All hail the national style


In my piece on the California bungalow, I mention the idea of a country seeking a national style. It’s an interesting one, I think, especially for new countries like Australia whose early architecture was imported wholesale from a country with a totally different climate. In older countries, architectural styles have evolved organically from the earliest covered dwellings and because of that there are notable differences in different parts of the same country. In Britain, for instance, particular building materials show the availability of that material in the area, from the golden glow of Cotswold stone to the use of flint in East Anglia.

Norwich cathedral

Norwich cathedral

But it’s not always that simple.
Studying Norwich cathedral in my first year at university, I was surprised to learn that the smooth limestone that dressed its slender Norman pillars (ashlar masonry) was not local or even close to local but shipped over from Caen in northern France. As the cathedral was started not long after the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, the Norman masons obviously preferred to use a material that they were familiar with. If local materials had been explored then it might have been a very strange mix of flint, brick and wattle & daub.

Standen wiki commons

Standen
wiki commons

The idea of the vernacular was explored in Britain by the Arts and Crafts architects of the nineteenth century who liked the local styles for their authenticity (a key word in the Arts and Crafts movement). Certainly there was more variation than in the straightforward Classical or Gothic styles that were used predominantly in public buildings. And so one finds in the large houses of the period, such as Phillip Webb’s Standen in Sussex or ES Prior’s Voewood (formerly Home Place) in Norfolk, many elements found in the local buildings, such as tile shingles or flint-dressed walls. A local rather than a national style.

Voewood, aka Home Place cc Wiki commons

Voewood, aka Home Place
cc Wiki commons

The Gothic versus Classical debate was the architectural style war of the nineteenth century. The result is visible throughout Britain in the town halls of the industrial cities, showing that there wasn’t a clear winner. For instance, the ones in Liverpool and Leeds are Classical whereas those in Manchester and Bradford are a rather inflated Gothic, not unlike the Bavarian castles of ‘Mad’ King Ludwig of the same period.

Leeds Town Hall

Leeds Town Hall

The most famous debate surrounded the building of the new Palace of Westminster in the 1840s after a fire in 1834 gutted the old buildings. The winning design is clearly Gothic. And yet, as Kevin McCloud demonstrated in his TV series on the Grand Tour, it is actually a Classical plan (balanced, symmetrical) that is simply covered with Gothic tracery and pinnacles.

Palace of Westminster cc Wiki Commons

Palace of Westminster
cc Wiki Commons

Is the idea of a national style still relevant? Certainly the Modern Movement swept the idea to one side along with other traditions. Flick through a book showing the latest domestic designs and it is hard to place the country in which the house stands without using the visual prompt of its surroundings. You only need to look at the old Ministry of Health & Education building in Rio de Janeiro, designed in the mid 1930s by Le Corbusier and a Brazilian team, including Lucio Costa, to see why Philip Johnson coined the term International Style for the Modernist styles that were appearing in all countries.

Palacio Gustavo Capanema, Rio cc Wiki Commons

Palacio Gustavo Capanema, Rio
cc Wiki Commons

And yet there are little features that still give hints of a national style, or a national preference at least. Windows, for instance – the majority of France’s still open inwards, Britain’s outwards, and Australia’s slide. 

(pic Australian  Design Review)

(pic Australian Design Review)

The Australian Glenn Murcutt is famous for making corrugated iron acceptable in this country’s housing landscape, even in cities, each following his lovely imperative to ‘touch this earth lightly.’ They have become the look of Australia, recalling the woolsheds and farm buildings seen across the land. In South Australia and Tasmania one finds stone still used but these are exceptions.

Aboriginal dwellings, 1840s

Aboriginal dwellings, 1840s

I like the idea of national characteristics and utilising local materials. As for a national style, well, Hitler was keen on that and for that reason alone, I think it’s best to stop the debate right there.

Categories: Architecture, Australia, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 comments

  1. What a wonderful imperative, to ‘touch this earth lightly’. I have never heard of Glen Murcutt, is he an architect? If so, what other ‘touches’ did he bring to Australian design?

    Loved the bit about the windows – you’d think us Brits being so famously reserved would have windows that would open inwards …

  2. Have a look at this to see more of his projects: http://www.ozetecture.org/glenn-murcutt-projects/. This team also includes architects like Rick Leplastrier and Peter Stutchbury, who again follow this wonderful slender aesthetic that fits in so beautifully with the Australian landscape.

    Yes, it’s funny about windows. Confession: for some time I used to watch Swedish TV (i.e. Wallander) and wonder why the entrance doors opened outwards. And then I saw an episode set in the dead of winter where the door pushed away snow that had banked up against the door in the night. Ah…Or perhaps d’oh! is more appropriate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Earful Tower

Podcast: Figuring out France with Oliver Gee

The Australian Ugliness?

Maybe ugly, maybe not? Continuing Robin Boyd's conversation about the character of Australia's built envrionment

Savidge Reads

The Chronicles of a Book Addict

Barnabas Calder

Raw Concrete: the Beauty of Brutalism

Ticket to Adventures

Travel blog from around the world, near and far.

Write or Wrong

Uninspiration for the uninspired

STEPHENVARADY_ARCHITRAVELLER

architecture for travellers

Grasping Architecture

A student finding his way in the built environment

THE VIBE 101

DAILY DISCUSSIONS. DAILY EXPERIENCES. DAILY LIFE.

...Irishpisky....

...how an oldish chap sees the world...

Internal Wudang Martial Arts

Official Wudang Sanfeng Blog

Vaudequin

An Architectural Perspective

The worlds biggest fridge magnet

The simple musings of a Post Bariatric Surgery, self confessed fat bloke

Half Baked In Paradise

Searching, settling, sauteeing and spritzing

Paris here and there

An insider's guide to Paris

The Wine Wankers

G’day, you’re at the best wine blog ever! We're all about wine; without the wankery.

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Bite The Book

Book Reviews and Views

Long Haul Lumière

Exploring our planet through neon-clad noise

Poshbird with Passion

restoring and saving 'stuff'

Travellers

Some kind of journey.

Elder Pipe

Just you - and the world.

Blog-sur-Aude

Adventures in renovation & restoration of an old French village house

Forty, c'est Fantastique !

La vie est belle !

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD

She turns coffee into books so she can afford to buy more coffee. And more books.

cate st hill

a blog sharing simple design that uplifts the everyday

Mel Healy

crime fiction (& the kitchen)

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Architectural Visits

by Helena Ariza

SUGIH forever

Prince Dreamer constructs all his dreams!

The Ignited Mind !

"If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already" - Abraham Lincoln.

Publishing Insights

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose / The more things change, the more they stay the same

architales

fairytales of architecture

Virginia Duran Blog

Art · Architecture · Graphic Design

My Book Strings

Those Who Say "You Only Live Once" Have Never Read a Book. ~John Hughes

andrew james writer

Unusual things to see and do in Paris

GAYCARBOYS.COM

Camp but stylish Car Reviews and News

The Modern House Blog

Modern Residential Architecture

victoria blake

ON WRITERS AND WRITING

Time Tells

Vince Michael on history, preservation, planning and more

Alastair Gordon

Wall to Wall

Standing Ovation, Seated

HELPING PEOPLE UNDERSTAND ART

silver painted river

tRAVELLING THE COLOUR ROAD

TODO EL ORO DEL MUNDO

LO TENEMOS AL ALCANCE DE LA MANO

%d bloggers like this: