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Trade And Scientific Factors

( Originally Published 1910 )



THE intimate relation of architecture to trade is dramatically illustrated in your own act of building a house. The moment that science is called upon by you for the construction of your individual temple to the ideal of family, the trade of the world is enlisted in your service. Miners, quarrymen, lumbermen, sailors, artists, and artisans of every sort, in the four corners of the earth, set to work to supply you with materials. The one item of the locks on your doors may involve almost an infinity of diverse interests and efforts. Every part of this huge machine is at your command. Not only does it place at your disposal all the modern products of all the markets of the world, but it ransacks the past for you, and the accumulated treasures of the ages are your heritage. Thus it has been since earliest times. Trade has made possible the interchange of knowledge and experience, and so contributed to the development of style in architecture.

The products that you assemble by way of the modern trade routes for the building of your house, and the ideals and accumulated knowledge of yourself and your architect, will unite in a record by which the future historian will know you and your time perhaps better than you do yourself.

So we can see broadly the part that trade plays in the life of the world, and particularly its great contribution to the development of human expression in architecture. This gives us a special reason for looking back into history in search of periods of great trade activity, for if our theory holds good they will be found associated with important eras of building and architectural progress. This is indeed the case, and it has never been more vividly illustrated than in our own country today, when a great industrial era is leaving its amazing mark in an astonishing architectural outburst which we shall study with interest in its proper place.

We are concerned now with beginnings, with the original impetus that gave us modern architecture. We find it in that splendid pageant of trade through the inland seas which made the ancient city of Byzantium, afterward renamed Constantinople, the commercial centre of the world. It was the flood-tide of this stream of commerce that afterward made Athens and the cities of Italy great, and that opened later the whole of western Europe to Grecian and Roman culture.

We may consider briefly the trade routes of an earlier period. These made Memphis and all Egypt rich until, by natural and very modern methods, Nineveh and Babylon cut them off, at the same time diverting the profits from customs to themselves, and the sea trade to the ports of Tyre and Sidon. Through this, Egypt suffered loss of power and consequent decadence of her school of architecture. This again was, in later days, the fate of the Assyrian cities when the Greeks, using the same tactics, diverted the stream of wealth, that was pouring into the West from the East, to themselves, by way of the ancient city of Trebizond, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, and by the rivers uniting the great inland lakes.

Earlier Byzantium and the Greeks also had the ad-vantage of a distinct and shorter, though hardly safer, route into the North and Northwest, in addition to the Mediterranean route. This was by way of the Danube, that back-door to Europe, with its short land portage to the headwaters of the Rhine and the Elbe, and thence into the North Sea. By this route a side-current of Eastern architectural influence entered northern Europe, to reappear, as we shall see, many centuries later.

Let us take a sort of bird's-eye view of the great trade routes of this period, using Byzantium as the centre. Far to the East and to the South are the camel routes of the Mongolian traders, their endless caravans bringing the silks, jewels, and ivories of the manufacturing Orient to the Western world. Beyond the Caspian Sea, by way of Bokhara and Samarkand, the trail branches, running southward to India to gather its spices and fabrics and to give in exchange the metals and grain of the North. From the Caspian, by the Volga and the Don, to the Black Sea, there is a short land portage. Otherwise, for a long distance inland, the lakes and rivers offer easier routes, as water transportation is cheaper than overland, and in every case advantage is taken of inland seas and navigable rivers, trade travelling along the lines of least resistance.

Down the length of the great Black Sea the stream of Oriental trade pours through the Dardanelles, to be held up for tolls at imperious Byzantium. Little wonder that the city grew rich and flourished. It held the key to transportation between Europe and Asia.

Down through the isles of the AEgean Sea these strange ancient trade routes spread. The cities dotted along the shores of the Mediterranean are fed and grow fat upon them. It is barter or trade that is making the greatness of Byzantium, of Carthage and Athens, and later of Venice, Naples, Genoa, and Marseilles.

Northward and westward the trade routes spread to the seaports and the mouths of rivers, in the land which later became France and Germany, with a portage just north of the Pyrenees and across country from one river to another. But water travel for freight is still the cheaper, and before long we find the trade streams uniting in a single longer one that runs out through the Strait of Gibraltar and, by the open Atlantic, to the western coast of Europe and to the British Isles in the far North.

Trade is subduing the wilderness. Its line of march from Byzantium is consistently northwestward. Beginning in the ancient Eastern countries we call Oriental-India, Persia, and Assyria— trade moves forward to Byzantium, where it establishes centres for the development of culture. Following westward from Byzantium, we find Athens developing into a central power, to become, as we shall see, the birthplace of modern culture and, especially, of our architecture.

Moving still westward, we find Rome becoming the world centre, and Venice on the one side of Italy and Genoa on the other, because of their geographical situation, becoming great and influential cities.

