Western Architecture and Growth

People who think the classical tradition of architecture has no room for originality have clearly not observed the difference between the early stuff and the late stuff.

A theater representing the marriage of Cana in Galilee

‘A theater representing the marriage of Cana in Galilee, erected in the Jesuits church at Rome, in the year 1685; for the solemnity of exposing the holy sacrament.’ NYPL Digital Library.

Look at the picture and imagine the temples of the pagan Greeks and Romans. Does this building look in any way like a slavish copy of ancient Athenian architecture? Is it not rather quite a different thing, imaginatively done, building on the idioms of the old?

Or here, from the same century, much less Italian and much more, well, English, a church building designed by Sir Christopher Wren:

Panoramic view of the interior of St Bride’s

The interior of St Bride’s London, whose spire was the inspiration for the design of tiered wedding cakes.

There’s no way you can mistake either of these buildings for the Parthenon. If you learn the tradition, you should always be able to have your own take on a project without having to ditch more than 2000 years of architectural learning. Consider how great wines are able to age for a very long time. Wines, of course, don’t mature indefinitely, and likewise many civilizations have declined and given way to something stronger. Unlike wines, though, declining civilizations can even rebound in renaissance. But the great wine of Western civilization hasn’t yet gone bad: it still has room to grow and mature, and it would be a crying shame to smash the bottle now.

See also: Robin Phillips on objective beauty.


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