LET me warn the young architect about to dine out that, while the first question asked of him may be about the weather, the second will surely be "Why don't architects invent a new style of architecture?"
There may be more than one answer as to why we do not invent a new set of forms out of hand, but if it can be made perfectly clear what an architectural style really is we are provided at the same time with the answer to the question. If it is thoroughly understood that an architectural "style" is but a reflection of a certain type of civilization, is but a mirror of the customs, manners, limitations and environment of a race, showing the slow, painful process of the growth and development of a people, it ought to be apparent why it is that "styles" are not invented in the study.
Even when it becomes no longer possible truthfully to reflect the manners and customs, the requirements and desires of a people in the old inherited forms - even then we may not talk of a new style, but of modifications of the current one, the whole problem being one of growth. It is as impossible for us wilfully to repudiate our architecture as it would be our literature. A people's architecture fits them, and no one else can wear it. We may admire others, but only our own is flesh of our flesh.
The particular style that we have been born into, developed by our forefathers through centuries, keeping pace with the slow, painful progress of the race, always a true index of its contemporary condition, a perfect inarticulate measure of its culture and refinement; this style, this growing embodiment in stone of a people's dreams and idealism, keeping step down through the centuries with the upward march of the race - this for us is the Gothic style of England.
First floor plan, the home of George H. Lowe. Wellesley, Mass. Allen W. Jackson, architect.
Stone and brick were the materials used for the important work and plaster and timber for the farms and houses of the gentry.
The Georgian style, also brought over to this country, where we know it as the Colonial, was not an indigenous manner of building; it was but an imported fashion, an alien style, as little at home in serving British institutions as one would expect such a typically Italian product to be.
Second floor plan, the home of George H. Lowe, Wellesley, Mass.
Allen W. Jackson, architect.
Even if we admit that long custom had served to imbue these borrowed forms with something of the Anglo-Saxon temperament, we still have the inherent unsuitableness of an essentially monumental style of architecture forced to serve intimate, and domestic uses. It is the Arab steed harnessed to the plow. Its simplicity and dignity are all very well, but they are bound to a tyrannical symmetry, rigid and immutable.
We all know the Colonial house, the front door in the center flanked on either side by the paired windows above and below; each window the exact size of every other; one-half the front the mathematical counterpart of the other. It may be there is a guest room on one corner and a bathroom on the other, but it never appears on the surface. We might have liked for comfort and convenience to have had three windows on one side and two on the other, or perhaps higher, or smaller, but it will do us but little good to carry our request to this austere front.
Like the unlucky traveler in the bed of Procrustes, the poor plan is made to fit by brute force, either by stretching or lopping off.
Now it is an architectural maxim, that, without regard for style, the elevations of a building shall express the plan; but how is it possible for the meanest and the most honored rooms to be expressed on the exterior by the same thing - the window, for instance? If one window is a truthful expression of the one room, how can it possibly be of the other? Working in the derivatives of the Classic style as applied to domestic work, not to be able to tell from the outside, the bathroom from the parlor, the butler's pantry from the ballroom, is a basic defect of style that forces many undersirable compromises that would be unnecessary in a more flexible and less rigid system. There should not be this conflict between the plan and its elevations by which one must give way to the other, serious sacrifices having to be made before the two can be coaxed into joining hands.
In this feud between Truth and Harmony, Utility stands but a sorry chance.
As has been said, a primary necessity of good architecture is that the elevations shall follow and grow from the plan, that they shall express what they shield; they must be the effect and never the cause. Beauty must wait on Use and is only noble when it serves.
If, then, our exteriors will not subordinate themselves; if they are not perfectly tractable and flexible, it is a weakness, and this weakness is one that we think exists in the Classic style, a weakness which never shows so plainly and disastrously as in the manifold exigencies of modern housebuilding. And it is in this very matter that the strength of the true English work lies. The plaster and half-timber houses, by ignoring symmetry (but never composition) gain at the outset an immense freedom.
The plan may fulfill the most extraordinary requirements, may house the most incongruous matters under one roof; china closets may come next to chapels, pantries under boudoir, yet each have every requirement of light and space exactly fulfilled, with their proper and fitting exterior expression. There is the best possible understanding between the plan and elevation, the understanding that the plan is master and the other must honor and obey.