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The Trend of Architectural Thought

In America

Drawings by HUGH FERRISS

E are complacent about build- and were even able to put some of them on paper.

Wing almost anything in this

country, and because in general we do it very well, more thought is expended upon the technic of architecture than upon its larger aspects. Yet here, in the larger aspects of architecture, lie the great responsibilities, as well as the great opportunities, of the architects of America.

Architecture may be called the most authoritative of all the arts, because it is the most thoroughly reasoned, depending less upon individual inspiration and caprice than upon its reasoned bases. Vision imparts nobility to a building, but beneath the vision there must be that reasoned basis, a thing as unassailable as a proposition in Euclid.

Because building is a technical subject, many people close their minds to appreciation of architecture, believing that technical knowledge is necessary to its enjoyment. If appreciation of paintings were inseparable from a knowledge of the chemistry of pigments, how few would be the visitors to the art galleries! In the more gracious days familiarity with architectural style, more particularly the classic, was considered part of a liberal education. Such gentlemen as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson held certain definite architectural ideas

No extensive technical study is necessary to develop sound critical judgment in architectural matters. A building should first be considered with regard to its problem rather than with regard to the solution of that problem. The first consideration is the purpose of the building, the last, that of its style.

The architect of to-day is confronted with two distinct classes of problems, those which are analogous to the architectural problems of the past, and those which are essentially modern and without parallel in the architecture of a former age.

In the first group would come the church, the school, college or university, the monument or memorial, and certain public buildings. In the second would come the tall office building, the colossal hotel, the railroad terminal, and certain modern types of public buildings.

The analogous problem is obviously a greater test of the architect's erudition and taste than of his ingenuity and resourcefulness. The design of a Gothic church requires familiarity with the Gothic manner rather than skill in adaptation, for the problem of Gothic forms as related to the structure of the church building was worked

out in the thirteenth century. Indeed the Gothic church is a result of almost organic growth.

The modern problem is the interesting one. Here the architect elects to render a towering office building in terms of a Gothic cathedral or a railroad terminal in terms of a classic temple. In a sincere effort to be true to the present era, many architects have directed intense thought toward evolving new architectural terms in which to express the solution of new problems. thoughts lead directly into the realm of style, and style is probably one of the most misused and most misunderstood terms in the entire vocabulary of architecture. Being the most conspicuous and most readily recognized of architectural attributes, it is often mistaken for architecture itself.

bring about better government or even because the Capitol at Washington has a dome. The Capitol at Washington has a dome for the same reason that most state capitols have

The Temple of the Scottish Rite, Washington, D. C. John Russell Pope, architect


An immense amount of sheer nonsense has been written about style in architecture, about style expressing this or that, about stupidly copying European styles, about the lack of "meaning" in anything derived from classic architecture, and the profanity of using Gothic architecture for anything but a church or an educational building.

The architect does not treat a library with a Greek colonnade because he entertains an obscure idea that classic colonnades have something to do with reading books. His idea is primarily to give the community a dignified building, a "temple of learning." State capitols are not designed with great domes dominating the mass of the building because domes will

domes, because of the desirability of rearing a building which will be monumentally dignified and architecturally distinguished from other important buildings in its own neighborhood.

I hesitate to think that an architect in selecting the Gothic manner of design to achieve a fine office building profanes Rheims or Amiens. It is more likely that he chose the Gothic because he intensely admired the Gothic spirit and felt moved to carry it on as a vital living element in modern architecture.

The trend of modern architectural thought, it is true, gives no small amount of consideration to style, but only as a means of expressing an architectural idea in the most effective manner possible. It does not design a building primarily to exploit a style, or ruin a building primarily to avoid a style. Architecture, like most things, is larger than any of its parts, and moves steadily forward through a succession of styles without finding its permanent expression in any of them.

The element of design in architecture rests in the reasoned solution of the specific problem and not in any extraneous attribute such as style. To be able to see a building without seeing its stylistic rendering is to see architecture. It is only thus that one may follow the trend of architectural thought as expressed in the works of those architects who are doing most


of the architectural thinking in this himself with how fine a thing, in the country.

To form a fair and broad opinion of a building, one must ask oneself whether the given problem is old or new and whether, in either case, the solution as conceived by the architect is old or new. There will at once be apparent, then, the measure of the architect's ability and the measure of the building's real worth.

All the buildings in Mr. Ferriss's

manner of its doing, he could achieve. He had simply to build as noble a temple as the architects of ancient Greece, and he succeeded. His problem was not one of ingenuity, but of integrity.


The Pennsylvania Station, New York City

The building of the Library of Columbia University falls into a somewhat similar class of architectural achievement. Not so literally a temple as the Scottish Rite, it is nevertheless based on the temple-oflearning idea, and entirely fulfils its architectural destiny in being a beautiful temple. It has no need to be anything else. Like the Scottish Rite, it does not even involve a priori any structural problems which could not have been met by the ancient Greeks.

McKim, Mead & White, architects

drawings are important, and most of them are impressive. In general, they all meet one of the least cited, but most important, of architectural requirements; they possess a high pictorial quality, irrespective of all else. To miss this quality in a large building is to miss one of the greatest of architectural opportunities.

