Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/461

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
430
[MODERN
ARCHITECTURE
1911 Britannica-Architecture-Halifax.png

Fig. 90.—Halifax Town Hall. (Barry.)


Returning to the consideration of architecture in England, we come, at about the close of the classic revival, to the name of the man who was undoubtedly the most remarkable English architect since Wren, Sir Charles Barry. To Barry’s “common-sense” style, in England. class him, as some would do, with the classic revival, would be a misapprehension. Barry was no revivalist; he never attempted to recreate Greek architecture on English soil. He adopted for most of his works what has been called, for want of a better name, the Italian style, which may really rather be called the common-sense style of a civilized society. The two first works which brought him into notice, the Travellers’ and Reform clubs in London, were no doubt based on special Italian models, the Pandolfini and Farnese palaces; but a consideration of his whole career shows that he was in fact anything but a copyist. The comparison of him with Wren is justified by the fact that he was, like Wren, a born architect, in the sense that he grasped every problem presented to him from the true architect’s point of view; with both of them architecture was not the dressing up of an exterior, but the fashioning of a building as a conception based on plan and section as well as on the desire to secure a certain external appearance; and, like Wren, he never failed to grasp the true requirements of a site and to adapt his architectural conception to it; a power perfectly different from that of merely producing agreeable elevations in this or that adopted style. Though very careful of his detail, he did not rely on detail, but on the general conception of an architectural scheme. This power was never so remarkably shown as in his grand scheme, unhappily never carried out, for the concentration of all the British government offices in one great architectural ensemble, which was to extend, on the west of Parliament Street and Whitehall, from Great George Street nearly to Charing Cross, the whole of the buildings to be carried out as one design, distributed into quadrangles, each of which was to be connected with one department of the administration, while all would have internal communication. Had this great idea been carried out we might at the present day have found some of the detail of the building unsatisfying to our taste, as we often find the detail in some of Wren’s buildings, but we should have had a grand architectural achievement which would have made London pre-eminent among the capitals of the world. Nothing so great had been proposed in England since Inigo Jones’s plan for Whitehall Palace, which also survives only in drawings, except the one noble bit of classic architecture known as the Banqueting House (Plate VI., fig. 75). It was one of the greatest misfortunes to London as a capital city that the government of the day could not rise to the height of Barry’s ambitious scheme, in which there was nothing financially insuperable, since it was all designed to be carried out by portions at a time, as funds could be spared; but each government office built would in that way have been one step towards the completion of a great central idea; whereas the nation now spends the same money in erecting detached government buildings which have no architectural connexion with each other.

Barry’s two clubs before mentioned are almost ideals of club architecture—the architecture of a civilized society; his Bridge-water House is a building on a larger scale of the same type. That he had architectural ideas less staid and sober than these is shown, however, by the remarkable tower and spire of the Halifax Town Hall (fig. 90), his last work, which he did not live to see carried out, in which he contrived with remarkable success to give the Gothic spirit and multiplicity of effect to a tower which is nevertheless classic in detail. This tower is one of the most original and striking things in modern English architecture and shows how Barry’s architectural ideas were developing up to the close of his life.

Barry’s great building, the Houses of Parliament (Plate X., fig. 118), with which his name will always be more especially associated, comes accidentally, though not by natural development nor by his own choice, under the head of the Gothic revival. The style of Tudor Gothic was dictated to the competitors, apparently from a mistaken idea that the building ought to “harmonize” with the architecture of Henry VII.’s chapel adjacent to the site. Had Barry been left to himself, there is no doubt that the Houses of Parliament, with the same main characteristics of plan and grouping, would have been of a classic type of detail, and would possibly have been a still finer building than it is; and since the choice of the Gothic style in this case was not a direct consequence of the Gothic revival movement, it may be considered separately from that. The architectural greatness of the building consists, in the first place, in the grand yet simple scheme of Barry’s plan, with the octagon hall in the centre, as the meeting-point for the public, the two chambers to north and south, and the access to the committee-rooms and other departments subordinate to the chambers. The plan (fig. 91) in itself is a stroke of genius, and has been more or less imitated in buildings for similar purposes all over the world; the most important example, the Parliament House of Budapest (Plate IX., fig. 115 and fig. 92), being almost a literal copy of Barry’s plan. Thus, as in all great architecture, the plan is the basis of the whole scheme, and upon it is built up a most picturesque and expressive grouping, arising directly out of the plan. The two towers are most happily contrasted as expressive of their differing purposes; the Victoria Tower is the symbol of the State entrance, a piece of architectural display solely for the sake of a grand effect; the Clock Tower is a utilitarian structure, a lofty stalk to carry a great clock high in the air; the two are differentiated accordingly, and the placing of them at opposite ends of the structure has the fortunate effect of indicating, from a distance, the extent of the plan. The graceful spire in the centre offers an effective contrast to the masses of the two towers, while forming the outward architectural expression of the octagon hall, which is, as it were, the keystone of the plan.
The detail is another consideration. Barry, having had a style forced upon him (most unwisely), which he had not studied much and with which he was not much in sympathy, associated Pugin with him to design a good deal of the detail; exactly how much is not certainly known; probably Pugin was responsible for all the interior detail and fittings; the exterior detail may have been only suggested or sketched by him. On this ground absurd attempts have been made, by people who do not seem to understand what architecture in the true sense means, to claim for Pugin what they call the “artistic merit” of the Houses of Parliament. The artistic merit consists in the whole plan, conception and grouping, which are entirely Barry’s, and which represent something beyond Pugin’s grasp; the detail is in fact the weak element in the building. That Pugin’s Gothic detail is better than Barry’s would have been is very likely the case; but had Barry been left unfettered to work out the detail in his own school, the result would probably have been still better. Even as it is, however, the Houses of Parliament is one of the finest buildings in the world, ancient or modern, and it is to be regretted that Englishmen generally seem to be so little aware of this.