Thence the advance starts overland, still in the same direction, for the reason that the fighting tribes of the Goths and Mongolians kept the traders from the North-east, and the Saracens kept them from entering into Spain on the Southwest, the mountain ranges on either hand assisting. They therefore, of necessity, took the middle course, the land of the Western Franks being more or less civilized and open to foreign influences. Thus we find the beautiful valley of the Loire, which stretches eastward and westward across France, become a common trading-ground for the Northern tribes and the men of the Mediterranean regions. Correspondingly, we find a higher degree of civilization in this valley, growing from the development of trade.

We shall follow this great trade development just one step further before taking up the other phase of our subject. In the fifteenth century of the Christian era (1453) the Turks took Constantinople, and thus effectively blocked the main trade route between the East and the West, and forced the Genoese and Venetian carriers to seek other routes. It is but a few years after the cutting-off of Eastern trade (in 1492) that we find the Genoese sea-captain Christopher Columbus setting sail to find another route to India, and landing, as he supposed, in the island of Japan. A few years later Africa was circumnavigated by Vasco da Gama in a similar quest. These are but a few of the striking examples in history of the influence of trade conditions on world progress. I propose to show how these early Eastern trade currents, which we have been viewing from the eminence of the present, were the real forces in the creation of our heritage of architecture.

Up to the time of its subjugation by the Romans, which reached its climax in the first century of the Christian era, Europe was in the fullest sense a barbaric country. The population consisted almost entirely of marauding tribes. The only culture of consequence was along the great Mediterranean trade routes that we have been tracing, and this was distinctly Oriental in character. Egypt, of course, had its marvellous civilization complete, and its influence on architecture is traceable along the western coast of Asia, but in a limited degree, as the particular building material of the country, soft sandstone or lime-stone, was not found elsewhere.

As it was, India, Persia, and Assyria, especially Assyria, dominated the architecture of the new world. Assyria, while drawing inspiration from Egypt, had continued to individualize itself in buildings more practical and graceful than the Egyptian, primarily because of its use of clay, which gave a brick and terra - cotta architecture. Nineveh was, of course, the fountain-head of Assyrian art and civilization, and the trade currents were, as we have seen, northwestward from the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates, so that we find Byzantium growing up under these Eastern influences a wholly Eastern and largely an Assyrian city.

Until recently we had an excellent example of Egyptian architecture in the old Tombs prison in New York City. The demolition of this gloomy and impractical but mightily impressive old pile leaves almost no example to cite, but I have reproduced Mielatz's well-known etching of the Tombs, and this gives a vivid impression of its architecture. The style is associated for us with death and mystery, and for this reason it has been used occasionally for entrances to cemeteries and for lodge-rooms. We are happily past the period when it was thought fitting for the incarceration of the law-breaker, and there seems no other appropriate use to which its darkness and massiveness—almost invariably expressed in granite can be put.

Assyrian and Babylonian architecture is subject to much the same comment (Fig. 3). It is curiously lacking in modern expression, and has never been used in its purity. It, of course, was the father of the Greek, though the parentage is hardly recognizable, and it also bears a slight relation to the so-called "art nouveau," a recent Austrian attempt to modernize the flowing line and modelling in low relief of the East.

Greek culture, which later was to blossom into so marvellous a thing, is an evolutionary development of the arts and science of the East, and its distinctive character came chiefly from the human medium through which it passed in its progress to the Grecian mainland, and also from the use of marble as building material after the influence of the terra-cotta Assyria type had disappeared. This medium was the Ionian Greek colonists who had settled along the shores of Asia Minor and the Black Sea.

The Ionians were a people of artistic sensibilities, gay, poetic, inquiring, and beauty-loving, and the Oriental art and learning which followed the trading vessels along their shores into the West found susceptible students and interpreters among them. Such people were naturally idealists, and being also highly creative, they built temples of great beauty to their ideals. The charm of these Ionian cities, built as they were along one of the most beautiful coasts in the world and by a people of rare qualities, of whom it was said "they had no enemies," must have been great. But when Croesus, King of Lydia, before the great Persian wars, began a war of conquest, his first step was the capture and destruction of the Ionian cities. The beautiful coast was laid waste, and the people were forced either into subjection or emigration. Many chose the latter, crossing the AEgean Sea either to the islands or to the Grecian mainland, where their influence in the advance of Athenian culture was of the greatest importance.

Another of the Greek tribes inhabiting the shores of the Mediterranean was the Dorian. In disposition they seem to have been just the opposite of the Ionians. The Dorians were conservatives, stern, and insensible to outside influences. These people also, as we shall see, contributed to the glory of the Golden Age of Greece, for which the Persian wars were preparing the way.

By this time religious idealism had developed to such an extent that each group of men had its own especial gods and goddesses, evolved by the unfolding but still infantile human mind after its own image. The greater mysteries of life had created strange myths, some of which seem common to all primitive religions. Ritualism had developed to such an extent that the priests formed a class in themselves and ruled the people through their ignorance.

