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The more things change, the more they stay the same. While art has always been an ever changing form, it has deep roots in traditionalism; whether an artist or designer looks at the art that came before him and is inspired to follow that form, is inspired to do something completely opposite, or sees the flaws which, if corrected, could make that work of art perfect, he is ultimately quite influenced by what came before him.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the design styles found not only in art, but in architecture and interior design. The twentieth century has been a time of great innovation, and yet, very few eras have seen so many stylistic revivals. The popularity of these classical styles has often superceded that of the more experimental, modern ideas, reinforcing the idea that aesthetic beauty is absolutely timeless.
The early 20th century saw a great deal of influence in terms of classical design. A classical revival had brought a return of emphasis on Palladian architectural motifs, which could be seen in large cities throughout the world, but especially in New York and Boston. In terms of interior design, Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman advocated a similar classical revival, which gave a sense of classical order to ornate interiors. (Severens, 85) Interior design at the turn of the century was very much concerned with aesthetics over simplicity, yet managed to maintain a sense of order and balance. Designers created interiors with a heavy reliance on French and Italian forms of furniture, floors, and panelling. This style, which was hugely successful, could be found in the work of interior designers over the next fifty years, and is the basis for much that is known as “traditional decorating” today. (Severens,88)
One of the most successful revivals is the revival of the Gothic style, which is still quite apparent in architecture and interior design today. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, England began to realize the importance of the Middle Ages. “The Gothic past offered an acceptable, if inferior, option for study by educated gentlemen; and Gothic began to be an acceptable alternative for country houses” (Girouard, 180). This was the Gothic Architecture Revival. As Gothic architecture became more popular, the style came up against stiff competition from Chinese architecture. In the end, Gothic architecture prevailed over Chinese architecture, because Gothic was native to England, therefore examples could be found all over England. Gothic architecture was probably one of the most important styles all over the world. The style could be found at one time or another in Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean as well as the United States. Gothic architecture was born in Paris, France, but made its way to England sometime in the early 1170’s. The Gothic style probably arrived in England because of contact with France (Grodecki, 99). In England, the style began in the southwestern region, and then spread out to the rest of the country. As time passed, England evolved its own style of Gothic architecture due to an isolation from the rest of Europe during the first half of the thirteenth century (Kidson, 108).Once the Gothic Architecture Revival began in England, the gentry saw the elegant and elevated qualities of the style. Some of the landed gentry would build imitation ruins in parks because of the picturesque quality of the Gothic architecture. This was the same style that had been used in many of the churches built in the Middle Ages. There was a lapsing in interest in the seventeenth century, but by the eighteenth century Gothic architectural relics had become “a prized, if eccentric, curiosity in the landscaped parks” (Jenner, 24). Because of the beautiful quality of the Gothic architecture, the style became popular once again. On their land, they built gardens in which they also built imitation Gothic style ruins. They placed the structures at strategic points in the gardens. Bristol High Cross in England still conveys a powerful impression of the effect these magnificent Gothic style monuments once created as the focal point of cities and towns (Jenner, 205). The Gothic style comes in a variety of shapes and forms,as is illustrated in the examples below. The first is a classic example of Gothic Revival Style, while the second is of the more elaborate Gothic period. The third is an illustration of the Gothic Revival style applied to residential homes; as you can see, many of the same design structures and shapes are evident; however, the ornamentation is not what you might find in a period church or cathedral. The end product is something softer and gentler, yet distinctly period in its charm.
Photo 3:Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York
Example Of Gothic Revival Architecture
Photo 4: Keble College,
Example of Gothic Architecture
Located at 1139 Burdett Avenue
Illustration of Gothic Revival Architecture
The twentieth century also saw great influence from the Colonial Revival Style . This style primarily flourished in the United States and Australia, as well as other countries with predominantly British influence. The revival of this style became exceedingly popular in domestic architecture and interior design, largely for its contrast to the ornate beauty of the influential Gothic Revival at the turn of the century, which many considered flamboyant.(Lane,58) Colonial Revival was well received as being a patriotic style in both the United States and Australia, and new works were constantly being commissioned in this style. (Lane,60). A similar stimulus produced revivals of colonial styles in other countries, such as South Africa, where the Cape Dutch style was revived in work by Herbert Baker around the end of the 19th century, and Brazil, where features of Portuguese colonial architecture appeared in the work of L?cio Costa. (Newcomb, 227)
Colonial Revival houses have details similar to those in earlier Federal and Georgian houses, but much larger in scale, more complicated in shape and with much heavier ornamentation than the earlier styles. Common characteristics of these buildings are symmetrically arranged facades,
large, wrap-around porches, and plate glass and stained- glass windows, often arranged in pairs or groups of three.(Newcomb, 263) Colonial Revival style is, in itself, a mix of styles, and immensely popular. Many “double decker” or two-family houses were built in the Colonial Revival style. In the photos below, the first is an example of Colonial Revival style, whereas, the second is an illustration of traditional American Colonial style. The Revival style is more elaborate in size, but retains every bit of the style’s simplistic charm.
Photo 1: Scotch-Boardman House, Saugus, MA.
