The Contemporary Period


Lecture 3

The Contemporary Period.

At the risk of being considered somewhat tedious I must retrace my steps a bit and refer you to remarks made at the previous lecture.

My purpose is to discuss with you tonight Contemporary Architecture and not only show a number of slides but attempt to explain the steps that led to it.

On more than one occasion I have related how Architectural style and design resulted not only from the natural load bearing qualities of the materials availability for building but also from investigation of the forces affecting buildings. The Icelandic igloo is probably the most simple of the structures embodying structural materials and forces creating strength in the building.

It must have been a very simple matter for primitive man to discover that the thin shell of an egg was relatively much stronger than a straight piece of steel, But the former would sustain weight form all sides, but the latter only in relation to its length. We could I think call that the basic principle of structure and it still remains so, but today it is easily proved by mathematics.

It was equally well proved that an arch has a greater resistance to load than a beam and this led to the full establishment of Classical Architecture.

It did not matter if this material was timber, stone or in the Palladian period brick, the principle was the same.

I have already shown you how in order to maintain the strength of the structure this led in the gothic era to counter support at points of the greatest thrust and the buttresses in all its many varied forms automatically built up the Architectural form required.

These crafts continued up to the age of iron and steel structures each material used being to a great extent responsible for the natural design which then needed only craftsmen and carvers to embellish it, basically however the available material and the current knowledge of mathematics and the movement of forces created the form we know so well as representing the past and of which for their beauty, we are so fond.

It would be wrong to say that iron or bronze was never used in construction in those days for its use is found in dowels and brackets in conjunction with stone.

Early in the 19th century iron which had had only a civil and domestic use found to have constructional value and even in its cast form without the hardening that was created to produce steel was in use to construct bridges supports for normal building material and even for facades for buildings.

On your own doorstep is an early shop front running through three or four floors in Catherine Street, Croydon by the junction with George Street and Kings Cross Station, London is a classic example.

Cast iron however, was rather like the steel referred to at the beginning of my talk and it was not until steel was invented that its strength in hardening made it’s the obvious key to a new form of structure.

This therefore is the key which unlocked the door to contemporary Architecture. And I think we can pause here to see a few slides to illustrate what I have said about Architectural evolution.

Previous to the age of steel design was completely in the hands of Architecture and the craftsmen.

The former invariably used materials of greater strength than was actually necessary due to the fact that he was an artist rather than a mathematician and in most cases this has been all to the good in the lasting qualities of the structures they built.

In other cases sometimes the very weight of the components used were too much for the stone and brick supporting structure or the ground not solid enough to stand the pressure and as Architectures we are all familiar with the results when engaged in restoration.

On the whole however the good will outweigh the bad and I have never known a case where the extra support could not be given. As the uses of steel became apparent a new profession was born that of the Structural and Civil Works Engineer.

Steel now could be bent and made to sustain weight. Spaces of beams could be lengthened and spaces between uprights widened where the use of traditional plating where the moment of greatest s???? as ??? was exercised and the bending of steel calculated to a fine fraction.

It therefore became possible to lighten the general material encasing the building and to rely entirely on the girder and beam for strength.

As in general principle a thrust is returned on itself, structures could rise to greater heights without having to unnaturally thicken up the lower vertical sections used.

It is fairly obvious now that the engineer to a great extent takes over from the Architect who was left to make his plans of the floors, but subject to the structural steel and think out as pleasant elevation and embellish it as much as he could. It is to be regretted that in doing so he was entirely hindered by his concentration on classical architecture as being the only possible form that could be used and in more detail concentration on Palladian form.

If architects with original thoughts had existed in those days and the thoughts had been linked with the use of steel contemporary architects would have arrived much sooner.

As it was Architects continually sought to make the public believe that there was no steel in these buildings at all.

One more comment on this period of transition is necessary and this relates to overall planning. Every plot of land was subject to individual ownership and every owner with every architect was an individualist.

I don’t run this down but the country should have seen the need for overall planning that at the beginning of the century was exercised in every broad way in most countries.

In France for instance by Napoleonic dictatorship, but in England by the bulk ownership of land which enabled one and ones architect only to employed to control a general development.

Sometimes it came off and sometimes as in Wrens plans for the City, ?????? ????? became to big and obsolete.?????

Again we will pause to illustrate with slides.

You have now seen the dreadful result of individual effort not central to an overall plan, and the result of all forms of Architectural thought, all of it false in conception and deceptive in execution.

However it is only fair to say that during this period Architects with an appreciation of new forms and a wish to breakaway were working on structures some of them almost revolutionary in various parts of the world. This however in England was almost entirely confined to private houses and I show one or two slides.

Both in France and other countries however there were Engineer Architects, who though not so knowledgeable in the in the Architect’s approach to structure were at least prepared to consider structural materials and steel as lintel.

Further than this the use of concrete which could be molded and formed into any reasonable shape brought into being a new technique consisting of iron rails instead of the Girder or beam.

At once the Concrete was found to produce the necessary strength to make the beam as column a cohesive whole.

Moreover the application of this cantilever, which since the days of David was almost the oldest form of mechanics combined with the cohesive use of rods and concrete produced new forms of m???? that for the first time set aside the application of Classical forms.


Slide yet to be included.