Fig. 94.—Chelsea Town Hall. (J. M. Brydon.)
A change of front from copying a great style like the medieval to copying what is at best a bastard one, if a style at all, might not seem to promise very much for the emancipation of modern architecture; yet there turned out to be one element of progress in it, resting on the fact that the comparatively simple detail of the 18th-century buildings formed a kind of vernacular of building workmanship, which could be comprehended and carried out by good artisans as a recognized tradition. Now to reduce architecture to good sound building and good workmanship seemed to promise at any rate a better basis to work upon than the mere imitation of classic or medieval detail; it might conceivably furnish a new starting-point. This was the element of life in the Queen Anne revival, and it had, as we shall see, an influence beyond the circle of the special revivers of the style. But almost concurrently with, or following hard upon, the “Queen Anne” movement arose the idea of a modern architecture, founded on a free and unfettered treatment of the materials of our earlier Renaissance architecture, as illustrated in buildings of the Stuart period. This “Free classic.” new ideal was styled “free classic,” and it gave the prevailing tone to English architecture for the last fifteen years of the century, though it had its commencement in certain characteristic buildings a good many years earlier than that. In 1873, for instance, there arose a comparatively small front in Leadenhall Street, under the name of “New Zealand Chambers” (fig. 95), designed by Norman Shaw, which excited more attention, and had more influence on contemporary architecture than many a building of far greater size and importance. This represented the playful and picturesque possibilities of “free classic.” Its more restrained and refined achievements were early exemplified in G. F. Bodley’s design for the front of the London School Board offices on the Thames Embankment, a comparatively small building which also exercised a considerable influence. There were no details here, however, but what could be found in Stuart (or, as it is more often called, Jacobean) architecture, but the building, and the prominence of its architect’s name, helped to draw attention to the possibilities of the style, and it has been discovered that free classic is susceptible of a great deal of original treatment based on Renaissance elements. As an example we may cite a street front built some twenty years later by another academician-architect, viz. the offices of the Chartered Accountants in the City, by J. Belcher. More dignified and more monumental than New Zealand Chambers, more original than the School Board offices, this front contains some details and a general treatment which may be said to be absolutely new; it affords another example of a piece of street architecture which attracted a great deal of attention, and has had an effect quite disproportionate to its size and importance as a building; and it gives a general measure of the progress of the “free classic” idea. During the last decade of the century “free classic” was almost the recognized style in English architecture, and has been illustrated in many town halls and other large and important buildings, among which the Imperial Institute is a prominent example (fig. 96).
Fig. 95.—New Zealand Chambers. (R. Norman Shaw, R.A.)
Concurrently with this tendency towards a free classic style there has arisen another movement which has had a considerable influence on English architecture, viz. an increased perception of the importance of decorative arts—sculpture, The allied arts. painting, mosaic, etc.—in alliance with architecture, and of the architect and the decorative artist working together and in harmony. This is no more than what has long been understood and acted on in France, but it has been a new light to modern English architecture, in which, until a comparatively recent period, decorative painting was hardly
- The western half of the present front; the design was duplicated afterwards, on the extension of the building, but Bodley originated it.