Domestic Encyclopædia (1802)/Architecture
ARCHITECTURE, a term which denotes the art of building in general, though chiefly applied to the construction of edifices appropriated to the purposes of civil life, such as houses, churches, halls, bridges, &c. &c.
The origin of this art is involved in obscurity. It is generally supposed, that the earliest materials employed in building, were branches and twigs of trees, with which the primitive inhabitants of the earth constructed their huts, similar to the present wigwams of the Indians. This conjecture, however, appears doubtful, for the natural shelter afforded by caverns in the sides of mountains, or rocks, would more readily suggest the idea of using stones and earth, as materials for building houses. That the preference was given to stone-buildings, over any kind of temporary huts, or tents, is obvious from the practice among the inhabitants of America, where the human race existed in its rudest state: these people were no sooner collected into great bodies, under the Emperors of Mexico and Peru, than stone buildings were immediately attempted. Hence the origin of architecture should not be searched for in any single nation, but in every country, at a time when the natives began to relinquish their savage way of life, and to adopt civilized manners.
The origin of all regular buildings, however, hath, by several authors, been generally, and very plausibly, deduced from the construction of the meanest huts. These were, at first, probably made of a conic figure, which is the simplest in structure, but being inconvenient on account of its inclined sides, both the figure and construction of the huts were changed, by giving them a cubical form.
At length, mankind insensibly improved in the art of building, and invented methods of rendering their habitations durable and handsome, as well as convenient. They deprived the trunks of trees of their bark, and other inequalities of surface, raised them above the wet, or humid soil, by means of stones, and also covered each with a flat stone, or slate, to exclude the rain. The interstices between the ends of the joists, were closed with wax, clay, or similar substances: the position of the roof was likewise altered; and, as on account of its level surface, it was unfit to carry off the abundant rain-water, they elevated it in the middle, by placing rafters on the joists, to support the earth and other materials of the covering. From this simple construction, the orders of architecture undoubtedly took their origin; for, when the rude builder began to erect stately edifices of stone, he imitated those parts which, from necessity, had composed the primitive huts. Thus, the upright trees, with stones at each end, were the origin of columns, bases, and capitals; and the beams, joists, rafters, &c. which formed the covering, gave rise to architraves, frizes, trigliphs, cornices, &c.
Although the first buildings were rough and uncouth, because the artificers of those remote ages possessed neither skill, experience, nor tools, yet, when by length of practice, certain rules had been established, and many new instruments invented, the art rapidly advanced towards perfection: a variety of style, or different methods of building, were discovered, which, by succeeding generations, have been held in the greatest esteem.
The Egyptians, from the earliest ages of antiquity, have been considered as the inventors of arts; and, among other contrivances, may be numbered that species of original architecture, in which the strength of the fabric was more regarded than either its elegance, or symmetry.
We cannot, consistently with the plan of this work, enter into a detail of the rise and progress of architecture; and shall, therefore, only observe, that the Greeks, whose sublime and penetrating genius prompted them to combine elegance with convenience, derived their first ideas of building from the Egyptians.
But the mind of man being unquestionably influenced by the mode of government under which he lives; and the Greeks, with their independence, having also lost their ascendancy in works of genius, from that period the Romans must be considered as the encouragers of this noble art.
The orders, as now executed by architects, are five, viz. 1. the Tuscan; 2. the Doric; 3. the Ionic; 4. the Corinthian; and 5. the Composite. The first, from its robust appearance, is used in works where strength and simplicity are the essential requisites; the second is nearly similar to the Tuscan in strength, but is enlivened by its peculiar ornaments; the third is more delicate than either of the former; but the fourth displays more beauty and ornament than the others, and is therefore frequently used for the internal decorations of stately rooms; the fifth order is nearly the same as the Corinthian.
The style of building, as practised throughout Europe in the early ages, was denominated Gothic, Saxon, Norman, and Saracenic. But what we commonly call Saxon, is in reality Roman architecture.
