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Old Posted Mar 28, 2012, 12:43 AM
LoverOfBuildings LoverOfBuildings is offline
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Hey all, this is my first post, and a rather long one, but I just wanted to fully explain myself. I had stumbled across this thread through some Googling, and thought I should share some opinions. I know this is a two year-old thread, but better to revive it then start a brand-new one I figure. I wanted to make a few points about classical architecture, modernist, and contemporary architecture that I don't think were made. Regarding classical architecture, one of the arguments I've seen made is that we should no longer build in any of the classical styles because they utilized construction techniques of the past and thus building a modern version of such a building would be "fake" (some even deride it as "Disney-esque"). The thing is though, reviving classical architectural styles doesn't mean building them exactly as they were previously. Hence the different revival styles of architecture. For example, look at Palladio and how Greek and Roman architecture were revived during the Renaissance. I doubt they used the exact same construction techniques then that were used in ancient Greece and Rome. Or even America's classical architecture that we built throughout the various state capitols and in Washington, D.C. This isn't architecture designed and built exactly as the Greeks and Romans did it, it is a revivalist form of architecture, inspired a good deal by Thomas Jefferson, who himself was inspired by architects like Palladio. There is also a separate architectural movement called Greek Revival that was adopted by many European nations.

But no one would call such classical architecture "fake" or "Disney-esque." How is it that building a classical structure in the 1700s or 1800s was okay, but to build such a structure in modern times would be "fake?" The classical structures built in those days also, in addition to using some different construction, also were not colored in the way the Greeks built their architecture, as the Greek architecture was brightly-colored and would look very odd by modern standards, as such architecture today is always built in a grey or white color. Or look at Gothic Revival architecture. For example, London's Royal Courts of Justice, which are built in Gothic Revival style in 1866. No one would call that building "fake" however. So constructing a classical building in modern times I think is fine. A classical building need not adhere 100% to the original in terms of construction, it can be a revivalist style, basically a way of reviving a classical form of architecture but in contemporary times with contemporary construction methods.

My second point regards modernism and contemporary architecture, but also ties into classical. Some have said we shouldn't design in classical anymore because classical is of the past and we have to advance the art of architecture as time goes on. Well I agree with the advancing of it, but the problem is that with architecture, this whole argument kind of falls apart. Because in the early 20th century, the architecture profession literally threw out all the prior building knowledge and started over again from scratch. Yes, they had modern materials to use and modern construction and engineering, but in terms of actual architectural design, they were starting from scratch. And this resulted in some of the most insane (and impractical) structures ever created (a great irony here is that at the time, many derided the classical architecture as being just "decorated shelter" and not being functional at all, when in reality it was much of the modern architecture that wasn't functional and the classical designs that were designed with people in mind). Many of these buildings were not progress at all, they were a step backwards. It would be like the cooking profession disregarding the prior few thousand years of cooking knowledge that has been built up and then, using modern appliances, creating let's say Lawn In A Bowl. Lawn In A Bowl is hailed as "new" and "modern" cooking as opposed to the "old" ways of cooking (sophisticated cuisines, salads, breads, meats, etc...). This is essentially what happened with architecture. Yes, on paper the architects claimed they were designing buildings based on principles of classical architecture, but in terms of the actual designs, but the actual buildings were nothing like what had come before.

Now to throw out all the prior knowledge and start over in any profession would be considered insanity, as its impossible to advance the profession otherwise, but in contemporary architecture and art even, this is the norm it seems. We had Greek law, Roman law, then English law, and modern American and European law. Modern law is the culmination of thousands of years of building on what came before. Same with modern medical science, or any science. Same with modern cooking and baking. Or modern engineering that allows the construction of many of these contemporary buildings. It is the culmination of thousands of years of constant development in construction and engineering knowledge. Or music! Imagine if all that knowledge had been tossed out the window, how music would sound. Mozart didn't compose his music straight off the top of his head, he was learned in the knowledge of music tha had been built up and developed over hundreds of years. It has been said that architecture is frozen music. Well imagine music if all the knowledge of music was thrown out. How would it sound? Like an auditory version of much of contemporary architecture. All of these arts and professions are the culmination of centuries of refinement and development. Architecture was the same way up until the early 20th century. It was the culmination of thousands of years of development. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, then Gothic architecture, which evolved off of Roman architecture (such as the Roman basilica), then the revival of Greek and Roman architecture, and all the additional styles that developed. Had the architectural profession retained all this knowledge, and kept advancing it, but with new designs, and new materials, and new construction techniques, we would have a true 20th century style (or set of styles) of architecture that would be very modern (for their time) but traceable in their origins to the architecture that had come beforehand.

