Amazing articles on just about every subject...


The Architect And The Future

( Originally Published 1910 )



LITTLE has been said in this book concerning the individual, the architect, who has through the ages carried on and developed the laws of the language of building so that we may read the story of man's evolution in composition and construction in our own street and our own home. We have watched the human emotions that have been dominant in molding the changing form on which architectural styles are based. In trying to grasp the salient and especially human characteristics of the styles, we have largely and perhaps wisely overlooked the medium through whom the influence operated.

For the architect's share in the evolution of style is curiously less than would naturally be supposed. He began as a mere craftsman, building without traditions for purely utilitarian purposes. Then came the idea of doing honor to deity and the state, and something more was attempted—first bigness, then beauty. The popular demand and popular aspiration forced the attempt, the medium was the architect. He collected all available experience on the subject and created results in harmony with this demand. He was scientist, and, in a measure, artist, but the fundamental emotional or art impulse came from the people, and he created always within the limitations of popular acceptance and understanding. It is be-cause of this fact that he has told us the true story of the people and of the desires of his time.

Architecture is unique among the professions and the arts by' reason of its numberless limitations—traditional, scientific, practical, and personal. On the one hand, for instance, is its alliance with the numerous manufacturing and building trades, and on the other is the constructive imagination of the artist seeking expression under the absolute control of financial conservation.

Ordinary every-day human convenience must dominate all traditions, laws, and periods in the practice of the architect. The discrimination and taste of the owner or investor and the requirements of his family or tenant, the social or business environment and the customs of the locality, with the materials decided on because of their fitness, are all matters of essential importance.

The constantly changing conditions which exist in the inventive and manufacturing world, the increasing use of concrete and steel, the multitudinous inventions, and the endless flood of catalogues make it almost impossible for an architect to remain fixed in any one mental attitude for any length of time. While he must know as an artist the basic laws of composition and style, he must as a constructor or business man be as well informed in the theory and use of the many elements that are to become part of his scientific whole, and which must have their own peculiar share in the making or the marring of his artistic composition. He must be at least on speaking terms with all such practical and prosaic necessities as steam-heating, electricity, machinery, and plumbing; the constructing ability of contractors, foremen, and work-men, as well as accounting methods that enable him to check costs and payments, and to act as a financial expert where these relate to the marriage of his practical and artistic elements. The architect must also know the materials, their texture, color, weight, cost, and composition—all of which have multiplied vastly in number and complexity in recent years.

The personal equation in architecture has, however, more consideration than ever before, and it has been growing in importance practically since the time of the Gothic. Throughout the entire Renaissance period the individual and his own peculiar method become more and more prominent, and the result is apparent in the development of the styles. This, I believe, is the result of the political independence of the individual and of his acceptance of the right to express in any form or period. This personal independence has created and does create subtle differences which may be recognized by those who have more intimacy with the man or with the school than ordinarily comes within the view of the layman. This exists in precisely the same degree as in music or in literature, where men may recognize the turn of a note or of a phrase and its personality.

There is a side of architecture, however, which should fairly be considered by the interested layman as well within the field of his knowledge and judgment. This side includes rugs, with the stories of their Eastern symbolism, furniture and other accessories, and their proper adjustment to their architectural surroundings; china in all its forms; silver in its ancient glory, with its own trade and guild stories; folklore woven into the usual, the common, and everyday weaves and ornaments in linens and laces, showing periods, historical trade truths, and human desire. These stories can be found in all the furnishings that a modern home requires. These apparently unimportant items are too frequently considered beyond the ken of law and of cultivation. The story of human effort and its expression, graphically told, as we have seen, in the everlasting language of stone and brick, is also told in these useful and ornamental accessories. The architect who designs and creates a cathedral will apply the same knowledge of the laws in the selection or designing of a simple piece of table furniture. Why should not the layman secure for himself a share in the pleasures which any measure of this special knowledge does not fail to give ?

There is a strong temptation to lose one's self among these various and fascinating related subjects, but of necessity I confine myself to the main branch of expressed civilization, leaving my readers to follow the pleasant by-paths in other company.

Consideration of the human stories in the arts and sciences, with some research along these parallel roads, might well be a part of the curriculum of high schools, private schools, and of every college. Here is educational material of fundamental human importance.

Nor would this interfere with the growth of the financial imagination, nor in any degree reduce the joy of life. It would give to the retiring business or professional man a field of intellectual and aesthetic activity and research with which to end his days, and it would also soften the sharp edges of commercial conflict that is some day to give us the millennium of a general and common appreciation of the good things.

As we have said, the main line of that scientific expression which is architecture is less than half what is popularly called art. In the very nature of things it is a supplying of everyday, tangible human needs for shelter, isolation, and comfort; and we, all of us, laymen and scientists alike, may well demand a say in the supplying of such needs.

In this joint partnership of the layman and the scientist the knowledge both of business necessities and the economical adjustments of financial exchange, of business laws, and the practical handling of men is of as much importance as a knowledge of the arts and the laws thereof. This leads us to the conclusion that a good artist cannot be a complete artist without constructive faculty and a full appreciation of commercial or trade requirements.

