the whole in perfect harmony with the laws of nature, all is lost. No modern architect ever seems to think a moment of the ignorance he exhibits in mutilating Greek architecture in this manner, which is, however, the usual method of proceeding, es pecially when public buildings are to be designed, which are supposed to be built in monumental style. The idea of monumental architecture is not reached until every form expresses, in a symbolic way, the active use and character of material, and the purpose of these forms, not only as a whole but in every detail. This cannot be expressed by placing the classical column in front of a steel support; the futile duplication becomes still more astonishing when we re member the great economy which is usually expected of modern constructors. Some art critics have defended the modern architect by pointing out the difficulty he has in choosing for his building among the confusing multitude of forms set before him by the architecture of the past.

But the very thing which an architect should not.do is to pick forms from anywhere, for it is more than reasonable that even under the same circumstances, so far as construction and nature of material goes, the architect of to-day, with different views of life and beauty, should invent different forms for expressing the same idea. Still greater should be the changes, considering the difference in material used, together with the altered purpose of the whole building. Take the Greek or Roman view, for instance, of vice and virtue, as compared with ours, and in some instances vice be comes virtue and virtue vice. This difference of view will change the whole modern drama in such a manner that an in telligent Greek might not understand it, unless he were able to place himself in the midst of modern society; and we have difficulty in understanding the Greek drama unless we first study the habits and morals of those times. In architecture exactly the same difference exists as in other arts ; perhaps even emphasized by the fact that all the minor details of our mode of life have changed. Suppose, for example, we were invited to dine with a well-to-do Roman; he would invite us into his triclinium and offer us a place on the couch. Supporting the left arm on a cushion, close to the small table, and stretching our legs to the right, we would take the courses of the elaborate dinner with our right hand ; for we would be sufficiently well-,bred to do as the Roman did.

Would we not bless the moment when all the guests arose, and we were delivered from this most uncomfortable position, the left arm probably stiff for the next fortnight ? But if we returned the kindness, what would the Roman have to tell his friends at home ? I am sure that he could never have dreamed of such discomforts and bad manners. The world has changed, and is still changing, and with it all that is in it. A few centuries ago it was considered the noblest act to pierce one’s neighbor with a sword, for what we would consider a small offense ; now we do not stab our neighbor but go to law and thus decide who is right or wrong. Let a couple of cen turies pass by, and suppose that then the quarrels of nations should be peacefully decided, what will then become of the soldier, military honor, military courage ? the highest qualities of the human being of the past ?

The monuments to the brave may decay, the ornamentations and statues symbolizing victory may then not be understood at all or in some new sense. The virtues will not disappear, but the view the man of the future takes of these virtues, will alter; and consequently, in order to understand the creations of the past, he will have to learn to think as their creators did. Far from a knowledge of the past being a disadvantage to the architect of to-day, it ought to be of tremendous assistance to us to be able to study the great masterpieces and thereby per ceive how the arts developed under different circumstances and according to what principles they were perfected. Among the elements with which we have to deal, a great many continue the same. The laws of nature, for instance, have continued unaltered throughout all ages, the human mind has discovered many, and no doubt there are still many hidden, the discovery of which will be of the greatest influence on all the activities of man and especially of art. The nature of material remains as it was thousands of years ago, and the artists of the great periods of architecture have most scrupulously observed this fact.

But notwithstanding that centuries have repeated this lesson, it is ignored to such a degree in our day that even the most casual observer of good taste cannot fail continually to note the most preposterous mis takes in all the things about him. It is evident enough that a great part of the misapprehension of the qualities of material, as well as of form, has been greatly increased by the use of steam power, but this is not the funda mental reason. The real enemy of art in our day is not the ma chine; for after all this is invented, made and governed by the human brain; but it is the extravagant pursuit of wealth, and the specialising of labor; a natural consequence of this pursuit, killing the pride and pleasure, which in order to produce some thing truly beautiful, a human being should find in his daily work. There is no artistic object which has not in the making given intense pleasure to its creator or creators. In modern times, unfortunately, it is almost impossible that one person should finish the whole work. The artist, designer and workman, all in one, the ideal con dition as realised in times past (in case of Albrecht Durer for instance, and countless others).

