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‘As has so often happened in the history of architecture, it was the advent of new materials and new methods that stimulated and shaped the new theoretical approach.’ J. B. Ward-Perkins, 1970
‘We aim to create a clear, organic architecture whose inner logic will be radiant and naked, unencumbered by lying faces and trickery.’ W. Gropius, 1923
Few discoveries have made more impact on the history of Roman architecture than that of the octagonal hall of Nero’s Golden House (begun c. A.D. 64), which was found early this century buried within the sub-structures of the Baths of Trajan on the slopes of Rome’s Oppian Hill (Figs 1 and 2). The hall, a large-scale domed rotunda fashioned from brick and concrete, has swiftly assumed the privileged position as the embodiment of a fundamental breakthrough in design and aesthetics. For many it represents an abandonment of rectilinear planning and post-and-lintel construction in favour of a much less inhibited handling of interior space, which was made possible by recent advances in brick and moulded concrete construction. So unexpected is the design that it has been declared a ‘revolution’ in architecture. Indeed, the supposedly advanced planning of the octagon and the chambers around it has been contrasted with the more conventional layout of other parts of the surviving wing of Nero’s Golden House in an attempt to show just how sudden the pace of change may have been.
This paper is the text of the Society’s Annual Lecture for 1988, delivered at the Royal Society of Arts on 14 November.
It is a commonplace on occasions such as this for speakers to begin the lecture by acknowledging the honour they feel in having been asked to deliver it. In most instances there is no means of knowing whether the sentiment is anything more than a rhetorical flourish for form’s sake; this evening however may be different, because of the chronological centre of gravity of the Society’s interests, as indicated, for example, by the fact that the great majority of articles in the Society’s journal deal with the buildings of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Thus, as a historian of the architecture of the Middle Ages, I think I can say, not rhetorically, but as an almost quantifiable statement, that it is indeed an honour to be asked to deliver the Society’s annual lecture this evening.
Aston Hall (Fig. 1) stands on a ridge some two miles to the north of Birmingham city centre. Today the house overlooks an urban motorway, giving the motorist a glimpse of the turrets, gables and chimney stacks of the only major Jacobean mansion in the old county of Warwickshire. When it was newly built Sir William Dugdale described the house as ‘a noble fabric . . . which for beauty and state much excedeth any in these parts’. By the late eighteenth century it was being visited regularly by antiquarians; Torrington was much impressed, calling it ‘this grand old mansion — one of the grandest I have seen’ though adding ‘but not a Hardwick’, which is a fair summary for Aston Hall is not a prodigy house. As C. R. Cockerell commented, ‘by uniting and incorporating the offices with the whole design [it] forms a striking and extensive effect without however being over large’, and it can be regarded as a good example of an early seventeeth-century country house of the second rank.
This paper relates earlier published material about the building of Raynham Hall to new evidence discovered during research into the life of Sir Roger Townshend, for whom the Hall was built.
As one of the first country houses in England to be built in a classical style, Raynham Hall in Norfolk has attracted considerable attention from architectural historians. Yet there has always been some uncertainty as to who actually designed the Hall. When Raynham was begun, Inigo Jones, who first introduced classical architecture into England, was still only at the beginning of his career. The principles of classical design were therefore appreciated only at Court. For this reason, and despite Sir Roger Townshend’s apparent lack of Court connections, the design of Raynham was attributed almost unquestioningly for many years, to Inigo Jones himself.
The third Earl of Burlington, as is well known, had strong family connections with the county of Yorkshire: his title itself is a variant form of Bridlington, the market town on the East Riding coast. The link however has generally been associated with his estate at Londesborough some twenty-five miles from Bridlington, which he visited regularly and where he is buried in the parish church; but the family also possessed extensive property on the other side of the county in the West Riding, centred on Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale, and it is Lord Burlington’s architectural activities on and in the neighbourhood of this estate which form the subject of the present article.