The sun and the planets, the laws of generation, the rise and fall of the tides, and other phenomena of nature became the study of a special class of scientists, who erected temples and created forms to fit the special plan of worship, evolving a ritual that seemed most effective in its power over the people. The placing of the figures of the god in the temple so that they might receive the sunbeam at the proper moment, the shape and form of the chamber, its roof and orientation, and the details and minor parts of the buildings—all grew out of the needs of a ritual created by the racial characteristics of the various tribes and nations. So we have the creation of national types of architecture and the beginning of a strong northwesterly tide of conquest, commerce, and culture, along the route of which we may expect to trace the sources of our own architectural, scientific, and religious heritage.

There is a grammar to this language we call architecture, a few of the fundamentals of which we should have clearly in mind before attempting to read the language. To say it is the whole science of building is hardly saying too much and comes nearest to my own thought. Yet architecture is also an art, for it involves the creation of beauty through the action of imagination and enthusiasm.

But there is one type of definition that I vigorously object to. That is the kind that, like Ruskin's, limits architecture merely to the ornamental treatment of the basic structure. To Ruskin the union of four unadorned walls with their requisite openings and a protecting cover on top was not architecture. To me these essentials seem the very basis of architecture, as the skeleton is the basis of the human figure. Buildings were created for protection either from the elements or from foes. Their primary and essential quality is therefore stability, giving security. Every building, then, to be true as a production for a practical purpose, must be strong, stable, balanced, and as a work of art, continuing "in character," it must look so.

Beauty is a great deal more than skin deep, for one of its essential qualities is suitability, fitness. There is, in fact, in suitability a fine and abiding spirit of beauty. The mere fact that a simple kettle is perfectly suited to its work of boiling water over a fire and discharging it hot into another vessel gives it a mysterious and essential dowry of loveliness. So a building that merely fulfils its primary task of protecting and fulfils that task well in all particulars is to that limited extent a work of art, and that art is architecture.

The ordinary building is a protection against the elements and the ravages of man. The chief forces that question its stability are the elements, human assaults, and gravity. Obviously the most potent and constant is the force of gravity. Resistance to gravity presupposes, first, the idea of adequate vertical support, and, second, that of balance. This latter, the moment your building is considered aesthetically—or as to its effect on the mind and emotions of men—becomes harmony. In harmony you have the key to the grammar of architecture.

This matter of support and balance (to use the more practical terms) colors practically every thought that the designer gives to his plan for a building, and is his actual first consideration. A plan begins with and is built upon an imaginary or constructional centre line which we call the main axis—that is, theoretically at least, the centre of gravity of the mass. Everything now that goes into the plan must be considered in its relation to this axis. For comparison, in a chord of music, the notes, or black and white spots, are in harmony or out of harmony, ac-cording to the relation they bear to one another and to the supporting five horizontal lines.

This main axis may pass through the true centre of the mass or it may not. It may parallel the true centre on either side, or may cut it at any angle. Nevertheless, it remains the controlling factor in the composition, and it would be a really amazing accident if a building planned without regard to a central axis should prove "true" in the architectural sense.

But not only must there be balance of main divisions.

Each part must balance the other parts of its own divisions and must itself have balance. Therefore, in the structural plan we have numerous minor axes for each of the parts. The rooms of one half of a house, for instance, must balance those of the other half. They must also balance each other, and must in their individual proportions be in balance. Windows must be in relation to opposite windows, to those above and below them, to the other windows of that room and the proportions of that room, and finally must of themselves be balanced.

This requirement of balance, moreover, applies not only to mass, but also to color, to decorative treatment, to that somewhat elusive characteristic known as texture, and to form in all its variations. And, oddly, balance may be interchanged among these elements. A lack of balance in the mass, for instance, may be overcome by a skilful use of color or texture, and a solid may even be balanced by a void, a circle by a square.

The grammar of architecture includes many other laws, all, however, subject to this main one of harmony or pro-portion. There are, for example, rules of orientation, which regulate the building in its relation to the points of the compass. The defective placing of an otherwise perfect building would be to that extent bad architecture. Then there is the more subtle requirement of contrast, which requires relief from monotony in mass and superficial treatment. This is, of course, a purely aesthetic consideration, but it is important.

The maximum of balance might be obtained in a building of which the four sides were squares, perfectly regular in treatment and all exactly alike. Yet the monotony of it would be almost paralyzing. An oblong is always more pleasing than a square, the difference between the long and short side giving contrast, and therefore adding value to each. A square Parthenon would have been fatal to our admiration for Athenian fineness of sensibility. When, in these days, it is necessary to build in cube form we use strong horizontal or perpendicular members to accentuate either the height or the length. Thus. we practically falsify the proportions to avoid monotony.

The stories of a building are frequently indicated out-side by decorative belts or bands, which serve to tie together the elements of the composition. Again, the perpendicular supports, whether post, column, or buttress, must carry your eye to the ground so as to satisfy your aesthetic sense that they fulfil their purpose of carrying a load securely.

This perpendicular support, with the horizontal beam it carries, whether of wood, marble, or steel, and what-ever its size or proportions, is post and lintel construction, the structural basis of all architecture. So true is this principle that the treatment of the vertical supports forms a basis for the classification of practically all architecture.

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