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Architecture Influenced By Forms In Nature

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The simple truth seems to be that the changes from the style of building determined by the use of the horizontal line, the circular arch, and the pointed arch, were not caused merely by the necessities of construction, but also by the appearances of similar forms in nature. The exact effect given to the nave of a Gothic cathedral cannot be attributable merely to a development of methods of construction, nor to an imitation of cheaper buildings. It is of the same character as that which has been shown to be true of any representation of natural objects when first attempted. We merely associate the nave with the natural appearances which it only suggests. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XXI.

One of the most charming features in connection with the castles on the Rhine, for instance, is their apparent correspondence—always in the nature and color of the building-material, and sometimes in outline—to the demands of the surrounding scenery. Art seems in them to have simply carried out the suggestions of nature. Indeed, had we time for it, it would be interesting to study the extent to which such suggestions have influenced those who have originated different styles of architecture. On the borders of the Nile, where the eye must see constantly the low and seldom undulating lines of the horizon giving way to the clean-cut limits of an almost cloudless sky, where man learns of multiformity mainly through the squarely shaped limbs of the cactus and the palm, the proudest achievement of Egyptian architecture seems to have been to chisel angular outlines like those of the pyramids, and to embody an ideal of symmetry in the stiff smile of the sphynx. But just across the sea, amid the same clearness of atmosphere, yet surrounded by a more generous guise of objects on the earth, that heave heavenward through grand hills and bend genially down amid the shadows of mysterious groves, have been reared the no less distinctly outlined but far more varied and symmetrical column and capital of the Grecian temple. Beyond this land again, amid the vapory climate of the north, where on either side the high horizon reaches up in outlines indistinct, that blend with mountains existing often only in the clouds, the child of storm and fog has drawn the hazy lines that sprout and branch out into pinnacle and spire above the spirit whose ideal of architecture seems complete alone when he is gazing upward toward his lofty Gothic arch and finial. To-day, in our own land, with the experience and the models of the past to guide us, we may take our choice of any of these styles; and we can learn much from the study of them. But while we study them with care let us be sure that we are paying equal heed to the promptings of nature without us and within us. Let us be sure that we are not sometimes producing forms that are foreign to our own surroundings and demands, and are thus untrue to one of the first principles of the art in fulfilment of which they are supposed to be constructed.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXIV.

Not without reason, certain critics insist that in choosing the material for the construction of a building, preference should be given to that which is natural to the district in which the building is to stand. They say, for instance, that in red sandstone districts it should be built of red sandstone; in a gray granite district, of gray granite; or in forests in-tended to be left in a rustic state, of logs left in a rustic state. The idea is that a building thus constructed will appear to be a part of the surrounding landscape, harmonizing with it in color, and, upon a nearer inspection, in material also. There is undoubtedly much in this, as applied to a country residence. But, evidently, all the truth that is in it, is there because it involves one more way of making architecture represent nature.—Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XXI.


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