Ditchley (Fig. 1) is the first known collaboration between Gibbs and Francis Smith — or, more accurately, the first building in which they are both known to have been engaged. There are six others in which both men’s names appear among the documents: at All Saints’, Derby and the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, Gibbs is known to have been the architect and Smith the contractor; the same can with confidence be assumed at Kelmarsh Hall (Northants), Patshull Hall (Staffs) and the stables at Compton Verney (Warwicks). Smith was himself evidently the architect for most of his long sequence of building works at Badminton, but presumably he also built the pavilions which Gibbs designed during the same period. At Ditchley, despite the appearance of the house in Gibbs’s Book of Architecture (Fig. 2) and in two sets of preparatory drawings in his hand (Fig. 4), there is good reason to think that the design is not his alone. The house as built differs significantly from both the drawings and the engravings, which differ less importantly from one another. Furthermore it is plain that Smith was on the scene before Gibbs and may have anticipated Gibbs by building one of the pavilions before the latter arrived.
This article is an attempt to describe the design of the house which Richard Payne Knight built for himself at Downton on the Rock, near Ludlow, between 1772 and 1778 (Fig. 1), showing what the building might have meant to its designer. The house is in some ways familiar enough. Its place as an influential building is already established, it being the subject of a number of studies — the most important to this article being Nicholas Penny’s in The Arrogant Connoisseur — but the house is often misunderstood as a prophetic anticipation of nineteenth-century Mediaevalism. The following text is divided into three sections, examining the building stylistically, functionally and symbolically. The first shows why the reading of the house’s exterior as an exercise in Mediaevalism is unsatisfactory. The second examines the practical rationale for the irregular planning, which is the house’s most important innovation. And the third concludes by suggesting sources for the building’s imagery.
‘. . . it is of the greatest importance that a student should be able by prolonged study in the atmosphere of a great art centre, to gain a thorough knowledge of the principles underlying the work of the great masters, and by that means prepare himself for original work in the domain of art he has chosen.’ The Commissioners for the 1851 Exhibition, 1911
‘Rome is the damnation of the half-educated. To send architectural students to Rome is to cripple them for life.’ Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture 1923, trans. 1927
The Rome prize for architecture was established in 1912 as the last stage of a recent and systematic reform of British architectural education. It was supported by those who felt that British architecture reflected the individualism and haphazard character of articled pupillage, and hoped to correct these tendencies by providing, as an alternative, full-time training leading to a professional qualification. The prize was visualized as the finale to the new system of architectural education, the summit of a ‘ladder of prizes’ for design which led from the Tite Prize to the Soane Medallion and Victory Scholarship and culminated in the Rome Scholarship. The first Faculty of Architecture of the British School at Rome contained advocates of the new architectural education, and at first constituted a lively forum for discussing the purpose and direction of architectural training as well as of the Rome prize itself. But a considerable gulf soon developed between the Faculty and progressive ideas on architecture and its teaching. Within a decade of its creation, the Faculty began to use the Rome scholarship not simply to encourage systematic working methods, clarity of planning and good draughtsmanship but actually to discourage what it termed ‘modern tendencies’. The scholarship gradually lost its status as the apex of progressive architectural education and by the 1930s came to be regarded as highly reactionary. Since then, writers have tended to use the Rome scholarship as an indication of the backwardness of twentieth-century British architecture, contrasting the late establishment of the prize with the reaction against academic training which transformed inter-war European architecture. More recently, it has been suggested that the dwindling prestige accorded the Rome prize in the inter-war years represented merely a temporary set-back for the otherwise triumphant progress of the classical tradition in British architecture from the seventeenth century to the present day.
Modern Movement metal-frame houses can be found across the United States of America from Connecticut to Hawaii. The most well known of these date from the late 1940s and 1950s, and they are often regarded as icons of twentieth-century architecture. On the whole they represented no cohesive effort or common goal, for they were usually one-off designs which neither drew from their context nor offered much towards the development of an industrial building process which the metal frame would suggest: in many ways they were ‘art objects’ and perhaps they should be appreciated for being just that. The few exceptions to this rule are to be found in Los Angeles, California.