Skip to main content

Full text of "American Architecture"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 




Architecture is adaptation. The history of architecture is 
the story of the attempt of man to adapt his life to the environ- 
ment in which he is placed. The Abipone under his mat, the 
Assyrian in his thick-walled house of brick, the Roman in his 
conveniently arranged villa, the medieval baron in his castle, 
the French monarch in his richly appointed palace, are but so 
many instances of the influence of climate, geological conditions, 
manner of living, the evolutions of society.' 

The manner of building and its outward forms were an echo 
of life its period and its conditions. The architecture of the 
Chinese is doubtless a reproduction of the tent m universal use 
among the Tartars of the great steppes, and is wrought out in 
wood, stone or porcelain. The temple of India, pyramidal or 
conical, with innumerable pinnacles, covering vast interior 
vaults, whose roofs are supported by colossal images of men and 
beasts, simulate the mountain-peaks and caverns of the tower- 
ing Himalayas. Possibly the' early inhabitants of India were 
troglodytes, or cave-dwellers. -When their art was transported 
to Egypt, it was repeated in the pyramids, and the low, caver- 
nous stone temples of Abou Simbel and Karnak. The Greeks 
borrowed their architecture from Egypt, but their purer art and 
freer spirit lightened and idealized it. They exchanged the 
dark granite for white marble ; they made the roofs loftier and 
lighter, the columns taller and more slender, and they substi- 
tuted the volute of a shell and the acanthus leaf for the lotus 
capital of the Egyptians. The Romans, who invented nothing, 
a nation of robbers having ravished every country of its wealth 
and art, they took the Greek styles in architecture, as they took 
the Greek mythology in religion, and made them both more 
gross and more simple. The Roman builders eliminated the 
oval and epicycloid curves of Greek architecture, and intro- 
duced in their places the arcs of circles, while they reduced the 
refined sociability of the Greek Olympus to the level of a 

The Gothic architecture is said to be modelled on a forest of 
lofty trees with arching branches. So, too, is the Arabic or Sara- 
cenic. Those children of the desert, dreaming of shady groves 
and sparkling springs of water, wrought out their desires m the 
multitudinous pillars of their mosques and palaces, supporting 
low arches, under which there was always a jetting fountain. 
The old Goths and Germans, dwelling in the vast forests of 
northern Europe, might well have drawn from them the inspi- 
ration of their clustered columns and lofty, arching branches, 
among which the sunlight glimmered as through the dim win- 
dows of a venerable cathedral. 

Each style of architecture has originated in the various opera- 
tions of natural conditions ; each form had an evolution of its 
own, that had as definite and as readily ascertained causes as 
those which produced the evolution of any other form of cul- 
ture. Reason and common sense, usefulness and intention, 
were the great factors on which all architecture rested ; and 
when these things were neglected — when an arbitrary decree of 
fashion or the development of a new " taste " became the crite- 
rion by which all buildings were judged— architecture fell. 
This calamity occurred with the introduction of the Renais- 
sance in the fifteenth century, and its results are still apparent. 
* * * 

Any study of city architecture which ignores the' conditions 
under which modern cities thrive and grow, no matter how 
minutely special structures may be described, falls ludicrously 
short of completeness. " Hamlet " with Hamlet left out would 
be a very singular play indeed. 

A Symposium appeared in the Catalogue of the Architectural 
Exhibition held in Philadelphia recently under auspices of the 
T Square Club, on the question : " An unaffected school of mod- 
ern architecture in America — will it come 1 " This ambiguously 
worded sentence asks whether our National life will have a 
national expression in that branch of art which is architecture. 

Put it that way — and who will deny ? 

Yet none of the architects or professors taking part in this 
Symposium puts the question squarely on its feet. Architecture 

is race evolution rather than art outgrowth, and as surely as to 
be American is to be individual, so surely will the time come 
that Architecture with the pictorial arts, music and literature 
will manifest itself in this country in a school of its own— un- 
affected directly by any other school of the past, indirectly 
bv whatever has been noble, beautiful and good that has gone 
b ^ for e ;_as a composite photograph of college professors may 
show the ideal lines of the intellectual man. And it will not 
be a combination of all schools of architecture like Stockton s 
" Squirrel Inn," but as distinctly national in taste and adapta- 
tion as a Swiss chdtelet, ar a Dutch Irapgevel (stairgable) house. 

An American is the cosmopolite outgrowth of humanity, and 
through the school of his national history and human- struggles 
he has attained in the third and fourth generation to distinct 
individuality. This individuality becomes an expression of in- 
trinsic life. Its multiplex sources may suggest confusion, nev- 
ertheless distinct fundamental principles are readily recognized. 
They are : — Utility, Ingenuity, Condensation. 
* * * 

Architectural forms, like letters of the alphabet, seem per- 
petually to have been borrowed from one nation by another. 
Each borrows what it can assimilate and throws away the rest, 
the assimilated portion undergoing a transforming process by 
which, in the course of time, new and remarkable forms -are 
evolved. All early expression is eclectic and reminiscent. 
Genius alone is immediately creative. But a school is anaggre- 
gate, that is an average— which is not genius. A school then 
will evolve, not create, and our national life is fast accumulat- 
ing the ingredients which will precipitate themselves, and that 
quite soon, into a bright crystal of American Architecture. 

Let me suggest some lines along which this evolution is 
travelling. Our lives are one continuous hurry, and the lag- 
gard is soon left behind in the rapid march of progress. In the 
cities land is scarce and valuable, and room is only to be had 
by expanding upward instead of laterally. The skyscraper 
becomes a manifestation of at least one face of American archi- 
tecture. There is a conflict, only on the surface however, 
between things utilitarian and forces purely aesthetic. Lavish 
luxury on the other hand seeks ostentatious display. False 
notes are sounded in the tendency to exaggerate. Hygiene 
and engineering are problems to be considered now, while 
formerly they were not known. Tenements and stores and 
private dwellings and apartment houses and office buildings and 
railroad stations and factories and warehouses — the thousand 
and one forms of structure pressed into service by the require- 
ments of city life or the necessity of business — they make the 
bulk of our cities and give it form and definiteness ; and where 
the Gothic had principally to consider its cathedrals, the neo- 
Grecian its temples, the Renaissance its palaces, the Ameri- 
can school will have to grapple with all problems propounded 
by every shelter for human habitation, and will have to do it 
in the spirit and the ruling desire of a people backed by their 
force and energy, tempered by taste and culture, in simplest 
and costliest materials. 

The American architect, with all the world's noblest concep- 
tions in architecture before him, may well aspire to the creation 
of architectural ideals that will place him in the same category 
with the world-acknowledged masters of their art. 

Another sculptural act has been committed to the long list of 
metropolitan inertia. It is a graveyard monument to the grateful 
memory of the late President Chester A. Arthur, erected by loving 
friends, standing in Madison Square Park. The manner of pose was 
suggested by St. Gaudens' Lincoln Statue in Chicago, and, like all the 
products of imitation, comes far short of the model. 

This reminds me of a curious soldiers' monument I passed, while 
wheeling in the Oranges, where a "boy in blue" is raised on a well- 
designed pedestal, in an "Excelsior" (vide Longfellow) attitude. 
Sculptor Hastings had a poor model for the face, which at once gives 
the impression of a weak, sickly doughnut. The body is a monu- 
ment to a bad tailoring system existent in the army, if the manner in 
which the coat sleeve of the right arm is joined to the body be true to 
life. The uplifted right hand gives more the impression of a Sunday- 
school oration than of martial strength.