crown CU Home > Libraries Home
[x] Close window

Columbia University Libraries Digital Collections: The Real Estate Record

Use your browser's Print function to print these pages.

Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 22, no. 553: October 19, 1878

Real Estate Record page image for page ldpd_7031128_022_00000289

Text version:

Please note: this text may be incomplete. For more information about this OCR, view About OCR text.
Real Estate Record AND BUILDERS' GUIDE. YoL. XXII. NEW YOEK, SATÜEDAY, OCTOBEE 19,1878. No. 553. Published Weekly by TERMS. ONE YEAR, in advance....SlO.OO. Communications should be addres.sed to C. W. SWEET. Nos. 345 AXD .^-I? Broadway THE ^ESTHETICS OP BUILDING. " Hang me if I kuow what Desthetic means," is the exclamation of Algie Fairfax, in DIplomacy, and it is shrewdly suspected, and by some confi¬ dently asserted that a majority of the aetive builders of New York eau truthfuUy and un- blushingly appropriate the language of this same confession. There are many buildere no doubt who, while sufflciently acquainted witli the art of building for the common purposes of their trade, have no idea of the science of architecture, and less conception of fche principles of artistic design. A small but distinguished minority of leading builders, have taken the paius to familiarize themselves sufflciently with the principles of dec- orative art to be able not only to understand the verbal signification of aestheMcs, but also to fur¬ nish chaste and creditable exhibitions of their skill as designers. The science of architecture conceras itself about three qualities—utility, strength and beauty. The average builder is apt to consider himself sufflciently accomplished in his profession when he has mastered the principles of the two fli-sfc, depending for the other upou the dictatiou of his professional adviser, or eise upon his own crude and untutored conceptions and the charitable as- Eistance of his subcontractoi-s. The characteristic of the earlier models of firet-class dwellmgs in this city is strength. Later on, as utilifcarian and luxu¬ rious ideas begau to assert themselves, we find private buildmgs are wont to display promi¬ nent and studied features of convenience. Still later, the passion for the costly elaboration of buüding productions, particularly of superior dwellings, swept like a contagion through fche whole building profession from its peers to its subordinate members. Even the plainer struc¬ tures that were erected by speculative builders during the big bonanza days were laden down with cabinet work, plate-glass and exponsively carved fronts, while the cosfcliesfc ones presented spectacles of regal splendor, in prof usion of ap¬ pointment, lavishness of detail aud display of extravagant expense. There are evidenees that this ultra expensive taste has not entirely died away. A review of the building models of the past, and a careful study of more recent ones furnish satisfactory assurances that we have rather to guard against and restrain the excess of Orna¬ ment, than to complain of any dearth or poverty of it; that we must direct our efforts to tUe regu- lation and cultivation, not to the creation of good taste. For the benefit of our less enligbtened readers, we desire to say that the term assthetic is one of the most comprehensive, suggestive and useful thafc has been incorporated into the English lan¬ guage, and owes its derivation to a well-known root of the classic Greek. In its common accep- tation, it denotes the science of good taste. It is the province of this science to develop and main¬ tain the principles of pure taste and of rational decoration, and to repress aud extü-pate exhibi¬ tions of faulty or offensive taste. Decorative art in civil architecture has engaged the study of eminent men whose researches and commentaries constitute the subject matter of many a profound aud elaborate treatise. It has been presented also in rudimentary works, cal¬ culated to interest the novice and furnish Sugges¬ tion and Instruction to the more advanced scholar. The entire subject, in all its applications, is now attracting a large share of attention among the intelligent reading public, being studied as an ac¬ complishment and pastime, and as a praetical aid in household embellishment. There are unmis¬ takable and constantly recurring evidenees that current house seekers are deeply imbued with art enthusiasm and understand so well the principles of decorative art, as to be able to criticise build¬ ing productions from the highest sfcandpoint of refined and cultivated taste. It is incumbent upon aetive and successful builders, and upon those aspiring to take rank as such fco acquaint them¬ selves with the rudiments and Controlling princi¬ ples of this art, either with a view of attaining praetical skill and excellence in the production of designs, or eise for the acquisition of an intelligent appreciation and power of seleetion respecting