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Ornament In Architecture

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



All appropriate ornamentation, as brought out in "Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts," is the result of an adaptation of means to ends. A roof, for instance, is a necessary conclusion in the case of every erection designed for shelter; but towers or turrets are not. Upon a hillside or elevation, a tower may indicate a view; but what is its meaning in a valley or surrounded by a forest? Over a public building a dome may suggest a hall beneath, too lofty and too vast to enable it to afford support to an ordinary roof; but of what is it significant in a private house? In connection with a mosque or church, a minaret or spire may recall a "call to prayer," or suggest a bell or even the heaven above; but who can understand the connection between these suggestions and a warehouse?—The Representative Significance of Form, XXIV.

The representing of a material less difficult to work in material which is more difficult, is usually considered essential to the highest artistic success. While it is deemed appropriate, for instance, to make a stone building represent, as in the case of the Greek temple, noticed on page 376, a wooden building, it is not deemed so to make a wooden building represent a stone one, or to make a wooden balustrade look like a brass one, or stamped paper look like bronze.—Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XXI.

The spire of a church enables strangers to know where to find a place of worship. But in part, also, especially as it has been developed, it is monumental and ornamental. For this reason, care should be taken to have it appear not essentially cheaper than the edifice to which it is attached. As a rule, a stone church should have a stone steeple, not a wooden one. On large public buildings, again, such as schools and colleges, a cupola, or any like arrangement, can accomplish a useful purpose. It can serve for a clock tower, belfry, or observatory. But if it cannot do this, it would generally better be omitted. The same can be said of towers on houses situated in city streets, where they are overtopped by surrounding buildings, or placed in positions where they themselves need not be seen from a distance, or where other things need not be seen from them; that is to say where there is no possible use to which they can be put. Only where architecture, which is a development of that which is useful in building, turns into ornamental features things primarily intended to be of use, is it carrying out the principles of representative art. When it is doing any-thing else, as in arbitrarily introducing unnecessary features in order thus to obtain something that can be made ornamental, it is in danger of carrying out no principles of art whatever.—Idem, XIX.

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