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Modern Architecture

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THERE is little to add to what has already been said regarding the architecture of the eighteenth century. An interesting development took place in the American colonies, into which the English settlers introduced the classical forms of Wren and other Renaissance architects. In the new continent the early buildings were almost entirely of wood, and the details were gradually modified to suit the new requirements.

In comparison with the enormous strides which have been made during the nineteenth century in all branches of science, the progress of architecture during this period is hardly worth consideration. Throughout the continent of Europe comparatively few notable buildings have been produced during the past century. In France, as we have noted, the Louvre and the Tuileries were completed, and the new Opera House was built in Paris (1863-1875). Austria has produced, among several fine public halls and theatres, the great Opera House, and the. House of Parliament (1843) in Vienna, and the Dresden Theatre, all designed more or less on classical lines. German architecture in the early part of the century received an impetus under Schinkel (d. 1841), who designed the Museum at Berlin, with its great portico of Ionic columns, and the Court Theatre, also in Berlin, in which the Greek forms are admirably adapted to the requirements. Other well-known buildings are the Propylaea at Munich, and the Walhalla at Ratisbon—a copy of the Parthenon, by von Klenze (1784-1864). "In general," writes Hamlin, "the Greek revival in Germany presents the aspect of a strong striving after beauty, on the part of a limited number of artists of great talent, misled by the idea that the forms of a dead civilization could be galvanized into new life in the service of modern needs. The result was disappointing, in spite of the excellent planning, admirable construction, and carefully studied detail of these buildings, and the movement here, as elsewhere, was fore-doomed to failure."

In England the past century has been one of successive revivals. Each of the three great styles—Greek, Gothic, and Renaissance—has had its day; but it is only within comparatively recent years that any definite progress has been made towards the formation of a distinct national style of architecture. In the early part of the century the interest aroused by the publications of Stuart and Revett and others upon the monuments of Greece, and the importation of the Parthenon sculptures by Lord Elgin, led to a craze 'or Greek details. Doric and Ionic orders were used in connection with every design, without any regard to propriety, provided only they were of strictly correct detail and proportions. Every house had its classical portico, every church was a slavish copy from a Greek model. In the church of S. Pancras, London, the architect re-produced the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheum at Athens, and copied his steeple from the Temple of the Winds. The revived Greek style found its highest expression in S. George's Hall, Liver-pool, by Elmes and Cockerell ; and so closely were the classical details adhered to in this building that, in Fergusson's words, " the architect failed in his endeavors if you are able to detect in S. George's Hall any feature which would Lead you to suppose the building might not belong, to the age of Augustus."

Meanwhile, a small band of enthusiasts had been preparing the way for the revival of the neglected and almost forgotten Gothic architecture. The publication of Britton's great work on "The Cathedral Antiquities of England" caused many people to reflect that, after all, Gothic was the great national style, and, as such, was more suited to the English requirements than the Greek temple forms could possibly be. Rickman's book upon the Gothic styles followed, and the movement, once in progress, soon gained strength. It did not lack great leaders—writers as well as designers : Pugin, Street, and, weightiest of all, Ruskin, threw their influence into the scale, and the Gothic revival became an established fact. It produced many notable buildings; chief among them the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, begun by Sir Charles Barry in 1839, in the Perpendicular style, and the New Law Courts in London, by Street.

But while the Gothic movement was at its height, the Greek school had by no means become extinct. The two styles were being worked out simultaneously in a way that was quite unprecedented. At Liverpool the classical style was culminating in S. George's Hall, begun in almost the same year (1840) that saw the inception of the Gothic Houses of Parliament in London; moreover, the architect of the Gothic building was at the same time busy with such classical designs as the Treasury buildings and the Reform Club. Small wonder, then, that there resulted a great "Battle of the Styles," which was waged fiercely between the opposing parties. It was especially bitter over the great competition for the Government Offices in 1857, the result of which, to quote the late J. M. Brydon's words, "was quite typical of the ding-dong of party warfare. Won by a classical design, the decision was annulled in favor of a Gothic building, to be reversed again in its turn, and finally carried out in classic by a Gothic architect against his will."

The last part of the century has witnessed in England and, indeed, through Europe, a return to the Renaissance principles, seen in a large number of designs in which the classical forms are treated with freedom, and often with skilful adaptability to new materials and new methods of construction. The closing years of the nineteenth century foreshadowed the vast influence which the extensive use of iron is to exercise in the future upon architectural works and upon all forms of design. Commercial buildings are now becoming nothing more than gigantic frameworks of iron and steel, covered with a clothing A masonry. " For thousands of years," as a recent writer puts it, "every large building in the world was constructed with enormous walls of masonry to hold up the inner framework of floors and partitions. It was a substantial and worthy method of construction, and there seemed no need of changing it. But one day a daring builder, with an idea, astonished the world by reversing this order of construction, and building an inns framework strong enough to hold up the outside walls of masonry. The invention was instant y successful, so that to-day the construction of a tall building is not architecture, but engineering with a stone veneer."' The result of all this, and the outcome of the utilitarian requirements of the day, is the American " skyscraper "— "a steel bridge standing on end, with passenger cars running up and down within it "—which, within the last ten years, has become a familiar feature in almost every great American city. The illustration shows the tallest and one of the largest of these extraordinary structures—the Woolworth Building on lower Broadway, New York City—next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (1,000 feet) the highest building in the world. It is a fifty-one story structure, measures 793 feet from the street level to the extreme top, is erected on a foundation 121 feet below the street level, has a total height of 913 feet, and cost complete about $13,000,000. Construction was begun November 4, 1910, and the building was formally opened April 24, 1913.

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