Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/216
204 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
nineteenth, century, with its great wealth, its boundless resources, and its extensive and diversified knowledge, to cast this cardinal principle to one side. Savages may, indeed, be foolish enough, to build houses which, exactly express the life of their builders and answer every requirement of their primitive form of existence, but we of this time are above such, petty expedients, and can well afford to conform our lives to our architecture. We do not need to make our architecture conform to ourselves.
Judging from the monuments of our time, the view that archi- tecture is not ornamentation but construction, not for beauty but for utility, not for an elaborate exterior but for a well-devised in- terior, not for something pleasing to look at, but for something to live in or to be put to a certain well-defined purpose, is not one that has any considerable support. A glance at a few of the chief points of architectural history will show how true this is, and to what an extent it underlies all that is good in the building art. It is characteristic of the earliest stages of society, those in which architecture had its birth, that nothing is built without a reason. Then people had too few ideas, were provided with too limited means, to be able, on the one hand, to think of unnecessary erec- tions, or, on the other, to do more than was called for by abso- lute necessity. Architecture was barren of ornament, and had a crudeness that is almost repulsive to modern eyes ; but, never- theless, primitive buildings answered their purpose, as a rule, much more satisfactorily than many later ones.
Illustrations of structures in which use, not beauty, is the cen- tral idea, are to be found among the masters of art in antiquity. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, all followed this leading idea. There are, indeed, instances where the folly of a wealthy tyrant has produced an overloading of ornament, an un- necessary multiplication of details, and a striving after effect has led to the employment of bad methods ; but these exceptions do not disprove the rule. On the contrary, these very structures are censured for their violation of this fundamental principle, and it is those in which it is adhered to most closely that excite our admiration and esteem.
Utility, then, being the first element of successful architecture, it follows that the structure of buildings varies according to the use to which they are to be put. This proposition is self-evident, and expresses only ordinary common sense. It would scarcely call for demonstration, were it not for the fact that many modern buildings are constructed on the basis that, if they look well, whether the outward form is suitable or not for the purpose for which they are intended, or whether the exterior expresses the interior in any way, all has been done that is required. A very different state of affairs existed in the past. The ancient Egyp-