And now we would be developing a true 21st century architecture, built off of the 20th. But instead, we really have no styles of architecture from the 20th century. There is modernism, which was oftentimes (although not always) very inhuman and very impractical, and some different variants of it, but contemporary architecture as it is now is not any advancement on modern architecture, it is really just anarchy when you look at it. For example, the Guggenheim Museum or the Sydney Opera House. There is no architectural style to them that is derived from the thousands of years of prior architectural knowledge, they are just anarchy design-wise (at least on the exterior anyhow). This is fine for people who want it, but to call it progress it isn't. It's what happens when contemporary architects have no idea of the prior knowledge of architecture to work off of, so they just design whatever comes to mind. If one looks at all of the architectural styles of the past, almost all of them are beautiful and adhere to a disciplined way of design. But much contemporary design is nothing of the sort. It is hilarious-looking or hideously-ugly oftentimes and not even really structurally-sound. The only reason it gets built is because of modern engineering (if you see a contemporary structure that looks like it should fall over or collapse, then it really is prone to doing this, it's modern materials and construction that prevent it). The Sydney Opera House, for example, the engineers didn't even know how to build it at first (contemporary architecture is not necessarilly designed with cost or engineering in mind). Contemporary architecture which was legitimately cheap as opposed to an expensive classical design I could understand fine, but not expensive and hard-to-engineer contemporary designs that were more meant to satisfy the ego of the architect, irregardless of cost and engineering, and that were as costly ore moreso than classical designs (and BTW in this rant I am referring more to the exteriors, the actual shape and structure of the building, not the interiors; plenty of crazy-looking contemporary designs have good interiors).

Now an area of architecture where you will notice the above has not happened, where the contemporary designs are just as beautiful as the classical designs, is ship architecture. It could be a ship from Roman times to a ship from the British Empire at its height to a 19th century steamer to a modern yacht, they all are striking when done well. This is because modern ship architecture can be traced back to the ship architecture of the past. Ship architects did not take up hundreds or thousands of years worth of ship architectural knowledge, toss it out the window, and then start over. They just kept advancing it. Wooden sailing ships started having steam engines, then this gave way to constructing iron and steel ships, and then modern ships. Thus we have classical and contemporary styles of ship design, all of which can look very nice. Among yacht owners today, you find all of them, some people prefer classical designs while others prefer the sleek, contemporary designs. But all look nice. For another example with architecture, let's say you want to design an airport. Well a classical design won't do (a Gothic or Palladian airport?!). So you have to use a contemporary design. But then note that there are no real contemporary styles to use. The architect just sort of has to wing it and make the design from scratch. As long as contemporary architecture remains like this, it never really is going to advance any. It's like the cook or music composer who throws out all the prior thousands of years of food or music knowledge and starts over and then just keeps starting over and over again. No real progress in the art of food or music is made, it just is constant anarchy. I think that to truly advance architecture, the profession will need to learn all of the prior classical styles and basically take itself back to where it was at the start of the 20th century, before all the knowledge was tossed out, only now it has 21st century construction methods and materials to use now. It then needs to set about building off of and advancing that knowledge of architecture to truly advance the profession of architecture (just like the anarchist cook or music composer realizing that to truly advance food preparation or music, they'd need to first learn all the prior knowledge, then build upon it). Otherwise what is going to happen is the 21st century is going to pass and architecture is going to be just as wacky then, with no styles that are clean and disciplined and artful to show for it, as it is now.

I think that taking the classical knowledge and then building off of it, advancing it with newer designs, use of new materials, and so forth, could create some really spectacular designs, whose roots would be classical, but these would clearly be contemporary designs. And these designs would lead to the development of a new style of contemporary architecture, which would then lead to the creation of additional styles, and the profession and art would really advance. Right now, architecture is in a state where if aliens came down from space and took a look at everything from say Egyptian to Greek to Roman to Gothic to Palladian and so forth architecture, then you showed them the early 20th century modern architectures (like Brutalism or work by Corbusier), and buildings such as the Sydney Opera House and the Guggenheim, they'd say, "WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED!?!"

Now I know some contemporary advocates will be ready to scream bloody murder after having read all the above and also some will point out that many people like buildings like the Sydney Opera House and some other contemporary designs. My point is let's just call such architecture for what it really is, a form of anarchistic design that sometimes people like, other times they often don't like, and not an advancement of the profession. Some people like abstract paintings or sculptures that are really just anarchy. Doesn't make them any advancement on the art of painting or anything. But some people like them a lot. One thing I am against is the strict classicists who want NO deviation from the designs of classicism at all. Those are like the opposite of the anarchists. Whereas the anarchists toss out all the knowledge and want no structure or discipline (at least regarding the exterior designs of the buildings), the strict classicists are Puritanical in their adherence ot tradition. But I mean, how exactly do they think those classical designs developed in the first place? People changing, deviating, and experimenting. Heck, look at some of the Russian designs, their architectures look like ice cream! So strict adherence to the classical designs would be bad as well. I think thus architecture, as an art form, should embrace anarchism (when done in a workable, practical manner and people like the design), strict classical designs (revival styles), and also taking the classical knowledge and advancing it ever further to create a truly 21st century style of architecture.
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