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Geek Alert: Architecture

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 04:21 AM
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by Brandy last modified Jul 09, 2011

(WARNING: Okay, getting real, I need to admit that I am a geek. A geek of many different kinds, but nonetheless a geek. This post is all about geeking out on architecure and a historical tour I went on with the help of … Continue reading →



(WARNING: Okay, getting real, I need to admit that I am a geek. A geek of many different kinds, but nonetheless a geek. This post is all about geeking out on architecure and a historical tour I went on with the help of Al Gore’s internet.)

Earlier this week, a reader commented about updating an MCM house in a way that was more classical than modern. And that got me thinking. As I’ve shared before, I know that MCM style isn’t for everyone. It isn’t even for most, I think. It’s a personal aesthetic that resonates with me for the reasons shared in that post. And because I am primarily conceptual (read: geek), I need to understand the historical reasons and context for design choices versus just appreciating something lovely. (Granted this most likely takes away from that art-flowing-over-you feeling, but that’s just how my brain operates.)

But her comment got me thinking (at about 4am this morning when the light started to come through the as-of-yet-uncovered windows in our bedroom) about architectural history, what appealed to people about classical and neo-classical architecture and how we got from there to here. As full disclosure, I majored in art history in college. Medieval and early Byzantine art history. You know, pretty prayer books painted by monks until they went blind and squat basilica-type churches. (You should have heard my father’s comments on the practicality of THAT major.) Get past that time period and I have a fuzzy concept of Romanesque, Renaissance and following styles, with the exception of modern architecture which is my (obviously) personal passion and something I have just investigated on my own in a dilettante-esque and haphazard way.

So I thought an investigation of Western architectural styles might be in order to educate myself and hopefully entertain you. Brace yourself for the quickest Cliff Notes of architectural styles and historical context ever known to man. (I exaggerate. But hey, it makes things exciting!)

Ready. Set. Go.

  • Neolithic:  Functional homes. Mud bricks and big rocks. Early peoples. Think Stonehenge. Influenced by available tools and need.  Caveman like rock.

  • Classical:  White pillars.  Symmetry.  Geometry.  Arches, vaults, domes. Places for people in togas. Influenced by for civic-minded societies who valued well-defined, orderly and open places to gather.

  • Byzantine: Began at the time of Constantine’s conversion and movement of the Roman capital to Byzantium. Influenced by shift to Christianity. Cross-shaped with central often complex domes.  Frescoes and mosaics.  Face of Jesus in little tiny and shiny squares. And light that makes you think you’ve gone to heaven.  Light, light and more light.  Did I mention light?

  • Medieval:  Feuding societies necessitated defensive architecture. Think crenellated walls for archers and cross-shaped windows.  Think moats and drawbridges.  Think Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the knights who say ‘Ni!’.

  • Gothic: Technically a sub-category of medieval, but I think distinctive enough to talk about on its own.  (It’s my blog and I will do it if I want to!) Soaring vertical structures encouraging raising the eyes to heaven. Light. Think Notre Dame. Excess of these in Western Europe influenced by a competitive desire to be the closest to God.  (Competitive cathedral building should be an Olympic sport, don’t you think?)

  • Renaissance: Increased interest in scientific, philosophical and artistic endeavors spurred an interest in classical antiquities.  These buildings are all about perspective and how they are perceived from a certain viewpoint.  More geometry, proportion, columns, domes.  And can one even say the word Renaissance without thinking of Michelangelo and St. Peters in Rome?

  • Baroque/Rococo:  Take Renaissance and make it more decorative and you have Baroque.  Make it EVEN fancier and more ornate and you have Rococo.  Architectural response to match the excesses of Louis XV’s court in France.  These are the meringues of buildings.

  • Neo-classicism:  After a bender like Rococo, architectural style went on the wagon and reverted back to the simpler structures of Classical design.  Beaux-Arts was the French version of neo-classical that dominated its architecture until the 1960s.  (Recently Paris, I kept remarking on how beige the city was.  So very very beige. So very very classical.) America also took its fair share of classical ideals in both its government and monuments.

  • Modern:  Form follows function.  Design of the building follows its purpose. I’ve said enough on this one here. Sigh. Chicago. (Have I mentioned how much I love Chicago lately?)

  • Contemporary: Includes regional architecture with design based on local materials, topography and attitudes (e.g. The Northwest School as discussed here) and post-modernism, a hangover after the starkness of modernism that included more decorative and whimsical elements.

  • Deconstructivism: As it sounds, reducing things to their elements and playing with said elements. You know, like walls and roofs and doors and making them funky. We in Seattle see this every day in the EMP. You know, Jimmy Hendrix guitar…deconstructed.

Over 4500 years of architecture in 413 words.  The geek in me had to calculate that’s about 103 words per millennium.  I think I just set a new record.  Someone call Guinness.  Or perhaps just pour me one. (I am going to invent a category for the Guinness Factory: Regional Functional.  What do you think?)

Filed under: Architecutre, Uncategorized Tagged: architectural history, architecture, Brandy O'Briant, mid-century modern, remodel, renovation




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