the designs of others. The builder who has no jBsthetic knowledge or aptitude, is placed at an incalculable disadvantage in pursuing his business. Iu ordinary speculative house building, there is only limited scope for the display of assthetic skill and talent, but the very narro\vness of this limit makes it essential and obligatory that what¬ ever elaboration may be attempted shall be quali¬ fied to bear the test of educated and expert criti¬ cism. "When the builder enters his completed mansion, he should be able to say "All is propor_ tion here and harmony." The science of aesthetics is made upof afew simple elementary principles, to wit: symmetry, harmony aud design. These three qualities blend themselves so interminably together in a complete aesthetic production as to render their analysis and Separation a subtle Operation. It is not within the province of this artiele to discuss aesthetics in general, or to inculcate the precept that all build¬ ers should set out to become great artists. There is a certain measure of education necessary and sufficient to raise a builder above the automaton condition of an unthinking mechanic, and within this measure is included a passing acquaintance with the aesthetics of building. Fof great public works, and for special private mansions the peers aud masters of tbe architect¬ ural profession will always be .sought after for their incomparable skill and their witching and sublime conceptions. Those who are able to com¬ mand the?e valuable and expensive Services will have no need of iustruction or Suggestion firom US. Specidative builders, as a class, are not apt to be so fortunately situated as to readily command the assistance of art experts. They are obliged by the ordinary limitations of their business to confine themselves to such touches of beauty as the employed architect may be able, inexpensive- ly, to introduce into his plans, or such as the build¬ er himself may be able to cull from designs furn¬ ished by leading subcontractors and mechanics. It will be of Signal benefit, however, to the trade and a valuable aecessory to the building improvements of the city, if builders generally would seek to acquaint themselves with the principles and mod¬ els of correct design, or if they will so far cultivate their faculties and tastes as to enable them to combine harmoniously and agreeably the JBsthet- ic features of their buildings. We will briefly and severally allude to some of the opportunities which ordinary house building affords for the cultivation of art. 1. ExTERiOK ElevATION.—Until quite a recent period the whole resthetic pretensions of house building were confined to the front elevation. As the most public and exposed feature of the house, this seemed to call for elaborate and expensive treatment, though in practice it is the one apt to be the least regarded by house buyers. There are stone elevations and door ways in this city which originally cost the builders fully one-flfth or one- quarter of the outlay for the entire building pro¬ duction, and the greater share of this expense was bestowed upon curious sculpture work and tracery. We need not stop to condemn such Superlative folly. The stone fronts so universaily affixed to city dwellings are intended to serve principally as superior profcectors against climatic changes. Ina more tropica] clime these fronts would be preferably made of wood. In equally severe climes, where free stonesare unattainable, brick or lime stone is used. Fashion no less than serviceability here dictates the use of brown stone. The absence of light and shade in our ordinary brown stone fronts renders tha task of decoration a difficult and ungrateful one. In truth extensive omaraentation of fronts is an im- necessary and mistaken labor, besides being ex¬ travagant and costly. The crowding upon the door-way of a house of Standard width or less, a huge portico, columns and heavy balustrades, all designed to illustrate the five different orders of architecture, is an absurdity which has frequent examples in this city. We believe that for ordi¬ nary speculative bidlding, the highest claims of ajsthetics and of populär taste, will be satisfled by the erection of fronts of superior quality, acciutitely set and neatly finished, but with the fewest and simplest enrichments. The idea of giving heavy projecöons to the cornices, sills and lintels is as unnecesaary as it is in practice oppres¬ sive. It should be borne in mind that fine tracery and sculpture on fronts which are exposed to variations of temperature and violence of the ele¬ ments are likely to fray away and become dis- flgured if not permanently and irremedially injured. In the decoration of front elevations, the Canons of correct taste require that all lines should be made severely simple, and that the door-ways should be onpretending and unobtra- sive. The fashion of placing formidable stone or iron railings upon the area coping bas passed into dis-