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Architectural Styles of the 19th Century

During the 19th century, a number of different architectural styles were developed in response to the widely changing times. The Industrial Age was in full swing, with a tremendous focus on the wonders of the machine and the new materials that were being mass produced in the nation’s factories. As a result of these advances, some styles developed that celebrated them while others developed that refuted them. Some examples of these styles include the Chicago School and the development of skyscrapers, the Arts and Crafts movement and the experimental architecture of the middle century.

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The Chicago school has two major characteristic features. The first of these was “highly utilitarian, marked by a strict adherence to function and structure, and was in great part derived from certain forms of urban vernacular building in Europe and the eastern United States” (Condit 1). The other major characteristic of the school was a dedication to the elements of plastic, a means of embracing “a new theoretical spirit and the conscious determination to create rich symbolic forms – to create, in short, a new style expressive of contemporary American culture” (Condit 1). It was through these architects that the idea of the steel-frame building came to light, making it possible for the larger constructions of the future to emerge. The use of steel-frames enabled architects to incorporate large blocks of glass windows in the development of their buildings, presenting the outside with a relatively blank stare while relieving the structure of the elaborate ornamentation of the classical past. In the development of the skyscraper, the building also developed a standard set of uses. The first floor was commonly reserved for public elements, providing the structure with a solid base and obvious function. The middle levels were relatively freed of ornamentation, being utilized primarily for the business end of the structure, housing offices and working areas. The top of the building represented the capital of the classical Greek column, providing the structure with most of its decoration, giving it more flair (Billington, 1985). Some of the important architects of this period included Henry Hobson Richardson, Dankmar Adler, Daniel Burnham, William Holabird, William LeBaron Jenney, Martin Roche, John Root, Solon S. Beman and Louis Sullivan. Even Frank Lloyd Wright received his start in architecture within the Chicago School.

However, while the other architects were developing the clean, modernistic lines of the city, Wright branched out to combine elements of the Arts and Crafts movements with these ideas to establish what would be dubbed the Prairie School. The start of the Arts and Crafts Movement around 1860 is generally attributed to William Morris. It is generally acknowledged that Morris was working in direct response to the ever-encroaching identical sameness of the machine-made objects which were increasingly churned out of the factories which had supplanted the cottage industries of the past. “Not only art but also everyday objects, buildings, décor, everything lacked a face, and it was the realization of its lack in this particular respect which began to make the period so cruelly conscious of its anonymity” (Cassou, Langui & Peysner, 1962: 19). However, this reaction had a tendency to reach into the impractical as it gained increasing ornamentation with little functional use. Artisans tended to look back at the medieval and gothic for inspiration without considering the practical use of material. Inspired by their ideals of truth to tradition, to materials and to function, artisans of the Arts and Crafts movement strove to re-introduce a sense of artistry to their architecture, yet it was increasingly realized that form without function was wasteful of materials.

Approaching the question from the perspective of form following function, architects such as CFA Voysey and Frank Lloyd Wright introduced the concept that machine-made functional designs could be developed through the use of new materials that also provided a great deal of opportunity to concentrate on form. To Wright, the important aspect of architecture was in providing a sense of shelter, which was a feeling as much as a form, leading to his development of the open-style prairie houses with the emphasis on the horizontal. These houses were built with low pitched roofs and deep overhangs along with other facets which further accentuated the horizontal principle that reflected the low prairie on which they were built. He never used painted wood, always stained and employed other native materials to bring out the natural beauty of the particular native environment (Cronon, 1994). Wright integrated a sense of design with new innovations and emerging technologies along with a respect for nature as he endeavored to maximize expression and grammatical uniformity in his creative constructions (Cronon, 1994).

There were thus numerous means of exploring the world of art and architecture developed during this period in history, creating a number of different structures that experimented with ideas of form and function as they integrated with art and ornamentation.

Works Cited

  1. Billington, David P. The Tower and the Bridge: The New Art of Structural Engineering, Princeton University Press, 1985.
  2. Cassou, Jean, Emil Langui and Nikolaus Pevsner. Gateway to the Twentieth Century: Art and Culture in a Changing World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962.
  3. Condit, Carl W. The Chicago School of Architecture. University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  4. Cronon, William. Inconstant Unity: The Passion of Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994.

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