Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Architecture 101

I was brought up church-crawling. I remember visiting churches in Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and then further afield - I did a few crawls with the Church Monuments Society as an undergraduate - and I've now supplemented it with what I suppose you'd have to call temple-crawling and mosque-crawling as my travels have taken me around the world.

When you spend half your childhood learning the difference between Norman, Early English and Perpendicular architecture, it's quite easy to forget that many people don't have that advantage. So for those not gifted with parents or teachers who got them started, here's a very basic primer for Western European architecture, from the early days to today. I've attached the names of just a couple of really excellent examples.

  • Big, dark cave. All over.
  • Big, dark cave with some form of lighting, and paintings. Lascaux,Altamura.
  • Huts. Villanovan / Etruscan funerary urns sometimes modelled on the round hut, quite realistic.
  • Greek classical architecture. Pillars supporting roof allegedly modelled on tree trunks supporting the roof. Pediments (triangular gable). Arcades. Parthenon, temples at Paestum.
  • Romans. Discovery of really good cement - arches, domes. Great engineering - aqueducts, roads, bridges. Use of brick. Pantheon, Rome; aqueducts at Nimes, Merida, Segovia.
  • Early Christian - in both Rome and the East; the basilica (aisled hall, with arcade each side and apses - semicircular niches -at the ends). Mosaic. Churches at Ravenna, Rome.
  • Byzantine - development of style in the Eastern Empire; all based on the dome, development of centralised church plans - 'cross in square'. Churches of Aya Sofya, St Sergius & Bacchus, the Chora, in Istanbul (Constantinople): church of Dafni, Athens; churches of Thessaloniki. (Also in the Balkans - monasteries of Sopocani, Gracanica.)
  • Carolingian. After the Dark Ages, Charlemagne reinvents the Roman Empire and Roman architecture. Aachen, his palace chapel.
  • Romanesque. Round arches, tendency to be massive, thick-walled. Development of the cruciform church with central tower. Barrel vaults (like a tunnel) or wooden roofs. Three storey buildings - arcade, triforium passage, clerestory (highest window level). Use of decorative arcading. Norman castles - first stone built fortresses, around 1100. First stone built private houses since the Romans.Norwich cathedral and castle; churches of Caen, Normandy; great Rhineland cathedrals (Mainz, Speyer, Worms); Cluny, Autun, Vezelay. Churches of Palermo mix Norman and Arabic styles. In Italy, Florence cathedral baptistery; Pisa cathedral, tower and baptistery. In Spain, Santiago cathedral.  Stone houses in Chartres, Lincoln.
  • Gothic - kicks off with Saint-Denis, work of Abbot Suger, about 1130. Pointed arches, ribbed vaults, better engineering means thinner walls and higher buildings. Flying buttresses invented - allow wall to become almost all window, taking weight instead of wall. Great French cathedrals - Chartres, Laon, Bourges, Notre-Dame, Reims, Strasbourg. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. In England Salisbury Cathedral. In Germany Ulm, Cologne. Not so common in Italy, and late in Spain. Later styles become more local - Perpendicular in England (King's College Chapel), Flamboyant in France, Isabelline and Manueline in Spain and Portugal - and more complicated, delicate, lacelike.
  • Renaissance - return to round arches, taking Roman architecture as a model - regularity, rationalism, mathematical proportions (Leonardo's man-in-circle-in-square). Starts in Italy, mixes with Gothic style as it spreads. Florence - San Lorenzo, Palazzo Ruccellai, Palazzo Medici. France - chateaux of Chambord, Anet; England - Inigo Jones's Queen's House Greenwich, and St Paul's, Covent Garden. Emergence of the idea of town planning - regular squares, circuses, long straight streets.
  • Mannerism - Renaissance basics but with a twist - Michaelangelo's Piazza on the Capitoline; Palazzo Te, Mantua; popular in Netherlands - Antwerp city hall.
  • Baroque - takes the same basics but goes to extremes - really huge (St Peter's) or tiny (Sant'Ivo, Rome). Drama, theatrical. Bernini, Borromini. Baroque cities - Turin, Valetta (Malta), Noto (Sicily). Spreads to German world - Karlskirche (Vienna), Asamkirche (Munich). In England, Hawksmoor (Christ Church, Spitalfields) and Vanbrugh (Blenheim Palace).
  • Palladian / Colonial - reaction against the baroque in England goes back to Renaissance ideals. The Adam brothers - country house style reduced to fit Georgian terraces; style exported to America as colonial. Part and parcel of a late 18c to early 20c trend that I call the
  • 'Neo' styles - neoclassicism/Empire style in France, neo-Gothic or Gothick or Gothic revival in England, Biedermeier in the north; nothing is new, but old styles are eclectically taken from and adapted to advances in engineering and construction (eg cast iron). In Barcelona, Modernisme (c1900) borrows from Japan, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque.
  • Art nouveau/Jugendstil/Arts & Crafts - natural forms, flowing curves, colour. Most influential in decor, but also in architecture, around 1890-1910. Paris metro signs by Guimard; Secession building, Vienna; Casa Batllo, Barcelona. Beaux Arts style in the USA.
  • Art deco - 1920s and 1930s, rectilinear, 'streamlined', geometrical and self-consciously modern - Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Brussels; Rockefeller Center.
  • Modernism - simplicification, functionalism - "form follows function", elimination of decorative details.  New materials - chrome, glass, concrete. Sydney Opera House; Seagram Building, New York; Bauhaus Building, Dessau.
  • Post-modernism. Does to modernism what mannerism did to the Renaissance - witty reinterpretations  - AT&T Building, New York, is modernist skyscraper but with classical pediment on top. References to the past, to classical style.
  • Organic - difficult to say exactly what this style is, but when you look at some of Frank Gehry's work, or Zaha Hadid's, or the 'Peanut' building at the Weald and Downland museum in Sussex, (or the 'Gherkin' in London) you can see it's based on natural forms and organic curves, rather than on rigid rectangular forms. Increasingly common.
Wikipedia does all this in much more detail, but that's a good gallop through the ages!

By the way, one of my favourite books ever on architecture is Osbert Lancaster's very funny From Pillar to Post: English architecture without tears. It's highly recommended - it is a gentle romp, very specifically English, and with recognisable social types illustrating the social history of our architecture - the languid wimpy arty type, the no-nonsense retired colonel, and the vampy lady, turn up in age after age.

I have to say though that the title is wrong on one count. I cannot possibly read this wonderfully illustrated, but quite accurate, book without tears - of laughter.

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