In the Reflections unit, we studied the architecture and ideologies of the 18th and 19th centuries, a time period encompassing many revolutions as well as revivals.
The so-called Modern era had its beginnings in the Age of Enlightenment, which followed a series of revolutions - including a population explosion - and lasted roughly from 1720-1790. Beginning around this time, a more pragmatic mindset began to set in as interest in scientific inquiry grew. Philosophers such as John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, and Jean Jacques Rousseau put forth various political theories. Monarchical rule began to come under scrutiny, a fact which would lead to the revolutions in France and America. Many individuals during the Age of Enlightenment desired a pure and rational architecture that lacked the excess surface decoration and "artificiality" of the Rococo style. This desire was especially strong in the French philosophes.
The American colonies reflected back on the design styles they knew from their mother countries in Europe. They largely built in the Classical and Gothic styles, depending on the country of origin. The work of Thomas Jefferson - which includes the Virginia Capitol Building, Jefferson's Monticello home, and the University of Virginia - all follow classical principles.
The Industrial Revolution, which began around 1750 in England, forever changed economies, societies, cultures, business, industry, and technology in Europe and America. According to Harwood, "By altering the way that people live and work, the Industrial Revolution affects the appearance and planning of communities and public and private buildings, ushering in new types, new construction methods, new technologies, and new materials that increase comfort and convenience for all levels of society" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 3). A a result of industrialization, a rising middle class began to gain prominence and to set design trends. Harwood continues, "Throughout the 19th century, exhibitions and expositions are innovative testing grounds for new design ideas and the introduction of new products. They also are fresh sources for the introduction of new concepts in interior decoration and furnishings. Manufacturers create their finest, most innovative pieces for these exhibitions and architects design impressive new buildings that affect architectural development" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 5). Iron was increasingly used as a building material, which allowed for the construction of buildings such as the Crystal Palace in London, England. Built for the Great Expedition of 1851, the Crystal Palace was built from prefabricated parts - cast iron and glass - in only a matter of months. It was a marvel of the Industrial Revolution, a testament to the capabilities of machine labor. Designed by gardener Sir Joseph Paxton, it was modeled after the greenhouses and conservatories of the 19th century. Inside the Crystal Palace, countless machine-made items were put on display to show off the "Works of Industry of All Nations." But while these items were innovative in that they were the products of machines, they were unoriginal in that they took on the forms of the past. Herein we notice an incongruity of the 19th century, that is, an inconsistency between moving forward and looking backward. While such great advances in building technology were being made - as Roth explains it, "epochal changes in the creation of new building types that exploited new building materials" (Roth, 469) - the century was nonetheless steeped in various revivals which embraced design styles of the past. Harwood explains, "During most of the 19th century, buildings, interiors, and furnishings look backward in design instead of forward, almost an antithesis of progress" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 6). Among the many revivals occurring in the 19th century were the Greek Revival, the Gothic Revival, and the Egyptian Revival. An interest in exotic design also characterized the century. And yet Roth entitles the chapter on the 19th century, "The Development of Modernism."
In reaction to industrialization, the Arts and Crafts movement (as it is now called) came into being, emphasizing the importance of handcrafted goods inspired by nature. William Morris played a large part in this design movement, which looked back to medieval influences for inspiration. An offshoot of Arts and Crafts was the Aesthetic Movement, which championed "art for art's sake." Another offshoot was the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose notable works include Falling Water in Pennsylvania and the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, IL. Wright differed from William Morris in that he did not reject the use of machines, but realized their usefulness. In his architecture, interiors, and furnishings, Wright sought to create an authentic American style.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Chicago School built skyscrapers that influenced the architecture in other cities. The extensive changes experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries were necessary elements in the further development of "modernism" in the 20th century.
This image seems to be asking the question, "Should we move forward or look backward?"