When the Romans invaded the Britons, they found no places corresponding to our ideas of a city, or town, consisting of a great number of contiguous houses, regular streets, lanes, &c. Dwellings, like those of the ancient Germans, were scattered over the country, and generally situated on the brink of a rivulet, for the sake of water, or on the skirt of a wood or forest, for the purpose of hunting, and providing pasturage for their cattle. These inviting circumstances, being more conspicuous in some parts of the country than in others, the princes and chiefs selected the most agreeable spots for their residence. Thus arose an ancient British town, so characteristically described by Cæsar and Strabo, as "a tract of woody country, surrounded by a mound and ditch," for the security of its inhabitants against the incursions of their enemies.
As soon as the Romans began to form settlements and colonies in this island, a sudden and remarkable change took place in the style of architecture. For that wonderful, brave, and industrious people, speedily adorned every country which they conquered. They not only built a considerable number of solid, convenient, and magnificent edifices for their own accommodation, but also exhorted and instructed the Britons to follow their example. In short, this eminently useful art, was one of the principal means employed by Agricola, to civilise the Britons, and reconcile them to the Roman yoke.
Not long after this period, however, architecture, and the arts connected with it, began sensibly to decline in Britain; partly in consequence of the building of Constantinople, which attracted the most famous architects to the East. But the almost total ruin and neglect of architecture in this island, may doubtless be attributed to the final departure of the Romans. For the natives, and the descendants of Roman and British parents, having neither skill nor courage to defend their numerous towns, forts and cities, suffered them to be plundered and destroyed by their ferocious invaders, the Scots, Picts, and Saxons: the last mentioned, in particular, having no taste for the arts, committed the most wanton and extensive devastations.
In the 12th century, architecture again revived, and experienced very great improvements, in consequence of the religious zeal of the clergy; and, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the chaste style of the Greeks and Romans was again displayed in Britain. For, though the Italians for a long time maintained their superiority, in this as well as in other arts, over all the European nations, yet as men of genius from distant parts constantly resorted to Italy for the purpose of improvement, since that period architects have arisen in our own country, equal to any that ever appeared on the classical ground of Italy.
The latest and most splendid publication on this subject, which is intended as a Supplement to that magnificent work, 'Vitruvius Britannicus,' and which contains the studies of the most celebrated artists of the present day, is the following: "A Collection of Plans and Elevations of modern Buildings, public and private, erected in Great Britain, &c." It is engraved in aquatinta, from original drawings bv G. R. Richardson, architect. Seven numbers, at 10s. 6d. each, are already published, and the whole is to be completed in ten such numbers.
Another very useful work has lately appeared, under the title, "Hints for Dwellings, &c." By D. Laing, architect and surveyor, 4to. 34 plates, 1l. 5s. Taylor, 1800. It consists of original designs for cottages, farm-houses, villas, &c. plain and ornamental: with plans to each, uniting convenience and elegance with economy. The Monthly Reviewers say: "We recommend the present work, as one of the best of that kind, to the attention of these who wish to amuse themselves with brick and mortar."
Beside these, wc shall mention the following architectural works, which reflect credit on the artists of this country: "The Rudiments of Ancient Architecture, &c." royal 8vo. edit. 2d. price 6s. boards, published for Taylor, in 1794.—"Sketches in Architecture;" by J. Soane, architect, &c. 54 folio plates, 2l. 12s. 6d. half bound, 1793.—"A Treatise on the decorative part of Civil Architecture;" by Sir Wm. Chambers, &c. edit. 3d. Imperial folio, price 3l. 3s. Cadell, 1791.
Architecture, being an useful and elegant art, is carried on in three different ways: first, for utility: secondly, for ornament; and, thirdly, for the construction of such buildings as require the combined effect of both.
Edifices intended solely for utility, should in every part correspond with the design: hence any material deviation from that principle, for the sake of ornament, ought to be strictly avoided.
Works erected with this intention, are to be considered as a mean conducive to some end; and the nearer they approach to the object in view, the more will such structures gain the approbation of competent judges, though every graceful decoration may have been neglected.
Buildings of such a nature only, are compatible with our plan, and of these we shall give a more particular account under the article Building.