17 - 01 - 2019

ARCHITECTURE through the Ages

When primitive Man built a crude hut of mud and tree branches as a shelter from weather, he became both the first architect and the first builder.

Thus began the glorious heritage of architectural fine buildings that has been handed down the ages and remains mankind’s joy and responsibility.Little is known about the very first buildings, but there still remain structures like Stonehenge, thousands of years old, which survive. Among the first people to develop a great architecture were the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and the buildings that remain are either temples or tombs, which at that time had the greatest importance, and were so well built that some of them survived more than 5000 years.
Egyptian architecture was solid and heavy, the materials being great blocks of granite and sandstone. The erection of these immense structures were made possible by the vast amount of slave labour available, this was used for transporting the building materials for great distances, but the exact methods used in building great monuments like the Pyramids are still unknown. These early buildings relied upon their weight and bulk for stability, and were enriched with highly coloured decorative sculpture, which often recorded the history of times.
Western architecture can reasonably be traced back to ancient Greece, for even in modern British buildings this influence is visible. Primitive Greek buildings were simple and massive, much like those of Egypt. Some were cut out of rock, others were simple temples and tombs, but with growing prosperity Greek architecture developed until in what is called the Hellenic period ( 700 B.C to 146 B.C ) the Greeks erected some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, such as the Parthenon.

The practical-minded Romans who absorbed Greek culture when they conquered Greece in 146 B.C., took over the classic formula of columns and beams, and invented new designs for the columns and new forms of architecture. The great discovery made by the Romans was the use of the arch, which they developed for bridges and other large structures. Later the Romans developed the vault and invented the use of concrete that gave birth to concrete structures and there are many examples of Roman building to-day which can be seen and admired for their great constructional skill.
  In each country the style differed slightly because of different materials and varying climate, and in England the architectural style of the Benedictine monks is known as Anglo-Saxon. Simple arch and pier buildings in stone were reintroduced in England. It was still a simple and solid style of building, based on heavy walling and semi-circular arches with strong and vigorous designs. Examples can be seen in many English cathedrals, as most of them were founded by the Normans and their work still remains. This style gave birth to Gothic architecture.
  The word “Gothic” was invented by the Italians of the Renaissance period, to describe the form of building which they regarded as the work of Goths or Barbarians. The principal feature of Gothic architecture is the way in which the weight of the building is concentrated in isolated points by means of the pointed arch, the pier, the buttress, and the vault. Thus English Gothic architecture developed gradually through the years.  One of the most out-standing examples of this is Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, where one can see the striving towards lightness of structures. During that period of cathedral and church buildings in the 12th to 15th centuries, palaces were also built. Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were erected in the 15th century, but the permanent buildings of the time were primarily religious buildings. The Italian artists and craftsmen employed for much of this work,  brought with them the classic decorative details which then began to appear in English architecture. In the 17th century the Classic style completely superseded the earlier Gothic, and the classic elements of column, beam and cornice which can be seen in Roman and Greek architecture were introduced in England in the new public buildings.
  The development of architecture is therefore not only affected by materials and economic conditions, but also by world events, and as travel became easier and the interchange of ideas more rapid, the architecture of the countries of the world has tended to become more similar.  The 18th century, which produced the so-called Georgian architecture, was noted for its great domestic buildings, the work of men like Kent, Gibbs and Vanbrugh.
   With the beginning of the 20th century, this era of revivals continued. For churches Gothic style was still popular, but in domestic building, architects like Mackintosh and Voysey began to use traditional building materials such as brick and stone in a straightforward manner similar to that of traditional English architecture.  In the 20th century more contemporary expression in architecture reached its height, when Gropius designed his famous Bauhaus at Dessau and many great blocks of flats near Berlin.
 Modern architects started using bricks and tiles and all other materials to produce new and lively architectural designs which shaped the world’s architectural history.  Architects to-day are not only concerned with the designs of adequate buildings, but also with the relationship of one building to another, and so the new art of town-planning came into practice aiming at a state of affairs in which buildings are not allowed just to happen, at random, but are definitely planned in a proper sequence.
  Referring to the architectural heritage of undivided India, Lord Curzon once commented that it was the greatest galaxy of monuments of the world. The story of this greatest galaxy of monuments goes back to the pre-historic times when early humans did their rudimentary constructions and the form developed into a full-fledged architecture towards the beginning of Christian Era and the Indian architecture reached its zenith during the early medieval times with temple architecture. With the dawn of the medieval period came the Islamic architectural style which influenced and the two great styles were attempted to be merged. This experiment at fusion was fully realized during the reign of the mighty mughals in the so-called “Mughal Architecture”. While the mughal style was still diffusing to other parts of the country the British had also arrived in India, whatever might be the economic and political repercussion of their entry into the subcontinent, as far as architecture is concerned, they made their own contribution to the already rich Indian architecture tracing back to the Indus valley civilization or the Harappan culture.

Manas Chakraverty

 Deputy Registrar, Guwahati College of Architecture