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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/211

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ARCHITECTURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

the architect. The latter undertakes to please his client as best he may and prepares—a design. Possibly the plan is in accordance with the programme laid down, but it is by a picturesque exterior, a pleasing elevation, a beautiful drawing, that he hopes to captivate the eye and fancy of his customer. Other architects have made their reputation by their exteriors, and the most successful of all has obtained his fame by some great structure whose facade surpasses in beauty any offered by his competitors. Like a flock of sheep blindly following the leader, they go on preparing design after design, such as it is supposed the client will like, until an immense portfolio of pictures will be accumulated which may be very pleasing to look at, but which are simply drawings intended to catch the eye. The plan, the arrangement of the parts of the house, the convenience of the occupants, and all similar questions are too frequently left to be filled in afterward, and made to fit the exterior instead of the exterior being made to express them.

Architecture, in fact, has ceased to be an art, and has become a fashion. We have styles in architecture just as we have styles in dress, and the changes in public taste are as capricious in the one as in the other. The rule of fashion is the most arbitrary and idiotic form of government to which human beings have ever submitted themselves, and it is not less so in architecture than in dress. Our buildings are put up now in one style, now in another, not because one is more suited to the purpose of the structure, not because it is better adapted to the climate, not because it more freely expresses our culture and our civilization, but because we want a change—because our streets are growing monotonous, because we must alter our structures to conform to the new style, and thereby give evidence of an improved taste and furnish profitable work for the architect and good jobs for the laboring man. As to what is behind all this—the structure itself, the part which calls the façade into being, to which it is really not more than a lid or screen to shut out inquisitive eyes—it does not matter. An Italian front does not necessarily imply an Italian house, nor a Moorish façade suggest the rich, luxurious, sensual life of the south. Variety is indeed the spice of life, and it is an admirable idea to give a diversity to our streets and erect ornamental façades to our buildings; but when we pass over all thought of convenience, of utility, of adaptation to natural conditions, and judge of buildings solely because one is better looking than another, we have passed the dividing line between sense and absurdity.

From the modern point of view it is a misfortune that buildings must be used. Were they only intended to be looked at, could they but be preserved in glass cases in the galleries of some