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A magnificent collection of the world's greatest buildings, ancient and modern.
Architectural Excellence is organized chronologically and serves as a visual lesson in architecture through the ages. The buildings featured come from all over the world and include centers of worship, public buildings, places of business and homes. Each building includes a photograph, with a double-page spread for the top 50 selections. Captions provide ...
A magnificent collection of the world's greatest buildings, ancient and modern.
Architectural Excellence is organized chronologically and serves as a visual lesson in architecture through the ages. The buildings featured come from all over the world and include centers of worship, public buildings, places of business and homes. Each building includes a photograph, with a double-page spread for the top 50 selections. Captions provide specifications and brief histories.
Beginning with a prehistoric cave dwelling in Turkey and continuing to the 21st century, this magnificent book shows buildings that reflect human imagination, engineering skill and determination. Many are familiar-the Parthenon, St. Basil's Cathedral, Grand Central Station. Others are equally significant but lesser known.
Tremendous in its scope, Architectural Excellence is an unmatched resource for architecture professionals and general readers.
Table of Contents
Ancient World to 500 CE
Dark Ages 500-1200 CE
Medieval Period 1200-1500 CE
Architecture and Identity
This journey through 500 buildings begins with one bomb. On the night of May 10, 1941, at the height of the London Blitz, a tumbling incendiary from a German plane struck the British House of Parliament. Of the 14 attacks the building sustained during World War II, this was the most devastating. The ensuing fire consumed the debating chamber of the House of Commons leaving behind a blackened shell at the heart of government.
The Palace of Westminster, (to give it its more regal title), was no stranger to such sudden destruction. The structure that bore the Luftwaffe's aggression owed its very existence to a blaze of 1834 which had swept away the majority of Westminster's Tudor and medieval buildings dating back as far as the 11th century. This fiery demolition prompted an architectural competition, won in 1836 by Charles Barry and the flamboyantly named Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. A neoclassicist by inclination, the talented Barry had been obliged to tap Pugin's mastery of Gothic revival as the judging panel had deemed this to be the most appropriate style with which to clothe a British institution. To most of the contemporary Establishment, the Gothic style was inherently patriotic, backed up by centuries of noble national precedents from parish churches to great cathedrals. By contrast, the once fashionable neoclassical style was increasingly regarded as a foreign import, tainted by its dangerous associations with tumultuous revolutions in France and America. As a consequence of its creators' opposing dispositions, the winning design was a hybrid, Barry's highly symmetrical classical plan almost dripping with Pugin's ornate Gothic detailing. This compromise clearly rankled with purist Pugin, who indignantly declared the result to be "All Grecian, sir; Tudor details on a classic body." It was into this tense marriage of classical and Gothic that the German bombs dramatically intervened.
The vital matter of rebuilding the Commons Chamber was addressed before the war was even over. In 1944 the prestigious commission was awarded to the prominent architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Designer of both the ubiquitous red telephone box and the iconic Battersea Power Station (see page 314), Scott was an Establishment figure and former president of the RIB (Royal Institute of British Architects). In his inaugural speech as president in 1935 he had made an impassioned appeal to those at the ideological (and stylistic) extreme of his profession. He urged both diehard traditionalists and hardline modernists to look for common ground and pursue an architectural "middle line." For Scott, this meant transforming power station chimney flues into striped classical columns and placing 19th century "Soane domes" atop his inherently modern telephone boxes. Hi calls fell largely on deaf ears and, despite some notable commissions, Scott soon found himself out of sync with the progressive time.
His 1942 proposal for rebuilding Coventry Cathedral (another recipient of the Luftwaffe's attentions) was flatly rejected by the Royal Fine Arts commission on the grounds that it was neither sufficiently avant-garde or traditional, but an unsatisfactory amalgam of the two. Eight years later, a competition panel would choose the uncompromisingly modern design of Basil Spence for Coventry's spiritual home (see page 353); a clear indicator of the new direction to be found in British postwar architecture.
Though Scott did not suffer the same ignominy with his Westminster proposal he did find him elf deviating inexorably away from hi own "middle line." Sensing everywhere the heavy hand of history he concluded that only a piece in the same Gothic perpendicular style would be appropriate within the context.
Despite the shortcomings of the original chamber, such as poor acoustics and insufficient seating, Scott rejected the idea of creating even a moderately modern intervention, arguing that it would jar disastrously with the work of Barry and Pugin. His proposal that the interior be rebuilt in its original form ironically placed him amongst the staunch traditionalists he had earlier sought to convert. Thoroughly approving of this line of action, Sir Winston Churchill (himself a national institution) is alleged to have made the telling observation; "We shape buildings, thereafter they shape us." The Commons agreed. Following a debate on January 25, 1945, a free vote was held, with the motion to rebuild in Barry's mold being carried by 121 votes to 21. Scott duly oversaw the building of a five-story block within the walls of the original, the double-height debating chamber accounting for the top two floors. First used on October 26, 1950, its Gothic finery continues to present an illusion of unbroken occupancy stretching back far further than its true vintage.
Stories in Architecture
This tale of a national icon restored serves as a helpful introduction to the three recurring themes found within these pages: style, function, and context. In a state of constant flux, this trio of concepts is constantly tugging architects in different directions, often leading practitioners to reach radically different conclusions to their contemporaries. Architecture does not happen in isolation, for it is largely a mirror to society, its built forms reflecting the traditions, fashions, customs, beliefs, and aspirations of the people who commission it. Styles come and go as these factors change, leaving behind a document of that moment in time. A single building may offer an interesting historical snapshot, but without the support of its forebears and successors its meaning is substantially diluted. In much the same way that a single mosaic tile can offer only a single color, individual buildings need to be placed together within a timeline before the pattern of the wider picture can be described. A quick overview of these three strands of narrative will bring alive the hidden stories that lie waiting in this survey of the built environment.
The Strictures of Style
Westminster's marriage of convenience, between the Gothic and the classical, was symptomatic of 19th century architecture's overriding obsession with style. Whether they were derived from the ruined monuments of ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt, or based upon Europe's own medieval cathedrals, the whole of Western architecture seemed locked into a recurring cycle of historical revivals that all claimed to hold the authenticity of antiquity. The so-called "Battle of the styles" was not limited to Europe, being waged across the British Empire wherever public buildings were required. Under the baking sun of the Indian subcontinent, Bombay became a forest of Gothic spires while its rival, Calcutta, was home to a neoclassical colony. Little concession was made to the climate or to India's own architectural heritage — itself the product of successive invasions, and the co-existence of Hindu and Muslim. For their part, the various cultures of the Middle and Far East kept largely to themselves, honing and refining their own indigenous patterns of building that had continued without interruption for centuries. Conquest or contact through trade periodically exposed the West to the shapes of Arabia and the Orient, leading to architectural oddities such as the Prince Regent's indulgent Royal Pavilion (see page 185) with its Mogul domes.
Across the Atlantic, America was also borrowing freely from the past. Like France, the young republic saw the classicism of Athens era being synonymous with the ideal and origin of democracy. From the
"Age of Enlightenment" onward, the use of neoclassical forms signaled the break from the oppressive old regimes of church and monarch, the principal patrons of the Gothic. The fact that the Greek had originally painted their buildings in bright colors was known, but largely ignored, the wealthy patrons' preference being for tasteful white marble facade, as seen on their Grand Tour of Europe. The result was a host of