« ZurückWeiter »
are so open to misrepresentation, and so liable to mistake. It has always been the fate of those who set themselves to the reform of any crying abuse, to be rather censured for ill motives than applauded for good ones ; to encounter the apathy of indifference and the opposition of interest, when success would be without any personal advantage, and the result of their labors would prove of far less consequence to themselves, than to those who most strenuously take part against them. We cannot expect, in the present instance, to be exempted from the operation of the general rule. It will not be thought gratuitous, therefore, for us to assert, that we are actuated by no other feeling than a sincere desire to advance the cause of art, and to direct attention to the real merits of other and better days. Nor will it, we hope, be denied, that candor must always drive the impartial critic to a necessary degree of severity, and that in no other way, indeed, can we ever look for any serious reformation. The blunders of ignorance, and the more inexcusable absurdities of whim and caprice, should be plainly pointed out, that they may be ridiculed and avoided for the future. Let us, then, proceed to hold up the torch of truth to several of our costliest edifices, and examine them dispassionately by the light it affords. We will endeavour to keep close to Bishop Taylor's sensible rule, to “report things modestly and temperately, according to the degree of that persuasion which is, or ought to be, begotten by the efficacy of the authority, or the reason inducing thee.” It cannot be supposed, that we shall here be unable to maintain the utmost frankness, unmixed either with fear or favor, when we declare, that in many cases we have never heard the architect mentioned at all, and that in none, do we know any thing more of him than barely the name.
The patronage of the general government has, of late, been sadly misapplied in Boston. We are free to go, at once, in medias res, and to confess, that the new Customhouse, now in progress of erection, is so incongruous and absurd a pile, that we scarcely know where to begin or where to end our enumeration of its deformities. To avoid the charge of unfairness, however, we will endeavour to arrange its faults under separate and distinct specifications.
1. Its construction is eminently defective. The constructive talent of an architect is shown, in a great measure, by the ratio which is found to exist between the solid points of support, and the covered areas of his building. It is plain, that he who makes so judicious a use of the means allowed him, as to enclose the same space and to provide the same accommodation in the interior, using one half only of the material employed by another, and still preserving the greatest degree of strength that can ever be necessary in the walls of his structure, will be (so to express it) twice as scientific an architect as he who is obliged to make use of double the quantity. We have before us a printed table, in which the skill of Wren, as shown in the Cathedral church of St. Paul, is proved in this manner to be very superior to that of his predecessors in modern times, * - while Wren, in turn, falls far behind the wonderful geometrical knowledge of the Gothic architects, exemplified in the exquisite vaulted roofs and the airy towers and spires of the Middle Ages. This wise economy of material is regarded by scientific persons, as the first and highest evidence of merit. But let any one, who is competent to judge, examine the section of this Custom-house, as drawn and published by the architect himself, and, bearing this rule of estimation in mind, he will not think it too much to say, that the constructive talent shown in it is small indeed. He will see, that there is enough naterial for at least three buildings of the same size, and will stand astonished at perceiving the amount of room which is lost in the gloomy vestibules, and the stupendous loads of masonry in the interior walls and the squat piers of the lower stories. Why the space thus sacrificed was not used to
the Inlter to the former,
* St. Peter's Church at Rome, St. Mary's at Florence, St. Paul's at Lon. don, and St. Geneviève at Paris, are the four largest modern churches of Europe. The relation between their areas and their points of support is shown in the following coin paralive view :
Proportion of Eng. Feet.
of which area its St. Peter's stands
0.261 227,069 points of support 59,308 on an area of St. Mary's 84,892
17,030 0-201 St. Paul's 84,025
14,311 0-170 St. Geneviève 60,287
9,629 0.154 But the latter building failed so alarmingly, that it can hardly be drawn into a comparison with the three others; for it was found necessary to increase the points of support under the cupola to a considerable extent. The constructive merit, therefore, of the three first named will be to each other as the numbers 261, 201, and 170, inversely. See Mr. Gwilt's “ Account of St. Paul's Cathedral," p. 21.
greater advantage, it is, perhaps, impossible to conjecture. The staircases, also, are steep and narrow, and entirely want that dignity which they should possess, as the only means of approach to the great central rotunda.
All the stones employed in the building are too large, and though this is effected at an enormously increased cost, it detracts very considerably from the effect of the edifice, by diminishing its apparent scale. Such extravagantly large stones always destroy proportion ; they enlarge the scale of the masonry, instead of multiplying the parts. Hence, a large building constructed in this manner, in effect, is only a smaller one magnified. Such blocks are by no means necessary for strength or durability, for the time-defying structures of the Middle Ages are reared with stones scarcely larger than ordinary bricks. It is said, that there are few stones in York Cathedral, which the workmen could not have carried up in their hands. No such practice prevailed among the sensible Greeks, and it is very justly reprehended in some of the most approved books on ihe subject.
