Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/214

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
202
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
UTILITY IN ARCHITECTURE.

By BARR FERREE.

IT is a significant commentary on the actual state of our culture that architecture, the most ancient and grandest of the arts, is to-day the least understood, the least satisfactory, the least appreciated of all the achievements of our civilization. This is the more remarkable because there are few periods so prolific of building as our own. There have been times when great and splendid works have been raised by some ambitious ruler who has produced monuments quite unlike anything that is undertaken at the present; but, while we erect no costly palaces or magnificent temples, we build thousands of smaller structures whose combined cost in any one year or term of years greatly exceeds the sums expended on the most elaborate edifices of antiquity in the same time. This is especially the case in our own country, where there is a constant and active demand for buildings of all kinds, for the most expensive as well as the cheapest, for state use and for the individual citizen. And yet, in spite of this undiminished call, which in any department of trade or of manufactures would at once produce the very best results and the most satisfactory methods, the architecture of our time is so thoroughly bad, so wanting in the first principles of common sense, so debased, that this noblest of all the arts is scarcely included in the term, and our critics speak patronizingly of it as just being "gradually recognized" as such.

Architecture has an historical chronology of at least four thousand years during which we can trace its growth, and in which it expressed in a very thorough manner the conditions under which it was developed. It has been reserved for the superior knowledge of modern times to cast it aside as one of the peculiar products of a less intelligent age, as something to admire for its past monuments, but as being quite out of our modern ideas of progress. Because in the last few years a partial revival has taken place; because it has been discovered that it offers a convenient and expensive way of impressing the beholder with the importance of the builder; because our rich men and large corporations want to give some visual evidence of their resources — it has been taken up as something that may be approved of as a means of testifying to the wealth of our cities and adding to their general good looks. The very art element of architecture has been the cause of its degradation. From the most useful of arts, it has become mostly ornamental. From meaning and expressing the utility of an edifice, it has come to refer to its appearance only. People have for-