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In a virgin land the art form that developed most rapidly was the one for which the need was most pressing--architecture. The earliest extant buildings are the dwellings, meetinghouses, and churches that made up the nuclei of the first colonial settlements in Virginia and Massachusetts. The dwellings, simple in plan and elevation, like the Adam Thoroughgood House, Princess Anne County, Va. (1936-40), resembled English houses of the late medieval or Tudor style. The most innovative in design were New England meetinghouses, because the separatists sought to avoid any associations with the established church in England. These handsome buildings, such as the Old Ship Meeting House, Hingham, Mass. (1681), were either square or rectangular in plan and served as the focal center for northern towns.
As the colonies flourished, more and more elaborate structures were required. By the end of the 17th century, most American public buildings were derived from Sir Christopher Wren's designs for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire in 1666. The best were the so-called Wren Building (1695-1702) of the College of William and Mary and the Governor's Palace (1706-20), both at Williamsburg, Va. To stay the random growth of cities, the concept of urban planning was introduced, beginning with Thomas Holme's grid plan of 1682 for Philadelphia, then second in population to London within the English-speaking world. By the middle of the 18th century, architects were designing churches, mansions, and public buildings in the current English Georgian style, named for King George I.
After the Revolutionary War, the first attempt to create a style expressive
of the new republic was made by Thomas Jefferson. He based the design of the
new capitol building at Richmond, Va., on that of a Roman temple, the Maison
Carree at Nimes, France. In so doing he laid down an American precedent of modifying
an ancient building style for modern use. The Virginia State Capitol (1785-96),
both building and symbol, was meant to house the kind of government envisioned
by Jefferson, and the Maison Carree became a paradigm for American public structures. e5r20rx
Latrobe and Bulfinch were the preeminent architects in the neoclassical mode.
The generation following preferred Greek over Roman forms and produced the Greek
Revival. A principal contribution of this style was a modification of the Greek
prostyle temple (columns only across the front portico) for domestic and public
buildings; the style's influence was rapidly extended north, south, and west.
Major surviving examples are William Strickland's Philadelphia Merchants' Exchange
(1832-34) and Alexander Jackson Davis's La Grange (Lafayette) Terrace (1832-36)
in New York. Up to the 1850s classical revival styles led to a homogeneity in
American architecture that was never to prevail again.
An important development was the proliferation of industrial and commercial
structures requiring extensive use of iron. At first engineers rather than architects
were responsible for buildings that demanded advanced technical planning. Because
cast- and wrought-iron columns replaced heavier masonry construction, it became
possible to construct a lighter skeleton, use prefabricated modules, and introduce
more glass into the facade. James Bogardus, an inventor and manufacturer of
machinery, is generally credited with the development of cast-iron architecture,
as demonstrated in his "Cast Iron Building" (Laing Stores; 1848) in
New York. In his proposed plan for the Industrial Palace of the New York World's
Fair (1853), also called the New York Crystal Palace, and his Wanamaker Department
Store in New York (c.1859; destroyed), he pushed this type of engineered building
to the limits then possible.
The skyscraper, defined here as a tall commercial structure, is America's original
contribution to the history of architecture. Commercial buildings of several
stories, constructed during the 1850s in Philadelphia, anticipated the skyscraper.
But before it could become a reality, architects had to incorporate the elevator
into the structure. This was done, beginning in the 1850s in New York. Chicago,
however, was the city where skyscraper design soon attained a kind of canonical
Far more significant than revival styles to modern architecture was, on the
one hand, the unfolding of the brilliant indigenous talent of Frank Lloyd Wright
and, on the other, the infusion of European modernism through the work of the
Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe,
and the independent work of Eric Mendelsohn and Eliel Saarinen. Wright, who
early in his career worked for Sullivan in Chicago, believed that the West and
Midwest embodied the "real American spirit." Acting on this belief,
he designed the houses that were to win him international renown. His "prairie
houses" were horizontal, often of one story, with rooms merging in a continuous
open space. Wright was a man of fertile imagination; before his long career
ended, he designed buildings as various as the Imperial Hotel (1916-22; destroyed)
in Tokyo; the Johnson Wax Company Building (1936-39) in Racine, Wis.; and New
York's Guggenheim Museum (1956-59).
The stark, boxy forms of European modernism by way of the Bauhaus dominated
American cityscapes in the building boom following World War II. Of special
importance was the use of glass curtain-wall construction for the design of
large skyscrapers and other buildings, as in the United Nations complex, erected
in 1947-53 under the supervision of Le Corbusier and Wallace K. Harrison, and
the Seagram Building (1956-59) of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.
Any consideration of Greek architecture must begin with mention of Aegean civilization,
typified by the great Minoan palaces on the island of Crete, in particular the
huge complex of Knossos and the magnificently sited structures at Phaistos (both
c.1700-c.1400 BC). Constructed of massive masonry, they were several stories
high and incorporated large pillared halls, dozens of labyrinthine smaller rooms,
sweeping terraces looking to the sea, and plumbing arrangements of astonishing
modernity. The walls were decorated with brilliantly colored frescoes (see fresco
painting) and stucco bas-reliefs. The Minoans were conquered by the Mycenaeans
of mainland Greece, whose architecture was subsequently strongly influenced
by Cretan prototypes.
During the 2d century BC the Romans, in conquering North Africa, Greece, Anatolia,
and Spain, absorbed the architectural traditions of those areas (most significantly
that of Greece), to which they added the constructional skills of the Etruscans,
their immediate neighbors in central Italy (see Roman art and architecture).
