The negative image of architects from the nineteenth century needs to be revised, according to Dutch researcher Petra Brouwer. The architects are widely termed "outdated," because they harked back to older styles. But these master builders considered this to be an innovative approach. Their new knowledge undermined the centuries-old imperative of the ideal of classical beauty.
Petra Brouwer studied architects' manuals and history books on construction, and discovered that the newly-acquired knowledge of the natural sciences was used widely in the nineteenth century. Architects were no longer bound by knowledge gained while they worked, but could also glean a great deal of knowledge from books. For instance, nineteenth-century manuals contained extensive information on building materials, thanks in part to new knowledge in fields such as geology and biology.
The past has a future
One frequently voiced criticism of the nineteenth century architects is that they were guided by nostalgia, or often designed buildings in "neo" styles. Brouwer shows, however, that the architects were actually quite innovative in how they got to grips with building styles from the past. They were no longer stuck on ideals of beauty from classical antiquity, but used a range of styles from the entire of history.
Brouwer considers that this distorted picture of the architects has been set largely by reference to the image of the 1890s. At that stage, architects were looking back over the past century and seeing a multiplicity of construction styles without any genuine characteristic style. They felt that there had actually been a single characteristic style for each of the previous centuries. Yet Brouwer believes that these critics fell into a classic trap. The past was often viewed as being simple, and the present as complex. The simple image of the past was, however, no more than the result of a selective rewriting of history.
Petra Brouwer's research was partly funded by NWO.
The above story is based on materials provided by NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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