This book is intended for architects, scholars, art history students, the travelers in the West who want to know the background of the buildings that they encounter along their way, and the general public who wants to expand its knowledge base.
The intention of the book is to describe the history of architecture and urban planning, while examining the unique characteristics of the various periods and the background on which the various styles have grown.
Studying architecture requires a comprehensive view of the building, which is examining its historical, religious, social, and functional aspects; for beyond useful purposes the construction of buildings reflects the scientific, religious, social and philosophical worldview of each period.
The building is a visual symbol of the idea that it represents. For example, many churches are built in the shape of a cross – the symbol of Christianity. During the early Christian centuries, the Romanesque and Gothic periods, almost every part of the church had a defined meaning, as a visual symbol of abstract values. For example, pillars in the church, often represent the apostles of Christ. Architecture provides a direct means of expressing views of different cultures about the structure of the world.
Discussing architecture is also indirectly discussing the cosmos. A reflection of the approaches to cosmology is already to be found in Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian architecture. The stairs in the Ziggurat (step-shaped pyramid temple) in Mesopotamia symbolize the gods who represent the planets, and the pyramids in Egypt relate to sun worship and to its "movement" in the sky.
During Antiquity and Renaissance the world is perceived as harmonic, and this approach is also reflected in buildings. In ritual buildings the dome symbolizes the sky, while the floor symbolizes the earth. The Baroque period, during which the elliptical path of planets was discovered, a wide oval-shaped architecture was in use. So today, the universe is perceived as a product of Big Bang, and the Deconstructive architecture looks like expressing a bang.
"In fact, since the beginning of things to the Christian architecture of the 15th century, architecture is the great book of mankind, man's primary means to express the various stages of his development, whether by power or spirit. Architecture began like writing. It started as alphabet. A stone was placed and became a letter, and each letter became a hieroglyph. Above every hieroglyph was placed a group of ideas as a capital above a column… Later they created words. They put one stone on another… Eventually, they wrote books… Traditions bore symbols, and disappeared below them, like a tree under its foliage. All these symbols, believed by humanity, grew, multiplied, and became increasingly complex. Monuments had not enough room to contain them… Architecture, indeed, developed with human thought.
It became a giant with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, and established eternally predictably and vibrantly all this floating symbolism…The pillar which is the letter, the arch which is the syllable, the pyramid which is the word, were moved simultaneously by the law of geometry and by the law of poetry…
They gathered and intertwined, organized together, rose, fell, clustered on the ground and piled up to the sky, until they dictated the general idea of the time.
Wonderful books, which were also wonderful buildings ... Every religious symbol and human thought is a page in this huge book."
Victor Hugo (Translation: Hila Berliner).
Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris, 1891. © Flammarion ©
Besides dealing with structures, architecture deals with words. Since Vitruvius (1st century BCE) to the present day, architects accompanied their work with writing. By presenting their theories, they glorified their name in an attempt to ensure their place in history. The written word reaches a wider audience, and often survives longer than structures. However, buildings, monuments, cities and roads, are more accessible than the written word. A large crowd sees them, and they leave their mark in the memories of many.
Buildings have significance and they pass messages, just as our clothing or the interior design of our homes pass on messages about our personalities.
During each period, architecture carries different messages. For example, in the 1930s cubic forms of the international style marked functionality and flexibility, while a hundred years earlier, when styles of the past were revived, a simple cubic form was irrelevant.
A repeating phenomenon in the history of architecture as well as in the history of art is the oscillation between opposites: between rationalism and emotion, the imitation of nature and its absence, decoration and pure forms. During classical Greek times, the rational approach was dominant, while during the Hellenistic times following it, emotion was dominant. Medieval churches built by the Cistercian order were stern and devoid of decorations in response to the churches built by the order of Cluny, which were rich in sculptural decorations. Rational forms and harmonies that characterized the style of the Renaissance transformed during the Baroque times into dynamic curving shapes. The heavy male Baroque transformed into a light female Rococo, which in turn gave way to a conservative rational Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was pushed aside by the Romantic style, which is based on a feeling of longing for all distant places and times. Thus, the Romantic style was replaced by universal uniform Modernist style, which strived to break from the past. The uniformity that characterized the universal Modernist style was replaced by a pluralistic approach, expressed in Postmodernism and deconstructivism.
The language of architecture includes professional terms and words that one should be familiar with in order to understand architecture, which is why the first chapter of this book is devoted to the language of architecture. The purpose of this chapter is to present a general background to architecture and to clarify architectural concepts.
For the convenience of the readers a glossary is brought at the end of the book. The chapters in the book are laid out in chronological order of architectural periods and styles, in order to help understanding the influence of each period on those following it.
It should be noted, however, that classification of historical periods is to some extent arbitrary. There are styles, which are more dominant in some areas, and less dominant in others. There are styles prevailing for a long time in one area and during shorter periods in other areas. For example, in countries to the north of the Alps a dominant Gothic style lasted longer than in Italy. Renaissance style, in contrast, was dominant in Italy, and remained there for a longer period than elsewhere.
The book includes chapters dealing with Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian architecture, though its title restricts it to engage in the Western world only. This is because of the major influence of the Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian architecture on Western architecture.
The chapters dealing with Greek and Roman architecture are particularly important and basic, since ancient elements repeated throughout the history of architecture. Being familiar with these periods is essential to understanding the following periods.
Baroque and Rococo architecture appear in separate chapters, although they are frequently viewed together under the title "Baroque." This separation is intended to emphasize the differences between the two styles, although they have many common elements.
To understand Modernist architecture in the larger context of art history, relationship between Modernist painting and Modernist architecture is displayed in a separate chapter. The word "modernist" is used in order to avoid the word "modern" which indicates current period. This distinction is required, since today we live in an age where the style called deconstructivism is dominant, and its concept is contrary to the style which was called at the time "modern".
At the beginning of each chapter is presented a historical background, followed by a religious background as far as it is relevant to the style that is discussed in that chapter. This is necessary because architecture is emerging from the circumstances that affect the style.
The most significant buildings throughout the history of architecture were edifices for religious worship - temples and churches. These were dominant as long as religious faith was dominant in human life. During periods of increased importance of the rulers, the architecture of royal palaces was prominent.
Today, when economic power takes the place of religion in the life of the individual and society, dominant buildings are skyscrapers reflecting economic power.
The last section of each chapter is devoted to city planning during the period discussed in that chapter, because we should refer to the buildings in the context of which they appear - usually urban landscape.
The final chapter in the book is devoted to the skyscrapers in New York and examines buildings as an inseparable part of an ensemble of a city. Thus, an example of the connection between the two main issues, which the book is about - architecture, and city planning, is displayed.
New York - the first city that was perceived as a city of skyscrapers – has served as a source of inspiration for architects when planning buildings in densely populated cities.
At the end of the book are a bibliography and a list of websites used for writing the book. This can help the readers broaden their knowledge.
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