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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/717

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COBRESPONDENCE.

CORRESPONDENCE.
 

A DEFENSE OF THE ARCHITECTS.

Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: Mr. Barr Ferree's articles on modern architecture, in the June and December numbers of the Monthly, are interesting as giving an outside view of the present condition of that profession; but the writer fails to discriminate between past performance and present tendency, between evils in the ascendency and evils on the decline. He appears, indeed, quite uninformed as to what is being done by our leading architects and as to the spirit and methods of their work, and judges the architecture of our time by its worst instead of its best performances. The views he expresses are more or less widely prevalent in the community, and now that they have found such pointed and vigorous utterance, demand that some one should call attention to the fallacy of a part, at least, of their assertions. Architects are not such unwilling listeners to lay criticism as this writer would have us believe, but they do ask that it shall justify itself by clear definitions, precise statements, and evidence of thorough acquaintance with the various bearings of the subject. These are to be looked for in vain in the above-mentioned articles, which, moreover, seem to ignore the progress made by the profession in the last twenty years (in house-planning, for instance, in which the work of our architects has aroused wide-spread interest even among the conservative French). Both articles attribute to architects as a class a disregard of sanitary and mechanical requirements quite unwarranted by the facts, and deprecate the attention they pay to exterior design, although most critics find this the weakest side of their work. They are written in apparent ignorance of the fact that it is to the architects that we owe in great measure our municipal building laws and a large part of the modern advance in scientific construction and in sanitation applied to building. The strictures in these papers appear to be based on reading rather than on careful observation. Their author follows hard after Ruskin in his apparent hatred of the Renaissance, and the last part of the Fifth Discourse in Viollet-Leduc's Entretiens sur l'Architecture would seem to have furnished a large part of the ammunition for his December assault; but the Entretiens were written seven-and-twenty years ago, and the evils at which they were aimed, however prevalent in France at the time, and however characteristic even of our own architecture twenty years ago, are not fairly characteristic of it now. The article in question is out of date; it is a quarter of a century behind the times.

It is practicable here to notice only in a summary way the erroneousness of its main contentions. The grain of truth in them need not be denied. That there are charlatans and ignoramuses among the architects of our day is as true as it is of the legal, medical, or clerical profession, or of any other class of men following a common pursuit. It may even be admitted that among them are to be found not a few men of intelligence and culture who are pursuing their career along mistaken lines or without sufficient technical training; but from this to the denial of the existence of intelligence or conscience in the profession is a long distance across which one should not attempt to leap without looking. Is it indeed true that charlatanry and ignorance control the profession and give it its character? Is it true that architects generally subordinate common sense to caprice? Is it true that when a client comes with a rational, well-considered, and practical programme for a given building, the architect generally disregards his wishes and fools him out of his programme by pretty pictures intended only to catch his eye and a commission, or that in the average work of representative architects the demands of exterior ornamentation alone dictate the interior planning? Is it true that our architects have signally failed to avail themselves of modern progress in scientific construction? Is it not rather true that they have, on the contrary, often been the pioneers in the introduction and development of new materials, appliances, and building processes? It is certainly a mistake to assert that Roman architecture paid no attention to exterior effect, and did not largely avail itself of the splendor of internal adornment by applied ornament. It was subject to the changes of "fashion," and its forms are largely the product of a change of fashion following the conquest of the Greek world. The like is true of many phases of Gothic and other historic styles.

The contentions of the articles under consideration need only to be stated in the plain and concise form of these queries and denials to appear to every well-informed and fair-minded student of our architecture an almost grotesque caricature of the true state of affairs. Their effect, in view of the reputation of the magazine through which they have been given to the public, can only be to foster existing prejudices, however vague and unfounded, against architects as a class, and to impede instead of helping