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The Story: Premodern Architecture
Premodern Architecture
The effects of the industrial revolution on architecture should be seen in the context of the debate, that it sparked in all aspects of design. Society became preoccupied with the machine. This was evident not only in architecture, but also in the arts and crafts. During the Victorian era, machines were used to produce cheap imitations of the expensive neoclassical designs. The hatred of machine imitations later became the motivating force for the English Arts and Crafts Movement. [Lucie-Smith, 1983, p.40]
The man regarded as the first Industrial Designer was an architect, Christopher Dresser. In 1871, he delivered a paper on "Ornamentation Considered as High Art" , which he read to the Royal Society of Arts. Illustrating the demand for industrial design, he states, "As an architect I have as much work as many of my fellows, as an ornamentalist, I have much the largest practice in the United Kingdom - there is not a branch of manufacture that I do not regularly design patterns for, and I hold regular appointments as 'art adviser' and 'chief designer' to several of our largest art-manufacturing firms."
Another influential character of the English Arts and Crafts Movement was John Ruskin. He held a hatred for imitations produced using machines and laid down rules for crafts. These rules influenced art and architecture students such as William Morris, an undergraduate of Oxford, who established the company Morris & Co., later to become a well-known firm in industrial design. Unlike Ruskin, Morris felt that there could be a use for machines in the revival of the arts and crafts. Morris perpetuated the idea that a designer must have a thorough understanding of both processes and design.
A follower of William Morris, Walter Crane, divided decoration into two categories namely, organic and inorganic. The former was "an essential and integral part of the structure, to which it gives final expression". The latter he described as mere surface ornament intended to conceal a structure, not emphasize a design. [Foster, 1983, p.196-197]
From 1896 to 1903, Hermann Muthesius was the architectural attaché to the German Embassy in London [Lucie-Smith, 1983, p.95]. During this time he became an enthusiast for the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Muthesius was a founder of the German WerkBund, an organization of designers, craftsmen, artists and architects, through which he hoped Germany could benefit from the lessons of the English Arts and Crafts. In 1914, on the eve of the Great War, he proposed his idea of the development of standard forms for manufacture and export. This was opposed, not least by the young architect Walter Gropius, who saw it as a threat to individual expression and enforced the status quo. Muthesius backed down and it was symbolic of the times, for Walter Gropius would become a key figure in the transition towards modernism.
Unlike the influential architects and designers of Britain who saw ornamentation and decoration as a way of reviving arts and crafts in the face of machine production, the modernists in Germany sought to integrate the machine into human living and space. In reaction to the decadence of the Art Nouveau style and its German counterpart Jugendstil, Adolf Loos remarked, "ornamentation should be eliminated from all useful objects." [Foster, 1983, p.197]
Decoration and ornamentation in the face of machine production was one of the primary design influences of the premodern period leading to modernism. It in turn sparked theories on art and its relevance in a changing world. While these design theories permeated into architectural theory, the driving influence on architecture of the premodern period was the social cultural changes resulting from the industrial revolution. The conditions of the working class had not improved and the problem of housing large working communities was a preoccupation of architects and architecture. In construction, machines were used in advancing production of all materials.
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