I try to practice as a classical architect today, and I enjoy it. There are many ways in which classical architecture is misunderstood…
In which a currently-practicing classical architect – a sadly rare breed, these days – discusses seven common misconceptions concerning classical architecture: Pastiche, Functionalism, New building types, Materials, Cost, Tradesmen, and Politics. A most interesting treatment!
Though he is obviously trying to simplify as much as possible for a general audience, I confess that I got a little bogged down in some of the technical aspects, and had to resort to a dictionary more than once. Alas, my education in classical architecture, as in many other realms, is not all I could wish! Nonetheless, I had no trouble grasping the essence of what he was saying, and I am quite sure that will be true with any reasonably educated, or simply well-read, reader.
He makes many good points, some of them of a strictly architectural nature (which means, the interrelation between humans and the buildings in which they live and work), while others might be seen to have a more general application. Here is one of the latter:
” I think the working man is misunderstood by everyone, not least himself. There is, after all, no fundamental difference between the tradesman, the architect or his employers. They are all men made in the image of God with needs and aspirations. But I have noticed that we are all far less covetous when we are working on a job we enjoy; at the end of the day we can go home and think about it and return the next day to take the work a little further. I have heard this from so many tradesmen, that it must be true; it is the boredom of repetitive work, work which requires nothing from you, that makes for an empty mind. The empty mind is a dangerous thing because it soon gets filled with a host of other thoughts which no industrial expert can control…”
And then there is this:
“It is often said that there are political implications in the classical style… The truth is that it does express the society that uses it, just as man’s or woman’s face expresses what is in their heart, but this does not mean that it takes sides… [He goes on to list a startling variety of groups and philosophies, throughout history, who have utilized elements of classical architecture.] Although the spiritual, political, material and temporal influences are crystallised in wood and stone, and expressed in classical forms, the classical grammar remains neutral; like the paint on the artist’s palette.”
As someone who tends to the conservative and traditional, socially and politically as well as philosophically, classical architecture has an obvious appeal to me. I value such elemental ideals as timeless beauty, stability, permanence, order, and craft. As Architectural Revival puts it,
“Create places our ancestors would recognise and our descendants will be proud of. Stand for Beauty, Tradition, Heritage, Identity, Order & Craft.”
It is true, however, that the elements and ideals of classical architecture are not limited to any particular political, economic, or social philosophy. They transcend such matters, cutting to the heart of the human spirit. This should not be surprising, if we recall that Beauty is, along with Goodness and Truth, one of the classical Three Transcendentals: all of which are interrelated, and all of which are gifts of, and indeed expressions of, the One Who perfectly embodies all three – that is, God Himself.
But whether you follow that line of metaphysical reasoning or not, the fact remains that the beauty and value of classical architecture transcends any particular use to which humans may put it, or context within which we may place it. The ancients did not create the classical standards of beauty, proportion, etc.; they discovered them. The appreciation of them is innate to our human nature, for it is grounded in Nature itself.
[Which, of course, is another way of saying the created order, which both stems from and leads to the Creator… and there I go, getting all metaphysical again! But what do you expect, of a Christian cleric?]
And this is why classical architecture continues to have such aesthetic appeal, and continues to give us such feelings of satisfaction, completeness, and pleasure when we gaze upon it, whether the building in question was erected thousands of years ago, or just last week.