Whether this will change in the future is difficult to predict, but even under these less favor able conditions ? I mean the separation of designer and work man ? much better results can and should be obtained. The machine does not design the ornamentations on the cretonne or wall paper it prints, it only does the common labor, and although the charm of handiwork will always re main, and be much superior, other things being equal, because it shows this love and pleasure in the work which the machine is unable to express, the machine has become a necessity of the times and must be used under the present conditions of society. There is no reason why bad designs should be turned out by machinery, but for the bad taste or perverse economy of the manufacturers. In the first place, they do not employ the sort of man who will take the pains to study the particular attributes of the new tool, in order to know how to balance the various parts of the design with reference to it so as to avoid monotony, the chief fault of machine work.

The manufacturer employs human beings who are worse than machines, because dulled by ignorance and the monotony of their labor, they work without the help and stimulus that comes of knowledge, and without a taste for what is beautiful. There is of course a great deal of work done by machinery which must be regarded as a blessing to mankind, that which requires strength rather than skill ; for although skill is required for even the most common labor, it is better that this skill should be devoted to some higher class of work than that which the machine is able to perform more quickly and with just as great or greater accuracy. The sawing of blocks of stone and wood, the preparing of metals, in fact of most materials, should be done by the tools which have been so admirably invented for the purpose. We may go further still, for there are good reasons why, for instance, the tenon and mortise used in wood construction (as in furniture making), printing of books, the preparing of clay and pressing of tiles in the pottery, are better done by machinery ; and so there are many processes in all the different trades, where the work of the machine is preferable to that of the skilled hand. But when it comes to productions in which the human brain necessarily expresses itself in a direct way, through the use of simple tools, which in such cases can only be controlled and guided by the hands, the machine is of no value.

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Obviously it cannot enter into competition with the skilled hand so far as the excellence of the product is concerned. Stone or wood carving should never be done by machinery, just because the masterhand of design can not be separated from that of execution ; one unskillful stroke of the chisel will spoil the entire piece of work. Repeated motives are often of great beauty. They will however become objectionable and positively bad if repeated with that inevitable accuracy and monotony which must always appear when the machine is used. The little variations which occur in handwork, and which are hardly perceptible, give the charm to a piece of carving, just as the lines of a pen-drawing, which at first sight seem straight, are in reality not straight at all, and if made so, the drawing will produce the dry and unnatural impression which we observe so often in architectural designs.

Even if a piece of carving is copied accurately by means of machinery, it is never the same, but may be likened to the per formance of a masterpiece of music on the pianola. It loses too much of the individuality of the performer, which changes with his mood each time the work is repeated, and thus new charms will outweigh the disappointments which may also occur now and then, for the same reason. A great mistake everywhere observable in the products of the machine is the copying of handwork, which constitutes the real objection to it In every architect’s office you will find cata logues of all kinds of articles, necessary in the construction of buildings. Many of these are of a more or less decorative character. They represent forms taken from some period of the past. The mechanical devices with which many of these articles are necessarily provided are in the “better class of goods,” to use the commercial term, as a rule well thought out for the par ticular purpose. They are not copied from the old, for the simple reason that the handiwork of this newer device was too awkward for production by the machine.

In such cases the manufacturer perceived the necessity of completely altering the forms ; besides there were new forms which had to be invented for purposes which never before existed. A natural consequence of these inevitable changes would of course be a new system of decoration. But to adapt a system of decoration to the machine does not seem to dawn upon the mind of the manufacturer. The fact is that when a suggestion of this kind is made to him, the answer is always that the public will not buy the article if unaccustomed forms are applied. Is it not unlikely that if the public is intelligent enough to appreciate that some of the mechanical devices are better when especially adapted to their purpose, that they would not be brought to appreciate that the decoration should also harmonize with the new ideas? Take for instance hardware, an article with which volumes of catalogues are illustrated showing examples beginning with the Assyrian and Egyptian, and following up the entire sequence of styles.

