Architectural House Styles
The main types of architectural house styles.
¶ When we speak of a building being in the Grecian, Italian, Gothic, or any of the numerous well-known sub-styles, we mean that the spirit rather than the sum total of the peculiarities of that style has been seized upon and infused into it. No design in this work can be pointed out as a copy of any ancient or foreign specimen of architecture; but ancient forms and details have too long appealed to the tastes or prejudices of mankind for the architect to ignore them.
¶ They have been consecrated to architecture by long-continued use and the admiration of bygone ages; and, so far as their existence depends on intrinsic beauty of form and the laws of proportion, they are bound to be immortal.
¶ The orator or poet would not be more culpable for laying aside the teachings of the past than would the architect for neglecting the precedents set before him in the works of the ancient masters. Each might substitute a chimera of his own, and the failure of all would be alike pitiable. Instead of eloquence and poetry, the listening audience would be fed on the rudiments of an unintelligible language; and instead of a pleasing combination of forms resulting in the most happy effects, unmeaning piles of brick and stone at every step would greet our vision.
¶ By the adoption of some one of the known modes or styles of building, the structure is invested with an interest that it would not otherwise possess. The popular mind is easily reached through a medium combining beauty of aspect with antiquity of origin; it is affected by an appreciation of the present interwoven with a veneration for the past. hence the architect who studies the ancients, to imbibe the spirit of their performances rather than to follow them servilely through beauty and deformity, is certain to be most successful in the production of good designs for the present day.
Gothic & Grecian Styles
¶ The Gothic or pointed style, and the Grecian or horizontal style, are the types of the two great elements of architectural design. All the divisions and subdivisions that figure so largely on the page of the historian and tourist are nierely so many petrified phases of national practice at a given time, handed down to us under the name of the nation or people under whose auspices they assumed their distinguishing peculiarities.
¶ It is, however, foreign to our present purpose to trace any of these to their fountain head, and show how, step by step, they reached their highest perfection, or how, in the hands of skillful masters, they were combined with each other to astonish and delight the art world it is enough to remark, that the American architect has a living source of satisfaction in the thought that it is possible for him to aid in setting a national stamp on the architecture of his country. That this is possible, a convincing proof is furnished to our hand in "beautiful Venice, the bride of the sea". Look for a moment at the Church of St. Mark. Roman, the legitimate descendant of Grecian art, but not less national, had reached its climax, and the fountain of Gothic beauty seemed exhausted, when lo and behold we see a structure arise bearing the impress of Roman and Gothic art harnionmously blended, and yet developing a character so clearly and decidedly its own, that none have ventured to gainsay or question its nationality.
¶ Grecian architecture and its lineal successors, Roman and Italian, are imbued with a spirit of repose and quietness that contrast powerfully with the lively character of the Gothic mode. The origin of this apparent antagonism is attributable to the prevalence of horizontal lines in the Greek and of vertical in the Gothic style. That these can be reconciled to each other with happy effect, is verified in the example alluded to, as well as in the famous Milan Cathedral and many contemporary buildings. But the accomplishment of such a feat is the highest evidence of artistic skill that an architect can stamp on the face of his performance: few dare it, and of the few, not a moiety can be said to be successful.
¶ Domestic architecture in ancient nations seems to have been neglected, or at least to have occupied but an inferior position. While temple after temple was reared to their gods, and tomb and triumphal arch to their heroes and kings, the Grecian and Roman people lived in hovels. The same may be said of the people of Britain and the Continent during the palmy days of Gothic art. As the equality of mankind approaches nearer to being acknowledged as a fixed element in human society, we see a change taking place, and for centuries back the masses have been gaining ground on the aristocracy. And when the home of the private citizen finally became a subject for the display of the taste and genius of the architect, he naturally enough looked to the most magnificent specimens of ancient or contemporary public architecture for his guide in the selection of forms and details; and as a consequence, we see domestic buildings, even down to modern times, wearing the exact dress of the heathen temple, or the livery of the medieval church or castle. By degrees, however, domestic architecture is improving and that improvement is accelerated by copying nothing ancient or foreign further than its application is in strict consonance with the requirements of domestic life.
¶ In public buildings, we may, if we choose, with some degree of propriety and prospect of success, copy the Grecian or Roman temple, or the Gothic cathedral; but for the citizen's home, the introduction of details derived from those sources presupposes their entire subordination to the domestic character of the building of which they are to form a part. What we mean to say is, that architectural style should never seem to rule out the expression of the end in view. This may be more fully explained by the following incident: In passing by a fine residence, the location of which we need not name, a friend inquired whether it was a church, college, or courthouse; which we were not able to answer until we approached close enough to determine by the drapery in the windows that it was a residential house. It was a classic building and a fine specimen of architecture; but was it domestic architecture? Some one has very well said that the ancient practice should be treated as a servant, not as a master. Without doubt the gentlemanly proprietor of the classic house above spoken of; would have scorned to receive from the painter's hand the picture of Apollo as his own portrait, and yet he has permitted his architect to disguise, under the semblance of a heathen temple, the real character of his place of residence, although one is not more at variance with the true spirit of living art than the other.
¶ Withont condemning what has been done, and with great hopes for the future of country building, we pass sentence on servile imitation as being unworthy of the genius and spirit of the American people. There is an element of originality in American enterprise that seems to have slumbered in nothing more than in the pursuit of architecture as a fine art, and once fully awakened to the importance of its cultivation, it is destined to set its mark high in the record of nations. But this can only be done by the application of the best talent the country can afford, irrespective of the profits likely to accrue to the leaders of the profession. So long as the uneducated builder is permitted to take the lead in designing and constructing our edifices, to the exclusion of the true architect, so long must we fall short of the high standard within our reach.
¶ Admiration of ancient forms and details leads the uncultivated judgment to apply them without regard to order or congruity, and the resnlt is always offensive to the refined perception of the true artist. The constituent elements of style are proportion, beauty of form, harmony of arrangement, and unity of effect; without these, no style can exist, nor can a building be said to be an architectural composition in which any of these elements are neglected.
¶ But first of all, in domestic structures let attention be paid to unity; that is, the production of a whole, and the expression of the end in view, the latter being manifested by chimney-tops, verandas, entrance ways, windows, etc., the absence or concealment of any of these features being destructive to the domestic character of the building. Then let the proportion of parts be considered, for without this no real satisfaction will be derived from the inspection of a building of any kind. Whatever details are introduced of an ornamental character should be the best, chosen with regard to gracefulness of form, never so elaborate as to produce a striking contrast with larger masses of plain surface, but culminating in extreme points or exhibited lines of construction, as in nature the flowers grow not on the stalk but on the branches.
¶ Harmony expresses the radical idea conveyed by the term as employed in musical composition, and its importance cannot better be illustrated than by the momentary violation of its principles in the choir or orchestra. Mr. London says the term is "transferred from music to architecture, and implies such a composition of lines and forms as will produce a powerful, a varied, and an agreeable whole. Where great contrasts exist among the parts, and yet all of them are in accord, the effect is harmony", and "harmony therefore supposes unity, contrast, variety, order, proportion, and various other subordinate beauties. Notwithstanding this, however, harmony in architecture as in music may exist independently of ornament or of any distinctive character".
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