The fact that some of these buildings are stylistically derived from classic, Gothic, and Renaissance sources, while others are distinctly intended to depart from such precedents, yet that all are architecturally impressive, confirms the truth about the irrelevancy of style as related to the whole larger conception of architecture.

One obvious classic derivation, splendidly done, is seen in the Temple of the Scottish Rite, in Washington, D. C., a clean-cut, logical architectural solution of a problem analogous to an ancient problem. In the use of temple architecture for the design of a temple no violence was done to precedent, and the architect needed only to concern

The Pennsylvania Station, in New York, presents another kind of classic derivation. In its general relationship of parts it is based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla, but here its similarity ceases. Splendid in scale and restrained in detail, it is adapted to entirely unclassical uses. It is an instance of old forms, an old classical concept, utilized with the highest order of architectural imagination and vision as the solution of an essentially modern problem. Well within the realm of critical nonsense falls the objection that there is nothing about it, architecturally, to suggest a railroad or a railroad station. What, in the name of Palladio and Vitruvius, could be done to make it suggest a railway station? How does, or should, a railway station look? Would it look more like a railway sta

tion if it were designed like the Sioux City Court-House? The objection is most often heard from the modernists. The Sioux City Court-House is nothing if not modern, but does it suggest a court-house? It is enough that the Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal, occupying an entire city block, at a very important terminus of a very important railroad, is a superb and enduringly dignified building, which age will find unchanged. Need it be more? It may not mark a step toward the "national style" at the rainbow's end, but it is more than probable that it is architecturally a better and a finer thing than a restless and unsound experimentation would produce.

architectural thought and reasoning points to the Gothic.

But it should be remembered that the external manner of Gothic architecture, its pictorial quality, is all

that is Gothic in the tall commercial building. The structure is entirely different, and it is only by a happy architectural coincidence that Gothic forms fit a soaring steel frame as gracefully as they originally fitted the masonry structures out of which they grew. Some critics maintain that the clothing of a modern, tall steel-frame building in Gothic forms is architecturally immoral. Other critics say that Gothic forms are the only proper architectural clothing for such a building. Both are wrong. It is a case of coincidence, and when it is generally recognized as such, much fruitless controversy will cease.


The Provost Tower, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.

Cope & Stewardson, architects

The modern architect, specially if he build upon Manhattan Island, is often required to rear a building to heroic height on a relatively insignificant area. Such was the problem, the very modern and local problem, of designing the Bush Terminal Building on Forty-Second Street in New York City. For such a building the classic manner offers little encouragement. The classic key-note is the stately colonnade, and while a colonnade can be virtually the greater part of a low, horizontal building, or a moderatesized building of cubical proportions, it can be only a small part of a tall, narrow building. It can figure in the base or at the crowning stories of the tall building, but what of the intervening wall areas? Here every angle of

From the point of design, the Gothic manner affords a peculiarly happy solution for the problem of terminating the tall building, as is admirably evidenced in the top of the Bush Building. This is probably one of the finest silhouettes of all the tall buildings of New York. The side walls of the Bush Building may not always rise free and clear of adjacent buildings, and the architect's best effort was therefore concentrated on its peak. Not only was the Gothic manner a logical one to choose for so tall and narrow a building, but the architect was fortunate in expressing in his ingenious adaptation an authoritative

quality of ruggedness which is true to the spirit of Gothic architecture rather than to any mere specific example of Gothic form.

The Woolworth Building, probably one of the most well-known buildings in this country, is an unusually interesting architectural study. The sheer height of its vertical lines, if unbroken, would inevitably create optical distress, and the architect, with true ingenuity and grasp of the possibilities of the style in which he was working, utilized the Gothic device of continuous traceried canopies to relieve the verticality. Lines of shadow, of broken, irregular shadow, were needed as a part of the design, and were masterfully contrived. Equally interesting are the questions of minor relations of parts and of the scale and character of the detail. The Woolworth Building must not be forgotten as an exceptional example of the solving of a modern problem by means of an old system of design.

Before departing from the modern utilization of the Gothic manner of architectural design, several buildings may be cited as illustrations of different kinds of secular adaptations. In the Provost Tower at the University of Pennsylvania and in the buildings of the Military Academy at West Point the Gothic style is used for the solution of problems analogous to those

of the times which originated the style. "Collegiate Gothic," as in the Provost Tower, is seen in various attractive versions in several colleges, notably in Princeton and the College of the City of New York, and relatively little adaptation has been demanded of the architect.

The buildings at West Point, to be sure, go much further, architecturally, because no exact Gothic prototype of this group can be cited. It is probable that a master-builder of the Middle Ages, confronted with the same problem, would have evolved much the same answer. The secularization of the Gothic style, with no loss of its character or vigor, as accomplished at

The Woolworth Building,
New York City
Cass Gilbert, architect

West Point, is no mean architectural achievement. It would have been easy to design a pompous, but inevitably ridiculous, parody of a medieval castle, but not so easy to mold the architecture of a great epoch into a form which created a new designation, "military Gothic," to describe and to do it justice. Perhaps the message of West Point is that the architect will most readily achieve real success in the adaptation of an old style to a new building when he thinks as nearly as possible with the same architectural mind as would have been brought to the task by an architect of the period in question. Because the West Point group was designed very nearly as

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