Architecture plays a very important role in shaping society, it is- after all- part of the very landscape we wrap ourselves in. We all know the feeling of being in the countryside and the sense of freedom that brings yet, when it comes to architecture people easily dismiss it’s importance upon the general public and leave priority to the ego of the modern architect. Architecture sets the scene, its the background of the play we want our society to operate in and defines the standard, a constant reminder of humanities ability, form, temperament and ingenuity.
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” – Winston Churchill
If anything this post is going to be an excellent excuse to look at many different types of designs and construction types, hopefully conveying what it was that got me hooked in the first place.
As a child I used to pour through books, mainly non-fiction and try and understand how everything worked. One such old book I learned about architecture from was in fact, the 1973 Oxford Illustrated Dictionary with such illustrations I shall use in this post (where possible).
Now we could go as far back as the Sumerian civilization, roughly 6000BC, but in order to keep this intro light and relevant the best place to start would be the classical period of Ancient Greece and Rome. Here we observe the ‘foundations’ (pardon the pun) of styles that, if we look up in our cities will become all too familiar. Classical architecture is split into five styles, Tuscan, Ionic, Doric, Composite and Corinthian. These can be observed by looking at columns in old buildings. Here is a breakdown of what is going on.
Note the ratio’s between the Stylobate/Column/Architrave/Frieze etc. These are quite deliberate and uniform throughout classical architecture. If you’re familiar with Fibonacci and the golden ratio 1:1.618033 you’ll understand the effect of these ratios throughout architecture and nature. If not we shall discuss ratio’s and geometry at a later date.
Back to the intro.
Architecture (like fashion) can come and go and be subject to politics/economics/and expression. An example of this is rise of Gothic architecture in Britain. Following the Napoleonic wars and the fall of the grand tour, leading to a ‘romantic’ sense of British-ness (a complete movement in the 19th century) the onus was on expressing Britain own heritage and away from the ideals of the continent.
Gothic architecture came about originally after the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was a Norman French style (ironically) which came to defy the landscape of Britain up until the renaissance. Think Churches, monasteries and cathedrals with their buttresses and spires.
Beverley Minster, East riding
An example of the Gothic revival would be the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. Designed by Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry and completed in 1860, the design obviously harks back to a Gothic age with its lack of symmetry and gargoyles. Interestingly enough, if you remove the spires and Big Ben it is in fact a very symmetrical, classical design. Deliberately chosen in the 1830’s it represents a period in society that wished to move away from the war and influence of the continent. it is also a style the marks a new growing confidence the British people came to have in itself. A sort of Brit Pop moment in stone. An example of buildings being a reflection of the people and a reflection of the direction society was heading in.
With and without deleted Towers. (representing the crossover of Classical and Gothic)
So you can see here how over time architectural styles begin to overlap and evolve. You can date St George’s Cathedral in Liverpool by its squared off arches. a neoclassical creation. Yet set within Corinthian styles of columns and pediments in the middle of Liverpool City Centre, classical yet unmistakably 19th Century.
I’ve covered a tiny amount here but obviously there is so much more to go into. I didn’t even cover Palladio or go into more detail regarding the renaissance and its effect on the likes of Sir Christopher Wren who created St Paul’s and what influenced him. For now (and as an introduction) I will leave it here, and bid you look up at the buildings above the shops when walking about the city and no doubt you’ll spot utter treasures which link straight back to the classical World (or even beyond).