Sunday, October 24, 2010

iar 222. point : alternatives.

In the Alternatives unit, we studied the architecture and ideologies of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque period.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west, the architecture of the Middle Ages gradually deviated from classical design principles. The Gothic style of architecture (in my opinion, perhaps the most beautiful) emphasizes lightness and verticality. Despite the fact that their structure is exposed, not hidden, Gothic cathedrals boast immense stained glass windows that fill interiors with ethereal light, thus dematerializing structural mass. These churches were built to glorify God and the Church, dwarfing man and providing glimpses of the heavenly realm. The great Notre Dame Cathedral in Amiens, France is considered the hallmark of the French Gothic style.

The Renaissance, beginning in Italy around 1400, marked the rebirth of antiquity. Classical thought and design concepts were resurrected from the distant worlds of Ancient Greece and Rome, and humanism dominated European thought, as man again became the measure and measurer of all things. The goal of architecture and the arts shifted from heavenly aspirations to a glorification of mankind's place in the universe. According to Roth, "To the Italians of the fifteenth century, Gothic architecture, with its roots in northern European sources, evoked an uncivilized, brutish period that they began to call the dark age that separated the glories of ancient Greece and Rome from their own time. Emboldened by their flourishing urban (and urbane) culture, they set out to match the intellectual and artistic achievements of the ancients" (Roth, 353). The famous Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio designed villas based on clear mathematical proportions. His Villa Capra - commonly known as the Villa Rotunda - is the most widely copied building in the world.

A playful new style known as Mannerism, in which the rules of classical design were intentionally manipulated or broken, began to appear during the High Renaissance. Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose designs emphasized more complex forms instead of the clear and rational ones found in Palladio's villas, led the way to Baroque architecture.

The Baroque period was an age of drama and theatricality. Roth describes Baroque architecture as "complex, multilayered, molded, and plastically or sculpturally shaped" (Roth, 397). It is an architecture designed to awe and impress by stimulating the senses. While Renaissance art and architecture can be described as staying within the confines of a box, Baroque art and architecture break outside of the box's boundaries. Faced with the threat of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church employed dynamic Baroque art, architecture, and theatre as a means to attract followers and prevent Protestant conversions. In France, the ostentatious style of Louis XIV dominated architecture.The royal palace at Versailles was designed to display the power and the glories of the "sun king," as Louis XIV was known. Its Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) clearly demonstrates the palace's holistic design. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and added to Versailles between 1678-1688, the Hall of Mirrors provides a dazzling spectacle in which windows, mirrors, glass chandeliers, and gilded surfaces interact to captivate the viewer with light.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes an "alternative," in part, as "something which can be chosen instead." The Alternatives unit explores the design world's struggle between established norms and their alternatives. Since antiquity, some designers have chosen to distort or turn away from classical design principles in hopes of expressing novel ideas and themes. This is demonstrated clearly by Gothic architecture. Although Renaissance architects, designers, and artists looked to classical examples, they interpreted classicism in their own way to express the uniqueness of their time. The Baroque style didn't discard classicism but amplified and distorted it.

As designers, we endeavor to distinguish ourselves from others by manipulating designs in unique ways or even blatantly "breaking the rules." Even still, as King Solomon observed in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, there really is nothing new under the sun. Whenever and wherever there have been rules, there have been rule-breakers.

Yet another image of the Amiens cathedral.

Gothic architecture distinguished itself as an alternative to classicism.

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