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Architecture Influenced By Forms Of Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

When our race, with no models to direct them, first began to build houses and temples, the external forms of each were determined by the design for which it was constructed,—a design suggested, as reflection will show that it must have been, by the modes of attaining in nature ends like those of support, protection, and shelter. This being the case, the desire to attain these ends was evident to every one who saw the building; in other words, the building's effects were artistic in the sense of being genuinely representative of the design of the builder.

In process of time, however, after many such structures had been erected, and some of them had come to be especially admired for their appearance, a class of artists arose more intent to imitate this appearance than the methods in accordance with which the older architects had designed the buildings and caused them to appear as they did. As a consequence, there came to be no apparent connection between the outward form of a building and that for which it was designed;—in other words, architecture ceased to be representative, in the sense in which the word has been used in this chapter. But besides this, after the arts of painting and sculpture had been developed, architects began to manifest a tendency to imitate the methods, if not the appearances, employed in these arts.— The Representative Significance of Form, XXVII.

Fergusson ascribes inferiority to modern architecture as contrasted with mediaeval, though he does not employ these words,—because of the prevailing tendency in this art to derive its methods from painting and sculpture rather than from the natural promptings and requirements of architecture itself. This tendency often causes the builder to be entirely satisfied with an "elevation" that merely makes a satisfactory picture when drawn on paper. But, as will be shown in the volume of this series entitled " Pro-portion and Harmony of Line and Color," the requirements of perspective often prevent the parts of a building, which, when so drawn, seem to fulfil the principles of proportion from fulfilling them when put into the building itself. Besides this, the tendency leads to other forms of confusion between the kinds of conceptions appropriate for producing effects in this art and of conceptions that find legitimate expression in the other arts only. One element of successful architecture undoubtedly is the mere external appearance of a building. And yet, if this alone be regarded, is it not evident that the building, according as it is constructed with exclusive reference to its position or proportions, will be the embodiment of a motive less legitimate distinctively to architecture than to landscape-gardening, painting, or sculpture? And is it not because of this confusion of motives that we find in our modern buildings—in their cornices, roofs, windows, and walls—so much that is false, in other words, so much that is merely on the outside, put there to look well, not to fulfil or to give embodiment to any such significance as it is the peculiar function of architecture to represent? This is not to say that, in this art, the external form should violate the laws of proportion or harmony; but it is to say that these latter should be made subordinate to the general design, that they should cause the outlines to be so disposed as to indicate this design, and not, as is true in too many cases, to conceal it.—Idem, XXVII.


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