What has happened to the design of architecture over the centuries?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Over the centuries, function and simplicitiy of line has superseded design and aesthetic beauty in architecture and the use of space differs greatly. 

Gothic architecture certainly stands in marked contrast, too, with modern as its flowing movement of arches and buttresses contrast with the sharp line of many modern structures.In addition, the use of sculpture and architectural motifs is rare, if not absent, in modern buildings. In the Florentine Renaissance, for instance, superb works by Donatello, Michelozzo, and the Rosselino brothers harmonized sculptural elements with architectural design. A very striking example of this combination of sculpture and architecture is the royal tomb of Louis XII where recumbent figures are carved with a poetic realism. However, if there is sculpture associated with architecture nowadays, it is usually designed with an austere geometry. 

Certainly, designs differ in modern architecture from those of ages past. For instance, the Greeks planned their temples with every part related to all the others, and all parts related to man. For instance, the base of a column is equivalent to a man's foot. Thus, there are humanistic qualities to Greek architecture that are absent today. Of course, designs have greatly expanded from the classic block and domed cylinder of the Greeks. Much in contrast to the modern, also, are the poetic and flowing designs of the Renaissance and the theatricality of Baroque architecture as one sees in the Opera House of Paris. Then, there is the Neoclassicism of the perfectly porportioned as witnessed in the Petit Trianon at Versailles and the library at the University of Virginia as designed by Thomas Jefferson. (This classical design neglected sculpture, as well.)

The use of modern materials such as steel helped to change architecture as did the advancement of technology:

Joseph Paxton at the Great Exhibition of 1851 was an early example of iron and glass construction, followed in 1864 by the first glass and metal curtain wall. A further development was that of the steel-framed skyscraper in Chicago around 1890 by William Le Baron Jenney and Louis Sullivan.

Frank Lloyd Wright's insistence that "form follow function" had a profound influence upon design and structure, as well. Other movements such as Futurism in Italy changed architecture by using long horizontal lines that suggest urgency and speed. In Germany, there was a combination of industrial function and design. Expressionism made use of concrete or brick for massive structures. One style, Streamline Moderne uses the shapes of machines themselves as part of its design. An example of this is the Greyhound Bus Station in Cleveland, Ohio.

When skyscrapers were first constructed, there was a movement called the "functional aesthetic" which improved the appearance of buildings with the use of glass and minimal structure. But later designs brought back more mass with heavier materials.  Nevertheless, the lines of modern architecture are simpler and there is a marked lack of sculpture and aesthetics.



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