The most significant achievements of the Romans were in their technology of
building, their use of a much wider range of materials (including concrete,
terra-cotta, and fired bricks), and their refinements of the arch and vault
and the dome--all of which had been pioneered by the Etruscans. Roman temples
generally remained modeled on those of Greece, with the common addition of a
high plinth (base or platform) and the frequent omission of the side and rear
columns, typified by the Maison Carree at Nimes, France.
Byzantine art and architecture developed in the Eastern Roman Empire founded by Constantine I when he moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium (subsequently Constantinople--present-day Istanbul) in the 4th century. In southern and eastern Europe, in particular in those parts of Italy, Greece, and Anatolia that remained under the sway of the Byzantine Empire, the continuity of Roman plans and techniques was strong. Only slightly modified Roman basilican plans were used for such Italian churches as Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna (534-39); in Constantinople itself huge domed churches, such as Hagia Sophia (532-37), were built on a scale far larger than anything achieved by the Western Roman Empire.
In northern Europe, where Roman remains were less frequently encountered, greater freedom of experiment existed in Merovingian, Carolingian, and Ottonian architecture, as the early periods are known. From the mid-10th to the mid-12th century greater progress was made toward the development of a successor style--the Gothic. The primary characteristics of Romanesque architecture (or Norman architecture, as northern Romanesque is often known) were Roman in origin, however: large internal spaces were spanned by barrel vaults on thick, squat columns and piers; windows and doors had round-headed arches; and most of the major churches were laid out on the basilican plan, modified by the addition of buttresses, transepts, and towers. The buildings are solid, heavy, and, because of the comparatively small windows, dimly lighted, exemplified by Durham Cathedral (begun 1023) in England. Portals, capitals, and altars are embellished with sculpture of superlative skill and powerful effect; stained glass first appeared in Europe, but on a limited scale, because of the restricted size of window openings.
From the mid-12th century to the 16th century northern European architecture
was characterized by the use of flying buttresses, pointed arches, ribbed vaults,
and traceried windows. The thin walls, slender columns, and very large areas
of glass in Gothic buildings gave an impression of lightness that contrasted
markedly with the Romanesque. Gothic architecture originated at the royal abbey
church of St. Denis, built by Abbot Suger between 1137 and 1144. It was refined
in the great churches of northern and central France, such as Amiens Cathedral(1220-70),
notable for its great height and the slenderness of its columns, and the Sainte-Chapelle
in Paris (1247-48), in which exceptionally large wall areas were filled with
glass and tracery. Indeed, Gothic architecture was most fully developed in France
and England, where the style spread in the late 12th century. The spread of
Gothic to Germany was delayed until the mid-13th century, and in this country
only a few cathedrals, such as the one in Cologne (begun 1248), approached the
size and quality of the northern French prototypes. The most thorough application
of northern Gothic to Italy was in the Milan Cathedral, built at the end of
the 14th century by French and German masons. In general, the Italians tended
to use Gothic as a decorative feature rather than as a total building system.
During the early 15th century European culture became inspired by the rediscovery,
known as the Renaissance, of classical literature, art, and architecture. Italy
was the center of this rebirth, and in Florence, where the movement started,
architecture was influenced by the use of the orders, the round arch, the barrel
vault, and the dome--all Roman features. In northern Europe, where Gothic continued
to flourish well into the 16th century, the Renaissance at first made only a
superficial impact and was for a much longer time confined to decorative changes.
In both France and England a truly classical style was not established until
the first half of the 17th century: in France by Francois Mansart and in England
by Inigo Jones.
Baroque and Rococo Architecture
In the 15th century Florentine architecture relied for effect upon proportion,
simple straight lines, and the correct use of classical details. During the
16th century, however, architects such as Michelangelo and Giulio Romano abandoned
this restraint for a more exciting, idiosyncratic version of the style, now
called Mannerism, in which the classical rules were deliberately flouted for
effect. Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini further developed the
style by introducing curvilinear forms and by incorporating sculpture and painting
in their buildings to give a rich and dynamic version, known as baroque, which
spread during the 17th and 18th centuries from Rome to much of southern Europe
and to South America.
The Age of Revivals
During the late 18th and 19th centuries Europe and America witnessed a series
of stylistic revivals. The period was dominated by the proponents of the classical
(themselves split between "Greeks" and "Romans") and the
northern Gothic. Buildings were also designed in self-conscious imitation of
Byzantine, Oriental, Egyptian, Venetian Gothic, and Florentine Renaissance architecture,
however. This was not, of course, the first time that ancient styles had been
revived; the Italians of the 15th century and the architects of Charlemagne's
court in the 9th century had incorporated classical motifs in their buildings.
Both the revived classical and the Gothic Revival, however, were essentially
different from the architecture that inspired them.
Contemporary architecture takes a bewildering variety of forms and makes use
of a far wider range of materials than ever before. The International Style,
promulgated by Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in
theory and practice, dominated architecture for most of the 20th century. Most
of the earlier buildings by these architects were small private houses, usually
rectangular, with undecorated walls, flat roofs, and large areas of glass set
in metal frames. Conscious avoidance of any previous styles or recognizable
antecedents was combined with highly sophisticated proportioning to achieve
sleek, elegant structures, such as Mies's German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona
Exhibition. To the dismay of its originators, the International Style was enthusiastically
adopted by far lesser talents and profit-minded builders to produce numerous
"modern" office buildings, apartment complexes, hospitals, and motels
all over the world.
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