Example of American Colonian Revival Architecture
Photo 2:Whipple House,
Ipswich, MA, 1640
Example of Original Colonial Style (pre-renovation)
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum from these modes of design is the movement that evolved from the Bauhaus, a school of art and architecture founded in 1920’s Germany by an artist called Walter Gropius . The basic idea behind this form of design was that all excess ornamentation should be eliminated ,and that everything should serve the purpose for which it was meant. This has had tremendous impact on 20th-century design, forming the basis of the movement called modernism. (Eton,59).
The modernist movement is considered by many to be the primary innovation of the 20th century, especially in the United States. It is reflected not only in terms of design, but also in poetry, writing, philosophy, theatre, and virtually every form of artistic endeavour. The aesthetic style of the modernists in design and architecture follows Henry David Thoreau’s modernist philosophy, “Simplify, simplify, simplify”.(Robertson, 283). The idea behind modernism is essentially, to find aesthetic beauty in the simple and functional, rather than the ornate, and served as a direct contrast to the revival styles enjoying immense popularity.
However, the evidence of the influence of revival styles on the design history of the 20th century is not limited to the straightforward revival of an earlier style, but in the influence these historical styles had upon the innovation of newer styles. Architects and artists worldwide were taking stylistic movements of the past,and adapting them to form newer, more modern styles. By the time the twentieth century rolled around, the Gothic Revival Style could be seen everywhere, predominantly throughout England and the United States. While cathedrals and other churches were the more popular buildings built with the Gothic architectural style in mind, many other sorts of buildings, such as homes, were also design that way. In the United States, armories, prisons, schools, and hospitals were built in the Gothic Revival style in addition to churches. The Gothic Revival style was less austere and heavily ornamented than the original movement, but still maintained the flavour of the medieval, as can easily be seen in these interior designs by William Morris,one of the most influential designers of the 20th century.
Photos 6 and 7:
Example of Victorian Revival Interiors
Aspects of the Gothic Revival Style extended past the period itself in many different ways. The elongated rectangular form that characterised Gothic design is a recurring element in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. For instance, it is especially evident in the dining room chairs for Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, designed in 1908, in which the backs are exaggerated uprights, made to look even more vertical by the use of thin, extended strips. More typical of Wright is his practice of using elongated forms in a horizontal direction. (Keller, 65). While Wright made use of the Gothic vertical line element, he radically changed it by turning it horizontally, and made it his own, consistent with the flat, boundless horizon of the Midwestern prairie of the United States.(Keller, 68).
Unlike Gothic Revival Style architecture, which strove to reach for the heavens with the typical vertical grandeur of the cathedrals,Wright’s buildings do not reach heavenward. Referred to as “Prairie style,” they reach but they reach for the prairie instead. It is as if his buildings say (as he himself explained many times) that God is not just in the sky, but everywhere, in everything and everyone, in all creation. Consistent with that, he once remarked that, “A house should never be built on a hill; it should instead be of a hill.” (Keller, 119). While the strait-laced Gothic style strives to dominate the earth, then ascend to a glorious spiritual state above and beyond it, the Prairie School style of Wright attempts to blend in, to harmonise with his environment. It is apparent that the Gothic style influenced Wright greatly, although rather than a strict revival of the style, he was able to use it to create his own. (Keller,73).
Another style that has formed as a reaction to historical revival style is one that is currently enjoying considerable popularity in all aspects of design, postmodernism. Postmodernism is a reaction to the call for minimalism and simplicity in the modernist design, and revives aspects of more decorative and ornate periods, particularly the Victorian. (Robertson, 411), Postmodernism takes many forms, and is influenced by reviving different aspects of past stylistic movements. Some rely on the use of objects borrowed from industrial design for a sparse, colorful style known as high tech; others prefer a combination of rough antiques or reproductions, baskets, quilts, and dried herbs in a style known as country; still others rely on the coordination of fabrics, furniture, and accessories by designers brought in at the initial stages of the development of these products. (Robertson,415.)
In the 21st century, both interior design and architectural design have reached a stage where there are few limitations, and styles cannot necessarily be neatly defined or categorised. Traditional rules are broken, and opportunities for originality and imagination are maximal. However, great respect for the classical styles and artistic achievements of the past not only remain, but continually flourish. Revivals of many styles in architecture and interior design are, like revivals of styles in music,dance,fashion,and other aspects of our culture, making appearances as popular fads. The luxury homes of the rich and famous often boast extraordinary prices for being done in a revival style, and designers are cashing in on the idea that humans will always be enamoured of the past. Whether it’s the romance and charm of an era gone by, or the longing for something different than what is seen in our world on a daily basis, we will always find ourselves drawn to that which reflects our past, and in this way, it also becomes our future.
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Eaton, Clement. The Mind of the Old South. Louisiana State University Press: Louisiana. 1967.
Girouard, Mark. Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. Yale University Press: New Haven. 1978.
Gordon, Michael. A Pictoral View Of Historic Design. McGraw-Hill Book Company: New York, 1988
Grodecki, Louis. Gothic Architecture. Electra/Rizzoli: New York. 1978.
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