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Compositional Levels

Henry Glassie Indiana University Press ePub

Now the walls belong to a composition. Acts of composition bring interiors and exteriors together, massing and ornamenting buildings into units that contain diversity. Then composition expands, and meanings complicate, as buildings are set in relation, one to the other in space. While building walls, people perform on a complex field of influence, balancing the natural and the cultural. By weighing the influences of the natural environment against social and economic influences, we will have a way to begin a consideration of the expansive orders of composition.

It is hot on the vast, flat delta of Bengal, so hot that the climate must figure powerfully in architectural planning. At home in the village, cooking takes place outdoors in fair weather. The heat of the fire disperses, and the woman at work gains a touch of relief from the winds that find their way from the river. It is tropically hot, and it is wet. Rain is an insufficient name for the downpours of summer. In the rainy season, the fire for cooking is moved beneath a roof that is pitched steeply to shed the water. The roof is held aloft by impaled posts. Between the posts, bamboo screens make frail walls. Coolness comes in, the heat of the fire escapes.

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Comparison in Ireland

Henry Glassie Indiana University Press ePub

Thinking like that about the architectural change in Virginia, I proposed to test the idea with something like science. I knew from the superb writings of E. Estyn Evans that Ireland divided into two great architectural regions. The houses of the east, where the English settled, had central chimneys and linear plans like those of southeastern England. The houses of the Celtic west had chimneys on the ends, and they were socially open and pierced asymmetrically like the hall-and-parlor houses of Virginia. I knew, as well, that the Georgian form was introduced to Ireland in the eighteenth century, just as it was in Virginia. My idea was this: though it was present on the landscape, the Georgian form would not become adopted into common building practice until the people were ready, until they were ready to trade the little community they knew for an abstract concept that would bring them into national alliance with people they did not know. That, I surmised, would happen a decade or so before the successful revolution of 1916.

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The American Landscape

Henry Glassie Indiana University Press ePub

The purpose of this excursion has been to understand the choice that made the American landscape. Living in villages in Jamestown and Plymouth, English people understood village life, and they knew of an alternative: enclosure. In both places, they abandoned the village for separate farms. They did not risk their lives on a black ocean to repeat the old but to create the new. They came to get rich. Religious rhetoric and the resistance of the native people could retard but not stop the spread of enclosure.

Jamestown and Plymouth might have been twin points of origin for a landscape unified by enclosure. Instead, history led to regional difference. In New England, the Puritans fought dispersal and isolation, returning by choice to the openfield village. They located a meetinghouse at the center of town and scattered tillage in strips through the open fields, rededicating themselves to the way of the Lord. New England developed in tension between the opposed energies of compression and dispersal. Villages predominated in some areas, notably the lowlands of the Connecticut Valley. In other places, high, rough, and marginal, the farmhouses stood alone. The scene in the South was simpler. Houses, churches, and even courthouses stood apart. Old Virginia was the first impeccably capitalistic landscape.

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The U. S. in the Nineteenth Century

Henry Glassie Indiana University Press ePub

Returning to the American story, we can envision a moment of unity, the most coherent instant in American history, when after the Revolution segmentable houses with symmetrical facades and closed interiors could be found from one end of the new nation to the other. That is as modern as things ever got.

In his excellent introduction to American architecture, Dell Upton comments correctly that the nineteenth century has been studied less well than the centuries that precede and follow it. One reason is that scholars seem to believe that the directions apparent in the eighteenth century continue through the nineteenth. Another is that, with the nineteenth century, there is a sudden flood of paper with words printed on it, and historians can relax at home, reading written texts that are easy to understand instead of the architectural texts that give them fits. But there is absolutely no alternative to fieldwork, to direct and patient study of real buildings in great numbers. The written texts of the nineteenth century are pertinent, but, alas, the story conveniently constructed out of them violently misrepresents the reality.

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Forms and Causes

Henry Glassie Indiana University Press ePub

Now, understanding something about building in Bangladesh and central Sweden, areas that are strikingly different in climate and prosperity, yet comparable in architecture, we can turn to causation. Founded upon faith, conjoining the familial with the communal, an idea of social order seems to be the prime condition of design when architects in Bengal or Dalarna plan relations among buildings. The environment sets an outer ring of constraint. Its conditions are brought into consideration whenever they do not contradict the more fundamental concerns that are sacred, social, and economic. There is logic in that formulation, but it is not so easy as that.

The most successful historical movement of our time, in my estimation, has been dedicated to the study of the landscape of the British Isles. By treating the land itself as the primary text and reading it closely during painstaking fieldwork, by building a geographical base for understanding and then bringing the more fragmentary and less democratic written record to bear during the construction of explanations, scholars have shaped a sweeping new view of history that attends to both continuity and change, while focusing on general cultural processes and not on the doings of a few errant princes. In England, W.G. Hoskins gave eloquent, public voice to the movement. In Ireland, the great spokesman was E. Estyn Evans.

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