Is the public really so ignorant as not to understand that it is ridiculous for them to have on their doorknobs and escutcheons the emblems of Francis I or the heroic deeds of Rameses II told in hieroglyphics ? The reader may think that these common articles do not be long to the realm of Art, and as it is they certainly do not, but they pretend to, for as soon as an object is decorated, no matter how simple the manner in which this decoration is applied, it should belong to art. Any decoration demands a certain amount of attention from the observer and ought to delight his eye ; in many cases it actually spreads much sorrow. How ever, this is not the fault of the ornamentation, which in its way is innocent of the slovenly malice of its creator. In recent years it has become the fashion to omit ornamenta tion altogether, and this fashion is responsible for the so-called ” Mission ” style in furniture, which in fact is so simple that it seems to be designed by simple-minded people. The secret beauty of this style is the fact that a rough block of wood can be deposited in the front of a machine and the finished piece of furniture will soon appear at the other end.

Simplicity in art is an excellent quality, but it must never be the only one, else it is likely to be merely awkward unintelligence. The Greek temple is a simple building, at the same time a most beautiful one, because with simplicity it united a multitude of better qualities. It is a fact that the craving for decoration dwells in every human being, no matter how low the degree of civilization. Even before man begins to cover his naked body with hides or textiles, he loads it with beads and trinkets and tattoos it to satisfy his love for adornment. The desire for decoration distinguishes men from the animals, and, as a natural consequence of this desire, every man is born with a certain amount* of aesthetic taste or feeling for beauty. Taste like the feeling for truth and goodness has to be de veloped before it can be relied on. But civilization does not seem to exercise much unconscious influence in aesthetic direc tions, as is proved by the fact that the artwork of primitive peoples is undoubtedly in many respects much better than ours.

The ornaments on Indian blankets and basketwork, are as a rule, well chosen as to color and form. I mean, of course, the older examples, for even the few Indians left have been sadly influenced by the false standards and commercialism of a higher civilization. These ornaments show a fitness for the purpose and material and a great originality, which cannot be found in objects made by people of as advanced a cultivation as ours. Let me beg you to examine the coffee-cups, cream-jug, plates and other articles on your breakfast table, and remark that they are decorated, consequently that they pretend to be artistic ; then notice the deplorable design you look at every day. Does not this prove that your aesthetic sensibility has never been properly developed, or brought to bear on your material sur roundings? For it is not only the cup on the breakfast table, but everything useful and decorative in or about the modern house, which over and over again proves this humiliating in dictment.

Now without the appreciation of the people, the highest development of art is not possible. There are great artists in our day, men who have a taste for beauty and love for truth, but their number is far too small, a direct consequence of the indifference of the public. It was a people that built the Greek temple and a people that built the Gothic cathedrals; the foundation of the former was beauty, of the latter truth ; both the temple and cathedral per petuate the devotion and love of their originators. Art, however, does not have its beginning with temples or cathedrals, far less with customhouses, banks or capitols slavish ly copied or stupidly adapted from them in piecemeal fashion. It has its beginning, as among the savages, with the drinking cup and the blanket which protects their body. In the process of forming and decorating the simple utensils of our daily life, art has been born and must be reborn, so that it may reach and open the eyes of every member of the community. It is of prime importance, therefore, to quicken and develop the taste of the people by directing their attention to their im mediate material surroundings. Then a new building will in evitably be constructed, not like the Greek temple and not like the cathedral. But might it not be as great or even greater than these, because of the advantage which this build ing of the future will gain from the teachings of centuries and from a foundation based on beauty and truth combined?

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Architecture: Ancient and Modern Essay
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Every art has its construction; even music, seemingly the most ethereal and most decorative of them all, is built around a constructive skeleton; and after careful analyzing of what seems the most complicated musical poem, the one or more simple motives around which it has been built up can be found. What Beethoven has done for music in the Sonata form, the Doric builders have done for Architecture in the Temple form. If in any work of art the construction is impe

2017-09-04 13:18:50
Architecture: Ancient and Modern Essay
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