2. The plan of this ill-judged building is that of an hypæthral temple ; but the architect has, in the outset, very gratuitously violated the standard of taste which he himself had set up, by placing his prostyle porticos on the Aank of the cell, and composing the principal elevations with engaged, three-quarter columns of Grecian Doric ! Of course, the result is one incongruous mass of jumbled features and discordant characteristics. Nothing, in any style, can be more trivial than the use of engaged columns; they are to be classed among the worst faults of the ductile school of Palladio, where they are sometimes tolerated for their picturesque effect ; but they must be universally considered as totally opposed to the severity of the Attic orders. “A column," says a writer of high authority,“ is an architectural member, which should only be employed when a superincumbent weight is required to be sustained without the intervention of a solid wall ; but the moment a wall is built, the necessity and propriety of columns cease, and engaged columns always produce the effect of having been once detached, and the intermediate spaces blocked up afterwards.” The correctness of this remark will be instantly appreciated by any one who examines the columns of the Custom-house, froin any point of view. Their ill effect is materially increased by the harsh nakedness of the real wall behind them. They have, too, this additional disadvantage, that, together with the overhanging entablature, they very seriously obstruct the light of the windows, and shut in the view obtained from them to a much more confined range of vision. The absolute removal of these excrescences would be the first step necessary to make either front compatible with a truly classical style.
3. Several of the most important details are wretched. The windows are mere holes in the wall, not relieved by any architrave mouldings, and even wanting capitals and sills. This is the most effectual method that can be devised, to secure blankness and poverty in a design. It is received as a maxim in architecture, and one which the merest tyro is expected to understand, that the most useful parts of a building are first to be made ornamental, leaving the less useful subordinate to them in style and finish. It is in plain accordance with reason, that those ornaments which bear with them the evidence of utility ought invariably to be applied, before we venture upon such as are purely decorative. When facings to the windows, therefore, are wholly omitted, it is contrary to all principle to adorn any part of the elevation with columns, or even pilasters ; for windows are, first of all, essential to the use of the building to which they belong. Yet the blank walls, thus unrelieved by any agreeable projections, are here decked out with all the pomp of Auted columns, entablature, and pediment. These offensive inequalities of taste betray very little real notion of propriety, and should have been better considered of in so large and expensive a structure.
The elevated stylobate, on which the columns are raised, is full of apertures to give light and entrance to the base
ent. We will attempt no criticism upon this exped it is equally beyond the reach of reasoning, irony, and invective. It may be said, that these openings were indispensable for convenience. Admit it ; but the architect must have known all this beforehand. Why, then, did he adopt a style, the rigid severity of which, above all others, is so foreign to these fantastic tricks? Throughout the whole, as it is, he has been continually hampered by his design.
“ As a dog, committed close
It compelled him to add a cyma to the proper entablature, to remove the metopes from the frieze, and substitute glazed windows between the triglyphs, opening into the space behind the cornice. Though it should now be futile to censure these barbarisms, we deem it a duty thus openly to bear our testimony against them.
" The public at large,” observes the acute Dr. McCulloch, “ has a claim over the architecture of a country. It is common property, inasmuch as it involves the national taste and character; and no man has a right to pass himself and his own barbarous inventions as a national taste, or to hand down to posterity his own ignorance and disgrace to be a satire and libel on the knowledge and taste of his age.” But what idea will posterity be likely to form of the government architects of the nineteenth century, or of the government commissioners, who could abet such reckless squandering?
We have thought it expedient thus to go through with this structure, step by step, and to leave no serious error in it unnoticed, because it is a fair type of the whole class of modern Grecian edifices, and the solecisms upon which we have here animadverted are observable in nearly all. It is, also, without doubt, one of the most expensive undertakings ever attempted in Boston. More than eight hundred thousand dollars have not been sufficient to raise it to a proper height to receive the dome, — its last and crowning absurdity. By what precedent, what reason, or what rule of taste, a Doric temple is bestridden in such a way, must for ever lie beyond the comprehension of ordinary individuals ; while the additional sums of money, which will be needed to complete it, may justly be considered a problem to tax the ingenious calculations of the economist to their utmost limit. After all this vast outlay, it is confidently asserted by practical judges, that the interior will never afford the requisite accommodation for the revenue offices, in a large and rapidly increasing metropolis. Its aspect, to say the least, is sufficiently gloomy and forbidding ; the sullen “ caves of Domdaniel” could scarcely inspire more cheerless emotions ; and we question is the ill-digested arrangement of the principal apartments will not prove very inconvenient for the transaction of the business. What might have been effected, had the architect been willing to shake off the arbitrary and whimsical restrictions with which he has fettered