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As the Victorian arts, once decried, are subjected to an ever more intense reevaluation, architecture emerges as one of the supreme accomplishments of the era. In our own Postmodernist day, eclectic ornamentation is no longer perceived as a vice, and we now long for touches of color in our streetscape. The Victorians often achieved bold color effects by using bright appliques of terra-cotta and by the imaginative use of brickwork—a construction technique in which patterning (the various "bonds") is an inescapable corollary of the need for stability. Other than the surviving buildings themselves (not always free of later alterations or industrial grime), a monumental contemporary and authentic visual record still remains to us in a now exceedingly rare and valuable set of portfolios, Pierre Chabat's La Brique et la Terre Cuite, in which a large and varied array of constructions of the 1870s and 1880s are illustrated in the pristine splendor of their color.
Chabat (1827—1892) was a French architect who worked for a major railroad before becoming a municipal architect in Paris in 1865. By the time he published the first series (80 plates) of La Brique et la Terre Cuite (Brick and Terra-Cotta) in 1881, he was also a teacher of architecture and construction at two major institutions and the author of several reference works in the field. The subtitle of this first series, which Chabat edited in association with the architect Félix Monmory, was Etude historique de l'emploi de ces matériaux; fabrication et usages; motifs de construction et de décoration choisis dans l'architecture des différents peuples (Historical study of the use of these materials; their manufacture and modes of use; motifs of construction and decoration selected from the architecture of various nations). This expensive publishing project must have been a success, because less than ten years later (about 1889) the same firm issued the second series of 80 plates (edited by Chabat alone), which bore the subtitle: Seconde série comprenant: Villas, hôtels, maisons de campagne, lycées, écoles, églises, gares, halles à marchandise, abris, écuries, remises, pigeonniers, cheminées, etc. (Second series, including: villas, town houses, country homes, high schools, elementary schools, churches, railroad stations, covered markets, shelters, stables, sheds, pigeon houses, chimneys, etc.).
Other types of buildings covered by the two series include restaurants, hospitals, shelters for domestic and zoo animals, a gymnasium, a slaughterhouse and a number of structures for three Parisian world's fairs (1867, 1878 and 1889), which were always showcases for innovation and experiment. The wide variety of buildings ranges from the highly decorative to the more severe, from every type of Victorian revival ("Neo") style to muscularly functional structures that point beyond H. H. Richardson and into the early twentieth century. In addition to the many buildings—and the invaluable floor plans provided in many cases—several plates are devoted to patterns, motifs and details, occasionally derived from examples of architecture antedating the Victorian era but still operative as inspiration.
Most of the buildings and patterns illustrated are from France, but there is also material from Belgium, Holland, Germany, England and Italy. Only a handful of plates show unrealized designs; the overwhelming majority depict actual buildings, some of which are standing today. Many of the architects and builders have been forgotten, but there are such important practitioners as Davioud and Auguste-Joseph Magne, not to mention Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, whose wrought-iron tower erected for a Parisian world's fair became an honored centenarian in 1989.
The long text issued with the first series includes a survey (now out-of-date) of brick construction from earliest times and a description of how bricks and tiles were manufactured in France in Chabat's day. Disappointingly, this text states almost nothing about the rationale, spirit or practice of architecture in the Victorian era itself. On the other hand, the "Explanation of the Plates" that accompanies both series supplies isolated bits of specific information on technology, materials and costs. (None of the text has been retained in the present edition, although some data from the "Explanation of the Plates" have been incorporated into the new English captions.)
As Chabat himself was the first to acknowledge, the breathtaking plates are the heart of the publication, and they are all reproduced in full color here. Originally numbered I through LXXX in each series, they have been given a through numbering here (1—160) for convenience of reference. The typography beneath each plate in the original edition consisted of: the name of Chabat (in Series I, also of Monmory) as project director, the name of the publisher (for this, see the Dover copyright statement, opposite), the name of the printer (Imprimerie Lemercier, Paris), the name of the lithographer (and sometimes other artist) responsible for the given plate, and a brief caption to the plate, usually including identification of the architect. In the present edition, the names of the lithographers appear only in a separate alphabetical list, whereas the architects continue to be credited in the captions as well as in an alphabetical list. The new English captions supplement the material from the French captions with other material from the "Explanation of the Plates," supply fuller names for some of the architects and add some geographical data to help locate the towns referred to.
The French typography within the color area of the plates could not be readily eliminated or replaced. It has been retained, but a complete French-English glossary of terms has been provided. The scale printed on most of the plates is in the form "scale of ... to a meter." It should be noted that in the present edition the plates have had to be reduced (variously, but by an average of 18%), so this must be taken into account in any calculations.
Excerpted from Victorian Brick and Terra-Cotta Architecture in Full Color by Pierre Chabat. Copyright © 1989 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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