Hints For The Invention Of New Orders Of Architecture
( Originally Published 1869 )
Complaint has been made of the poverty of style as regards certain of the arts at the present day, more especially that of architecture, and the inefficiency of some of its orders to be the vehicle for calling forth those ideas allied to the picturesque which formed the subject of a previous chapter.* To a certain extent the same remark may possibly apply to painting as well, and to dramatic acting also, as it doubtless does to costume. It is in architecture, however, that it is most obvious.
In each of the arts the circumstance which appears most likely to lead to the invention of new orders, or the development of original styles or systems, is the breaking up and abandonment of those which have become old and obsolete. So long as the latter remain in fashion, the majority of persons will always be disposed to follow them, and to keep in the accustomed track. As soon, however, as the ancient landmarks are . lost sight of, men at once exercise their ingenuity to discover a new path. The compass would never have been resorted to if the planets had not occasionally been obscured. If London had not been burnt down, the same style of building with wood, and with pestilence-breeding casements, might have been continued almost to the present time.
As botanists obtain new kinds of plants by sowing seeds of plants already well known, from which those of a fresh stock occasionally spring up; so may new ideas be generated by the productions of young minds whose powers are untrammelled, and in whose souls ideas may perchance vegetate of a species altogether differing from any of those which the old soil has been in the habit of rearing by grafts, or by shoots from the parent tree. Young minds have the advantage, at any rate, of being free from the habits and prejudices which restrain the efforts of those of a later age, especially where originality is required to be exerted. On the other hand, juvenile adventurers in art lie under the disadvantage of not possessing so rich a collection of ideas as those of later age, nor of being gifted with the same amount of experience in using them. And it is a remarkable fact that the noblest productions of an imaginative kind, such as those of Homer and Milton and Michael Angelo, were brought forth mainly in their old age.
We have already seen from our researches in the earlier part of this work,* that the forms assumed by the trunks of trees, and by their leaves individually, as also by caves and rocks and other objects in nature, including also several animal frames, first originated different architectural forms. In like manner might the observation of these same models under different aspects, lead to the invention of new styles in architecture. Nevertheless, subjects the most remote from solid and stationary figures have occasionally served as types for architectural forms ; as in the case of the Flamboyant window in architecture, the model of which is a waving flame of fire. The spiral stationary flame, and that which is serpentine, might also be made to supply suggestions for this purpose.
While trying to originate new styles of architecture by imitating and combining different objects in nature, it has several times happened that I have been led to delineate forms which are already recognized and adopted as the types of existing orders. But this proves more than anything else could do the correctness of the theory which I have advanced, as to their having been all originally invented in this mode, and consequently that this is the proper method to pursue in order to create new styles in future.
Another strong reason which might be urged in favour of endeavouring to invent a new style in architecture, is the nature of the materials now in use for building purposes, so entirely different in every way to what the ancients possessed, and which both prompt and afford the opportunity for developing fresh styles. Of these materials, cast-iron is one of the most remarkable, and it affords the means for effecting designs of a much finer nature and texture than does either stone or wood, and by which the forms of foliage and flowers, and also of feathers, might be imitated with delicacy and elegance. In-deed, iron as a material for some kinds of architectural decoration, where this is aided by sculpture, or where great delicacy or fine work are required, as in minute tracery or net-work, or the termination or mouldings of pinnacles or windows, is extremely valuable and of essential service; in which respect science lends important aid to art in our day, of which in former ages it had no opportunity of availing. As regards the richness and the correctness of architectural decoration, much may be attained by means of this material, far beyond what has hitherto been even attempted.
During the early ages of art, the workers in iron and other metals were artists, and exhibited considerable taste and skill, as we see in the productions of Quentin Matsys, and others of his school. In these days, when the facilities for moulding and working in iron are so much greater, this department of art is surely entitled to no less attention, and to command no less talent in its application. Until this is effected, we can hardly expect to witness any very important results from the application of iron to architectural purposes.
Another circumstance which is highly favourable to architectural improvements, and from which we possess a great ad-vantage over our ancestors, is the facility now afforded for bringing building materials of every description from a distance, from our colonies, and from foreign lands, so that we have the widest choice possible in the selection of marbles and other stones.
The mere application, however, of glass and iron as materials for the construction of large and public edifices, as in the case of the Crystal Palace, and of various railway stations, can hardly be considered to amount to the invention of a new style of architecture, but is simply the adaptation and accommodation of new materials to old purposes and designs. Yet in this mode, it may be said, that nearly every order of architecture primarily originated, and that it was the moulding of particular materials to meet special requirements, that caused the development of the several styles by which architecture is distinguished.
How extensively difficulties and necessities of various kinds operate as a stimulus to inventive effort, is exhibited by the ready and dexterous manner in which our ancestors turned to account stone of the most unpromising sort, as also brick and even flint, in the development of their architectural designs. Indeed, the whole history of architecture is a marvellous record of the mode in which the mind has exerted itself in its dealings with matter, and of the various influences and suggestions which have acted upon it, and conduced to this end.
As regards the attempt to invent or introduce new styles, whether in architecture or in any of the arts, in painting, in sculpture, in poetry, in costume, or in gardening, we must ever bear in mind that there are many persons, and those of great taste and extensive cultivation, who make a point of deciding on the beauty and real merit of every new style, and indeed of every new production, not by its own intrinsic excellence and accordance with taste, but solely by its accordance with what has been produced before, and by its correspondence with already approved models. If it coincides with them, however indifferent it may be in itself, its excellence is undisputed, and is deemed indisputable. If it varies from them, however beautiful or tasteful in its design, it is declared to be intolerable, because at variance with the orthodox standard. Such a mode of deciding upon the merit of an artistical performance, is, of course, fatal to originality; and, if consistently carried out, to all advancement and improvement whatsoever. The only sound and correct mode of determining the claim of any new effort in all these cases, must necessarily be by ascertaining whether it is in accordance with taste, and with the real principles of art and nature, the sole criterion by which the merit of every work of art, of whatever kind, and whatever period, must be decided.
Nevertheless, in the effort to invent new styles in architecture, or indeed in costume or any other art, the greatest care must be taken that our originality does not lead us into extravagance, and that deformity instead of beauty is not the result. In all these cases, invention requires, not indeed to be checked, but to be controlled and kept in order by the reason. Invention equally with taste and imagination, needs discipline and training and correction, to prevent it from running wild, and from becoming barren and bearing no fruit; and the more vigorous and more extensive is the inventive power, the more essentially does it stand in need of this supervision.