Wednesday, April 1, 2009


St. Paul's Cathedral

During the renaissance, Europeans looked back to the classical Greek and Roman styles as the source for their buildings. After the baroque period, “Architects were turning increasingly to specific source models, in a wide variety of historical styles, resulting in revivals of Greek and Roman Classicalism.” (Roth 461) But that was only the beginning, and the cycle continued on to a gothic revival, which most of London was decorating in after the Great Fire of 1866. The Industrial Revolution had begun, and the new technology bred from this put cast iron and glass on the market, so most homes, not just churches, could incorporate the new gothicism.

The West had been borrowing Eastern designs for the past couple centuries through trade, especially with China. The Industrial Revolution allowed for faster transportation, therefore faster and more productive trade. However, China did not need anything the West had to offer, and usually traded goods for silver. The invention of the steamboat allowed the English to crush China in the Opium Wars, and began to barter more successfully with opium. In 1858 the Japanese had finally opened its trading gates to the west, illuminating Europeans on a new culture. They were especially impressed with the ukiyo-e woodblock prints, turning the artist's world upside down. Japonisme fascination continued, and is counted “among the inspirations of the first great design style of the twentieth century, Art Nouveau.” (Massey 29)

The age of imperialism was also the age of growth. Cities centered around coal mining and steel factories sprung up, and established cities thrived and more than doubled in size in a few decades. During this period "there were two conflicting strains of development: one of traditionalism, the other based on the felt need for reform and innovation" (Blakemore 393)
Some greeted this new Industrial Revolution and tried to push this new technology to its highest potential to mass produce synthetic products on the cheap. The more traditional side pleaded that these machines were impacting both people and architecture negatively, and started the arts and crafts movement. We often think of a "movement" as going forward, but this particular one called for us to rewind, that their was such a thing as going too far. But history teaches us movements always go in cycles, the most radical often followed by a very conservative. The world has its own way of making sure such reforms balance out.

Georgian Home

In America, wood was aplenty so the arts and crafts movement was much more applicable. Houses were often made out of all wood, and sparsely decorated in hall and parlor type houses. This was not necessarily all because of a disapproval of new factory-produced furniture, but because it was efficient. Before America had its freedom Britain would take wood for the colonies, ship it back overseas to England to finish it, and then ship it back to the Americas to sell, upping the cost significantly due to the cost of travel. However in the home country of the Industrial Revolution and the king of Imperialism, their was a rotation back to Gothic revival because “Gothic was an expression of a just and Christian society in contrast to nineteenth-century industrial society with its social ills” (Massey 9)

Royal Pavilion

In the Victorian era family and social strata was to the utmost importance. Your home was supposed to be a reflection of your family, thus termed 'portrait homes’, reflecting his beliefs that their design should not merely reflect the owner’s life-style but be his portrait.” (Massey 37) These houses were not sparsely decorated, but instead had artwork showcased off in every room. In today's world there are so many other things we look as to "reflect" ourselves because we've invented more stuff (i.e. cars, electronics, etc) Homes are more of an investment then a reflection.

We have entered the reflections unit of our theory + design class, and by looking backwards it is very apparent that throughout the major movements in history there are rotations in design. Innovative is often followed by classical, and vice versa. The Greeks and Romans are always a vital source, but as the years past the choices become more colorful and the rules become less clear, and sometimes completely passe. The Industrial Revolution and uncompromising Imperialism lead to the illumination of new technology and cultures, which both inspired designers and led them to question whether the classic rules of architecture are indeed the best ones.

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