What is the difference between good and bad Classical architecture? Can it be defined? Any analysis is likely to be tortuous but there is a broad, almost universal, agreement over what is good and what is bad. Classical architecture is deeply culturally engrained – that it’s attraction! – and because it is engrained we all agree, just as we all agree over what is a beautiful face and what is an ugly face. Some examples: –
A good start in this stratospherically inept jumble. It’s difficult to know what the designer of this building had in mind, but with its columns and its curved (Egyptian – style?) cornice he was surely attempting some sort of Classical grandeur. When confronted by buildings such as this one of my old architecture tutors, John Farmer, would say, “if the designer of this were a doctor he would kill people.” Note in particular the paired columns, two featureless vertical cylinders, capped by a rectangular block. The Classical Orders have been honed to a perfection of beauty, that is why we use them. This man thought he knew better.
A similar composition by someone who really could design, John Nash, often an unjustly little regarded architect. Here he achieves true grandeur in nothing more than a row of houses.
Cannizaro House, a hotel that required an extension to its dining terrace and because the original house is Classical, the designer wanted to maintain the Classical theme through the use of columns. The trebeated form of columns and entablature readily lends itself to full glazing, but having decided to go down that route the designer must still design, he must compose. There’s more to it than sticking in some columns. To continue the analogy of a beautiful face, there’s more to it than two eyes, a nose and a mouth. It’s what shape and size they are and their relationship to one another that determines a beautiful, or an ugly face.
A Classical glass box at Benington Park, in this case erected over an undercroft.
Roehampton House was originally a 7 bay house by Thomas Archer, built 1712. In 1912 it was extended by Lutyens with symmetrical side wings and front ranges around 3 sides of a forecourt. The house was more than quadrupled in size but Lutyens creation powerfully overturns the standard policy of planning authorities that says that all extensions to Listed Buildings must be subservient to the host building.
In 1956 the London County Council built the gate and lodges of a reminder of the quality and high standards ruling in that now defunct body.
During WW1 Roehampton House became the famous Queen Mary’s Hospital but from the early 2000’s, with the construction of new hospital buildings, the house was converted to housing. In the grounds new houses were built – they seem to show that civilisation is not advancing, but declining! What Lutyens could do in 1912 and the LLC in 1956 could not be done by the designers of the new housing. All they could manage was to dress up some standard house plans with crudely formed neo-Georgian details. If is as if the designers (or perhaps it was those giving the planning approval?) thought this would bring the development into harmony with Roehampton House. It does not. Classicism is about order, proportion and appropriateness (decorum), it has a generosity to it, the mean and the pinched are not Classical attributes. Lutyens and the LCC knew this and could therefore successfully add to Roehampton House, the designers of this development do not.