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Building a House - Theoretical Studies

Paul was therefore acquiring the power of drawing archi tectural details neatly, and his cousin never failed to answer his questions. Paul had soon laid aside all timidity - or, if we choose to deem it so, amour propre - and no longer fearing to reveal his ignorance, asked a good many ques tions. Eugene- generally waited for such inquiries before he gave a lesson on any subject. He wished the mind of his pupil to be already prepared by the craving for know ledge, before teaching him. It may be observed that these lessons treated of a great variety of subjects; but Eugene took care to connect them together by an exposition of those several principles which were continually suggested by them.

One day Paul wished to know what an"order"is, and what is understood by this word in architecture.

"That is a comprehensive question, Paul; and I scarcely know whether I shall be able to answer it so as to enlighten you on the subject. The word has two significations in architecture : ' order ' may be understood to mean subordi nation, or correlation between the parts. But I think that is not what you are thinking of; you probably intend to ask me the meaning of what are commonly called `orders of architecture.' The idea of an ' order' in your mind implies a row of columns or vertical supports bearing an entablature. That is it, is it not?" "Yes, that is what I mean." "Well, then, in remote ages, architects conceived the idea - which was a very natural one - of erecting vertical supports, and placing cross-pieces of wood or stone connecting their summits; and on this open colonnade they raised a roof. This formed a shelter open below, but covered in - what we call a halle. But, as in many cases it was also necessary to close in these covered spaces, they built walls behind these vertical props, leaving between them and the isolated supports a space called a ' portico.' It was thus, for instance, that certain Greek temples were designed. By degrees the genius of architects, study, and the observation of the exterior effect, led them to give to these vertical props, and to that which they support - that is, the entablature - relative proportions, of delicate and harmonious type, whence laws were deduced; for I would have you remark that the example always precedes the rule, and that rules are only the results of experience. In this way the Greeks invented three orders : the Ionic, the Doric, and the Corinthian - each of which possesses its system of harmonious propor tions and its special type of ornamentation. Among the Greeks these systems were not so rigorously distinct as to prevent their frequently trenching on each other's precincts.

"But the Romans, who were devotees of order, and who undertook to impose it in everything and everywhere, in adopting these arrangements from the Greeks, insisted on reducing these three systems to an almost absolute formula. That simplified matters, and the Romans were fond of inclosing whatever appertained to art in an administra tive frame. A step further in the wrong direction was taken as the result of the study of classical antiquity in the sixteenth century; authorities on the subject pre sumed finally to settle the relations between the different members of each of these orders; and with a view to leave some degree of latitude to architects, they even added two orders to the three original ones, viz., the Tuscan and the Composite. These stereotyped orders have been applied on every occasion, and in every fashion, just as hangings are attached to a wall to decorate it. Architects have fre quently bestowed more thought on placing an order on a facade, than on the disposition of the building erected behind this front. Certainly nothing of the kind more contrary to reason has been produced than the Colonnade of the Louvre, for its ordonnance has no relation to what it contains; and this immense portico, situated on the first story, absolutely serves no other purpose than to obscure the openings for light placed along it, while you never see any one walking in it. But in those days it was obli gatory to be magnificent, at whatever cost. We have not entirely renounced this solemn fooling; and even now you may see `orders' placed, without its being possible to say why, in front of buildings that could very well dispense with this adventitious decoration, which is merely designed to prove to the public that there are such things as 'orders,' and architects capable of presenting them in those propor tions which their formula requires.

"But you will study these branches of architecture a little later on. I think it a bad method of teaching art to allow flowers to be introduced into discourse before the power of expressing thought clearly has been acquired; and it is thus that writers and speakers are formed who take balderdash for eloquence; and architects, who before they think of doing justice to the exigencies of construc tion, and studying the requirements of the case, amuse themselves with reproducing forms into whose origin, justi fication, and real meaning they have never inquired. But just now, let us keep to our proper business. It is a house, not a temple or a basilica, that we are building. We have to consider all its parts; and this is work enough for us.

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architects, vertical, architecture, paul and supports