Category Archives: architecture
As it became increasingly more apparent that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were transforming society on multiple fronts from the inside out, polemics within the realm of architecture (and therefore within society itself) concerning a new style crystallized.
The new developments began in bridge construction, but gradually lead to the prominence of the structural engineer within society and to the ubiquity of iron construction across Europe. The acceleration of science placed unequivocal demands on the arts. Architects, however, feared the disappearance of beauty (especially in Paris) and merely harnessed the new possibilities of iron construction to produce old effects.
It seems there are as many images of London as there are minds.
The cultural-historical strata of London is deep and composite. The thoroughly British pageantry of the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies demonstrated this in technicolor splendor. The kaleidoscopic presentation of London turned through history, poetry, royalty, music, science, art, architecture, fashion, and sport. A personal catalog may include figures like Nelson, Dickens, Shakespeare, Elizabeth, Lennon, van Dyck, Boyle, Foster, and Beckham.
History begets its attainments, both mental and material, to proceeding generations.
The youngest are in reality the oldest.
-Roger Bacon, 1267 AD
Each new generation develops an aging complex where it is, by association, wiser and older than it seems to be. It outwardly lurches forward, propelled by its inheritance, but there is the danger that within, the spirit shrivels. The past must not merely be received but internalized, comprehended, and surpassed. Otherwise, we live on the anachronistic attainments of another century.
All public architecture… has significance beyond its mere utility.
Near the middle of the 12th century, a new philosophy in France challenged the Romanesque precedent of self-denial and austerity. Under the banner of Abbot Suger’s lux nova (God is light) dogma and with the cathedral as a sort of political battle cry, the Gothic style became an intellectual and innovative charge. The impetus was religious and national, and vouched for the new found allegiance of church and state; therefore, the marvel and beauty of the facades of these cathedrals advertised the prosperity and ascendancy, the sickle and the scepter, of the city. These large basilica churches built during the 11th-14th centuries present more than functional solutions to township or religious needs. They are symbols in stone.
There is a tradeoff in art between beauty and reality: the more reality is embraced, the more the ideal is compromised.
Nature, ambitious and productive, working through the poor medium of the physical, tends toward imperfection. It’s subject to the laws of decay and error that govern mortality. The artist’s idea seems to be superior. It is not based on or constrained by the physical but emanates from some eternal wavelength of the soul. The created will always surpass the organic through a selective juxtaposition of the noblest of each part.
“Because the God who said, Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
-2 Corinthians 4:6
I’ve been commenting here and there on how existential views of man or theological concepts have shaped religious building works. Architecture is very philosophical and theories abound as to why or how we should build and what our built environment says about us. Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Modern all, at their core, are tectonic theories about life.
“Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you for a share of the allotted portion of the saints in the light; who delivered us out of the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”
Your portion as a Christian is “in the light.”
Gothic architecture may have been founded on similar theological notions, but the religious, creative mind of the day, in its attempt to materialize this truth in concrete terms, stripped it of its full import. Beautiful stained glass windows diffracted light into a kaleidoscopic metaphor of God and a whole new genre of religious art flourished. Medieval man’s experience of this ‘lux nova’ was confined to basking in the colorful glow of physical light. The resultant concept was that man could rise to the contemplation of the divine only through the senses- a physical experience of an immaterial abstraction.
The far reaching ripples of this objective or physical experience of God lap upon the shores of modern Christianity.
Architecture is a powerful force.
It petrifies and lays down once and for all the movement of life. Form places provocations or limits on the use of space. Architecture is not merely a public service to provide an indoor environment for people to live and work. It is a philosophical statement about man.
The major difference between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is their view of man. These views are reflected in their architecture.
A prominent abbot named Suger (he’s French, so sounds like soo-zhay) of St. Denis spearheaded a new philosophy near the middle of the 12th century, that challenged the Romanesque precedent of self-denial and austerity. This happened through his lux nova dogma and conception of “God is light.”
Gothic architecture was a technical response to a theological idea.
Lying quiet in the shadow of the Hellenistic flourish a few centuries before Christ, when Rome appropriated the architecture of the Greek and Etruscan colonies, it was selective in its borrowings and adapted geometry to a new use: the active experience of space through the novelty of the arch.Then there was the dome, and all of the sudden Imperial Rome was heralding its grandeur through large scale, massive, state funded architecture.
Architecturally, the Renaissance was a looking back upon and a scrutinizing of Classical antiquity, with the realization that they had gotten something right.