As it was among the men of the Middle Ages, the mod-ern architect has his guild or society: the American Institute of Architects, with chapters in all the important centres of the country. Almost every strong man in the profession is within this body, although its membership is still a minority of practising architects. The A. I. A. has done a great deal, by reason of its national character, to strengthen that estimable group of public-spirited and insistent body of practising architects now living, and to raise public recognition of professional devotion to sound traditions and high standards. This influence will continue to grow so long as intellect and not interest remains the hall-mark of professional success.

The desire of the Institute is to develop this professional authority not only in private practice, but also in the field of Federal building. In this case the client must be the United States Government, which in past years had proved itself a most unenlightened if not over-particular builder. To save the nation from its own folly in thus memorializing itself for posterity, the American Institute of Architects has advocated the creation of a Federal Bureau of Fine Arts.

This Bureau of Fine Arts, and eventually a govern-mental Department of Fine Arts, based in part on the effective systems in use in France and the other European governments, is without doubt assured to us in the near future. A great need, a vast amount of public opinion, and all the not inconsiderable influence of the American Institute of Architects, and many other bodies similar in general character, are encouraging the innovation. Certainly the importance to American citizenship is immeasurable.

Of other factors that, working with the architect, play a part in architectural expression, are the material manufacturers, the builders, and the workmen. The architect is no longer a craftsman, though he must know as much as the craftsman in each of a dozen fields, He must materialize his ideal—and the ideal of his time—through various human agencies more or less imperfect, usually more than less. He must find all the varying elements that have contributed to his conception—laws, traditions, the national spirit, the dominating ideal of his period, the nationality of the style he has borrowed, the temperament, occupation, habits, and prejudices of his clients and the imaginative quality he has added, interpreted through these others.

The architect, nevertheless, has a profession with peculiar and especial privileges and honors. He is in a most intimate sense the historian of his time, an almost unconscious recorder of the very spirit of nations, and his record has a permanence and a verity unequalled in the world. Even the marvellous literature of Greece is not as much to us today as her architecture, the influence of which, in a hundred forms, is seen whichever way we turn.

And so it will be with the architects of to-day a century or two hence. They will tell our grandchildren what manner of folk we were. And our grandchildren will laugh or weep at the story. What this story may be I have tried with you to discover. Perhaps I should say I have tried to point a way for its discovery; to give, in other words, a method by which the perspective of time may he applied, however roughly, even to our own day.

And what of the future ? If the tendency of the time is toward a further analysis and rehabilitation of classic forms, must we be contented with the prospect of such an operation till the end of time ?

If our review of style evolution has demonstrated any one fundamental law regarding it, this is that conditions must produce some compelling ideal, must bring about some great crisis to give science the emotional impetus for creation.

The ideal in architecture to-day is chiefly the personal ideal—that artistic conscience again—of the group that is building us our buildings; a brilliant group doing excellent individual work, whose ambitions are the strongest element in the architectural progress of our time.

You remember that it was a great ebullition of civic pride which gave Athens her architecture, the inspiration of a new religious ideal that began the Christian architecture called Romanesque, and the addition of a national ideal to that which gave France the Gothic. Similarly the awakening of intellectual and philosophical interest and activities—a less potent force—brought about the Renaissance, which was not in the same degree creative.

What have we in America comparable to any of these forces ? What conflict is going on, or is imminent, that might key us to the creative pitch of these olden times ?

With civic pride we are surely but lightly endowed, for national feeling has taken the place of local sentiment. The city of to-day is not, in these times of universal travel, in any degree like the city of old, which was a nation in itself and sufficient unto itself. Of nationalism, too, we are not heavily burdened. Our recently quickened understanding of commercial and political frailties, our growing national pessimism, and our broadening world sympathies are influences antagonistic to any violent patriotic elation. Nor is a unity of religious or ethical ideal possible with the multiple divisions of creed, the rapidly transitional development of religious thought, and our rather coldly intellectual attitude toward all formulated schemes of ethical truth. While such a union of religious teaching, under some great and inspiring leader, as yet unheralded, is possible, and the various progressive movements toward a more metaphysical and de-doctrinated code seem to be preparing the way, the tendency is so far in the other direction. Religious progress at this time is decidedly toward a broader and freer individualism than the world has ever known. The progress is distinctly intellectual, and the age continues an intellectual one. Widely inclusive investigation and experiment, transition, uncertainty, and unrest, though not without progress, are the keynotes of the time, and our architecture reveals it even to ourselves.

The big, dominating force in America today is its industrial feudalism, and its restraining force is the ideal of the individual. This is developed to a point unknown in the previous history of architecture. The opportunities given the average American to express himself in domestic architecture are unique. The condition is undoubtedly an outcome of the interesting partnership between the industrial overlord and his retainers. The overlord requires libraries, institutions of learning, banks, and palaces, and we have them. On the other hand, we have today a domestic architecture of the highest degree of excellence, a new expression which is not only comfortable and fit, but beautiful and supremely convenient.

Science will continue to build more and more amazing temples for the overlord as long as the industrial ideal retains its power. And when the time comes for the third great revolution, or evolution, and that ideal is destroyed or modified, out of the conflict, saved by the ideal of the individual unit, will arise a new and vital power, perhaps approaching the Ideal socialism of the thirteenth century without the attending horrors, perhaps a world citizenship, and science will build temples to the new ideal, and a new style will be born.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com