Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/219

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UTILITY IN ARCHITECTURE.

of expenditure was rigorously scrutinized and, if not essential, cast to one side as a luxury that was unnecessary and could not be afforded. It followed, therefore, that a Gothic building had no superfluous parts, no erections intended solely for effect, nothing that was not absolutely essential. There was no unnecessary multiplication of detail; there was no attempt at a refined balance of parts or at symmetry.

Symmetrical building is the greatest bugbear that besets the modern architect, and has done more to throw him into disrepute than any other invention of the craft. The making of two parts of a building the same, whether their use was identical or not, is a very recent invention, and, though practiced by the Romans to a limited extent, was almost unknown prior to the fourteenth century. Every style has permitted more or less irregularity, according as the plan required it, and it was not. until the Renaissance—a movement that is responsible for more architectural sins than is generally supposed—that the astonishing idea was presented to the world that all the corresponding parts of a building must be alike. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, and the architects of mediæval Europe, were all equally free and unsymmetrical in their designs and their methods. Even the Greeks, who produced more symmetrical buildings than any other people of antiquity, varied their designs to suit circumstances. It is needless to multiply examples, and it is sufficient to point out that this freedom from restraint, this ability to vary the design, is one of the chief glories of Gothic architecture, and helps make it applicable to the varied requirements of modern life.

Yet this very freedom militates against the use of Gothic, and is one of the reasons why it is not as satisfactory for modern requirements as it ought to be. The capability for constant variation permits the architect to compose designs of not a little beauty and almost infinite variety, which so fascinate him that in his search for a pleasing façade he forgets that the external appearance of his building may not conform to the best plan or the greatest convenience. The new Law Courts in London furnish a remarkable illustration of this. These buildings were designed by one of the leaders of the Gothic movement—Sir George Gilbert Scott—a man who was thoroughly imbued with the Gothic spirit, and who devoted his life to the propagation of Gothic forms. Yet he so far overlooked the prime element of Gothic architecture—utility—that the completed structures have been found totally unsuited for the purposes for which they were intended. It can not be wondered at that, when those to whom we look for guidance fail, there should be so many smaller failures by those not so well equipped, and who can not, therefore, be expected to have the same knowledge. There can be no surprise that there has been a revul-