By H.H. Statham.
Judging from the nature of the correspondence on architecture and the duty of architects which is frequently seen in the columns of the daily papers, the Times especially, it would seem that the popular notion of architecture now is that it is a study mainly of things connected with sanitary engineering - of the best forms of drain pipes and intercepting traps. This is indeed a very important part of sound building, and it is one that has been very much neglected, and has been, in fact, in a comparatively primitive state until very recent times; and therefore it is not surprising that there should be a reaction in regard to it, and that newspapers which follow every movement of public opinion, and try to keep pace with it, should speak as if the drain pipe were the true foundation of architecture. I have a great respect for the drain pipe, and wish to see it as well laid and "intercepted" as possible; but I think, for all that, that there is something in architecture higher than sanitary engineering. I wish to consider it in these lectures as what I think it essentially is, what it has evidently been in the eyes of all those of past days who have produced what we now regard as great architectural monuments, namely, as an intellectual art, the object of which is to so treat the buildings which we are obliged to raise for shelter and convenience as to render them objects of interest and beauty, and not mere utilitarian floors, walls, and roofs to shelter a race who care nothing for beauty, and who only want to have their physical comfort provided for.
Architecture, then, from the point of view from which I am asking you to regard it - and the only point of view in which it is worth the serious regard of thoughtful people - is the art of erecting expressive and beautiful buildings. I say expressive and beautiful, and I put expressive first, because it is the characteristic which we can at least realize even when we cannot realize what can fairly be called beauty, and it is the characteristic which comes first in the order of things. A building may be expressive and thereby have interest, without rising into beauty; but it can never be, architecturally speaking, beautiful unless it has expression. And what do we mean by expression in a building? That brings us to the very pith of the matter.
We know pretty well what we mean when we say that a painted or sculptured figure is expressive. We mean that, while correctly representing the structure of the human figure, it also conveys to our minds a distinct idea of a special emotion or sentiment, such as human beings are capable of feeling and expressing by looks and actions. Expression in this sense a building cannot be said to have. It is incapable of emotion, and it has no mobility of surface or feature. Yet I think we shall see that it is capable of expression in more senses than one. It may, in the first place, express or reflect the emotion of those who designed it, or it may express the facts of its own internal structure and arrangement. The former, however, can only, I think, be said to be realized in the case of architecture of the highest class, and when taken collectively as a typical style. For instance, we can all pretty well agree that the mediaeval cathedral expresses an emotion of aspiration on the part of its builders. The age that built the cathedrals longed to soar in some way, and this was the way then open to it, and it sent up its soul in spreading vaults, and in pinnacles and spires.
So also we can never look at Greek architecture without seeing in it the reflection of a nature refined, precise, and critical; loving grace and finish, but content to live with the graces and the muses without any aspirations that spurned this earth. We can hardly go further than this in attributing emotional expression to architecture. But in a more restricted sense of the word expression, a building may express very definitely its main constructive facts, its plan and arrangement, to a certain extent even its purpose, so far at least that we may be able to identify the class of structure to which it belongs. It not only may, but it ought to do this, unless the architecture is to be a mere ornamental screen for concealing the prosaic facts of the structure. There is a good deal of architecture in the world which is in fact of this kind - an ornamental screen unconnected with the constructional arrangement of the building. Nor is such architecture to be entirely scouted. It may be a very charming piece of scenery in itself, and you may even make a very good theoretical defense for it, from a certain point of view. But on the whole, architecture on that principle becomes uninteresting. You very soon tire of it. It is a mask rather than a countenance, and tends to the production of a dull uniformity of conventional design.
For we must remember that architecture, although a form of artistic expression, is not, like painting and sculpture, unfettered by practical considerations. It is an art inextricably bound up with structural conditions and practical requirements. A building is erected first for convenience and shelter; secondly only for appearance, except in the case of such works as monuments, triumphal arches, etc., which represent architectural effect pure and simple, uncontrolled by practical requirements. With such exceptions, therefore, a building ought to express in its external design its internal planning and arrangement; in other words, the architectural design should arise out of the plan and disposition of the interior, or be carried on concurrently with it, not designed as a separate problem. Then a design is dependent on structural conditions also, and if these are not observed, the building does not stand, and hence it is obvious that the architectural design must express these structural conditions.
It must not appear to stand or be constructed in a way in which it could not stand (like the modern shops which are supposed to stand on sheets of plate glass), and its whole exterior appearance ought to be in accordance with, and convey the idea of, the manner and principle on which it is constructed. The most important portions of the interior must be shown as such externally by the greater elaboration and emphasis of their architectural treatment. If the general arrangement of the plan is symmetrical, on either side of a center (which, however, it cannot often be except in the largest type of monumental or public buildings), the architectural treatment must be symmetrical. If the building is necessarily arranged, in accordance with the requirements of the plan, unsymmetrically, the architectural treatment must follow suit, and the same principle must be carried out through all the details.