How can designers take a political stance on architectural production?
The Industrial Revolution introduced many benefits to private and public life--at least for some people--but it also introduced some significant problems related to the environment and the workforce. The latter inspired many designers and theorists connected with the Arts and Crafts Movement that started in Britain (the first nation to industrialize) and spreading to other industrialized nations as they, too, felt the negative impacts of industry's dark side.
Grounded in politics and what today we'd call social justice movements, Arts and Crafts was also an aesthetic movement, so that its formal productions, as well as the production itself, were aims of design reformers. Widely embraced either in full or in part, the Arts and Crafts Movement comprised aims that could be folded into methods and products that were originally anathema to its core values, but also into a variety of styles and idioms that were largely in sync with those foundational ideas. In short, Arts and Crafts should be seen as an ethos, approach, or goal, more than a set style based in formal motifs or specific materials and techniques.
At the conclusion of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify important manifestations of the Arts and Crafts movement (architectural, institutional, etc) in the period by name, date, designer/client and location (KNOWLEDGE)
- Define terminology specific to technique, style and structure (KNOWLEDGE)
- Describe integration of technology (material and non-material) in individual monuments (KNOWLEDGE)
- Explain stylistic/technical changes in design as they relate to cultural context (COMPREHENSION)
- Summarize the main concepts in important works of theory by key writers, especially William Morris (COMPREHENSION)
- Visually analyze buildings from this period to suggest date, place, and designer (ANALYSIS)
- Recognize change in architectural styles by comparing their formal and technical characteristics (ANALYSIS)
- Critique the agency of people and technology w/in the process of design (EVALUATE)
The British Arts and Crafts Movement was a social justice movement as much as an aesthetic one. In fact, there is probably no other major chapter in the history of art, design, and architecture that had such political aspirations (except. perhaps, various strains of early European Modernism, which also had more limited impact). Consider its background, and the views of its main protagonists, John Ruskin and William Morris.
- Read: Gelernter, chap. 6
Ruskin's main contribution to the Movement was as a writer and lecturer (no doubt you will remember his Seven Lamps of Architecture, among many other publications). Also a writer, William Morris put his theory into practice, founding one of the most important firms for Arts and Crafts goods anywhere in the world. First, let's get familiar with Morris' theory of what we would call the decorative arts:
- Read this excerpt from Morris; for more detail, find the full (scanned text of "The Lesser Arts" lecture (1877)
- Take this quiz to ensure your comprehension of Morris' writings (due Monday)
He also used his own place of residence, the Red House), as a manifestation of his ideals. Its architect, Phillip Webb, had a long career thereafter, largely Arts and Crafts architecture and furniture design.
Morris' inability to find furniture to suit him in stores inspired his decision to found Morris & Co, which worked along the lines of a medieval guild in the production of furniture, fabrics, wall paper, and other decorative arts. Important as it was, it was not unique, and relates to the explosive growth of arts organizations, institutes, training grounds, companies and publications founded as an important part of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Contribute to a gallery of Arts and Crafts institutions. Refer to the chart below and select one of the items listed in it. Replace the words "your name" with--guess what--your name, which means you have claimed it as your own. Conduct an internet search and find information from at least two sources to fill out the remainder of the chart.
Because the Arts and Crafts Movement represented a theory or approach more than a style with a set of formal expectations, it was amenable to absorption into other idioms (as will be made very clear when we see it spread to the USA and continental Europe). Closer to home and nearer in time, architects practicing in the popular Gothic vein incorporated Arts and Crafts ideals into their work that, as it also grew in scale and to address new functions, helps to characterize a new sub-set of Gothic architecture often referred to as "Victorian Gothic." This development would differ from pure Arts and Crafts ideals (especially as expressed in Webb's architecture) by being more academic/historicizing than vernacular, and also embedding technology rather differently. Witness two projects in one of England's great industrial cities, Manchester, starting with the new town hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1877:
and this public swimming pool, the Victoria Baths (1906):
We'll look at some of this work in class, but in the meantime, enjoy this outlier (not quite Gothic, but definitely in the Arts and Crafts vein), in Surrey, by Mary Fraser-Tytler (1896):
Review: this excerpt from Ruskin; for more detail, find the full (scanned) text of The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) here