Good News for the Classical America Series in Art and Architecture

Future of the Past book coverNotre Dame professor, ICAA Fellow, teacher, and longtime stalwart Steven W. Semes’ 2009 Series volume The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation (W.W. Norton & Co.) has been selected by The Atlantic Monthly as one of the “10 Most Compelling Historic Preservation Reads.” It is reassuring and impressive that this broad circle of engaged experts came to a conclusion held by the Institute since Steve proposed it after many years of critical reflection. It is an essential text for all practitioners, public officials, developers, advocates, and aficionados alike, unified by a willingness to consider new ideas and a renewed role for traditional forms in today’s built environment. I am pleased to announce too that Steve is co-editor with Christine G. H. Franck of our upcoming online publication (a first in our signature determination to use all modern tools and technologies…) Classical Architecture: A Handbook to the Tradition. Formal announcement will be made once the publication is available.

Click here to learn more and purchase a copy of The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation or visit the Classicist BookShop online.

Join me in sending praise and congratulations to Professor Semes.

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Awards Season at the Institute

A message from our President, Paul Gunther

Paul Gunther

I am pleased to call attention to the upcoming Stanford White Awards inaugurated as a regional design and artisanship prize for New York, New Jersey, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. Please note that eligibility is tied to local construction or realization and is thus open to all who fit the bill in accordance with the submission guidelines. Event sponsorship is a present priority and any interested should be in touch ASAP.

We are grateful to the Stanford White family and in particular his great-grandsons, Samuel G. White and Daniel W. White, for allowing us to deploy Mr. White’s iconic name as a timeless personification of classicism as a force for contemporary study and application. Thanks too to trustee Anne Fairfax for her catalytic project seed support and persistent encouragement.

The new Stanford White Award follows the example of the chapter-driven regional and project specific offerings first launched six years ago by the Southeast Chapter with its seminal Philip Trammell Shutze Awards and as now enlivened in New England with the Charles Bulfinch Awards, in Texas with the John Staub Awards, and in Florida with its upcoming, inaugural Addison Mizner Awards. And I can now announce, with great pleasure and excitement, the Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Judith & Robert Newman Awards, currently slated for the fall of 2013 and led so ably from Denver. The chapter will also be awarding The Rocky Mountain Medal to honor an overall body of work that reflects the rich heritage of the traditional arts in the region.

While each varies slightly in its applicable criteria, all the Awards stand together as cogent measure of present-date excellence alongside the enduring career achievement afforded by the Arthur Ross Awards for Excellence in the Classical Tradition slated in its 32nd year for Monday, May 6, 2013. The jury chairman in this next cycle is designer Barbara Eberlein, who also serves as the president of the pioneer Philadelphia Chapter.

Apply soon and often. Help spread the word. Taken together, these programs of recognition assure that those at the modern forefront of tradition now receive the attention and praise they deserve despite being prejudicially overlooked by so many others.

Meanwhile we all look forward to the impending fall semester and all it has to offer across the country. We will miss Nora Reilly, Education Programs Administrator & Archivist, whose spirited daily contributions have done so much to assure recent success. It is she who created the ICAA Library that, while always a work-in-progress, now serves as a ready resource for all members and instructors relying on its unique scope, even at this time of global digital databases.  We wish her well in completing her Masters Degree in Library Science.

The Classicist No. 10 is now at the printer and due by year’s end to mark the tenth anniversary of the ICAA conglomeration. All those engaged at the Dual membership level and above can look forward to receiving a copy as edited in peer-reviewed format by Dr. Richard John at the University of Miami.

Enjoy summer’s final days. The heat and drought characterizing it will not be missed.

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Calder Loth

Calder Loth


by Calder Loth
Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s Advisory Council.

Palladio composite

Figure 1. Composite Order, Book 1, The Architecture of A. Palladio in Four Books, (Leoni edition, 1721)

The Composite order is a complex topic; a proper study could be the subject of a lengthy dissertation. In this format, I can only offer general observations and illustrate a sampling of its use. While the Composite appears in works of the Roman Imperial era, it was not identified as a separate order until the early Renaissance. The first to add it to the roster of classical orders was the theorist, Leon Battista Alberti, who termed the order the Italian. In his famous treatise, De re aedificatoria of 1485, Alberta wrote: “. . . for this Order to the Richness of the Corinthian, has added to the Delicacy of the Ionic, and instead of those Ears, has substituted Volutes.”[i] Henceforth, all the major Renaissance treatises, including Serlio’s, Vignola’s, Palladio’s, and Scamozzi’s have defined and illustrated the Composite as a distinct order, resulting in the five orders of architecture. Not all have agreed on its name; it has been called Italian, Roman, and Latin, all in an effort to distinguish it from any Greek origin. However, probably because of Palladio’s preference for Composite, (Italian: Composito) that term has become the standard descriptor for this fusion of the Ionic and Corinthian.

The basic form of the Composite capital consists of the bottom portion of the Corinthian capital (two rows of acanthus leaves) topped by an Ionic capital using angled volutes rather than parallel ones.[ii] Giacomo Leoni’s English translation of Alberti’s original Latin description of the Composite has a quaint ring: “The Front of the Capital, being otherwise naked, borrowed its Ornaments from the Ionic; for instead of Shoots it has Volutes, and Lips of its Vase are carved full of Eggs with Berries underneath them, like an Ovolo.”[iii] Most versions of the Composite capital are similar, but we find little agreement on the treatment of the entablature. Some treatises advocate an Ionic entablature; others call for a more purely Corinthian entablature with scrolled modillions. Palladio was among the first to depict the Composite with a distinctive two-part modillion, which Sir William Chambers defined as “square, and composed of two fascias.”[iv] (see Figure 1 ) This type of modillion existed on some ancient Corinthian temples as shown in Book 4 of Palladio’s I Quattro Libri; but beginning in the Renaissance, this modillion type was normally restricted to the Composite.

Arch of Titus

Figure 2. Composite Order, Arch of Titus, Rome (Loth)
Figure 3. Arch of Titus, north elevation (Loth)

Scholars of ancient classical architecture generally agree that the earliest surviving example of the Composite order exists on the Arch of Titus, dating from 81 A.D. (Figures 2 & 3) It is impossible to say, however, if this was the first use of the order. If it was the first, then the order would have been unknown to Vitruvius, who died around 80 B.C. Nevertheless, its half-round columns display fully developed combinations of the Ionic and Corinthian capitals, clearly distinct from the standard Corinthian. We can only guess at what prompted the Romans to create this variant other than a desire to give special emphasis to a monument honoring an emperor’s achievements. Its use here set a precedent for applying what became a separate order to conspicuous imperial works including the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Arch of Trajan at Beneveneto, and the Baths of Diocletian. The Arch of Titus was incorporated into a fortification during the Middle Ages, leaving only the center part to survive. Architect Guiseppe Valadier restored the arch’s original form in 1822. The reconstructed missing sections were executed in travertine to distinguish them from the ancient marble portions.

Loggia del Capitaniato

Figure 4. Loggia del Capitaniato, Vicenza, Italy (Loth)

Andrea Palladio gave new impetus to the Composite order both through his own projects and through his famous treatise, I Quattro Libri (1570). He applied the Composite to some of his most important works, including the Palazzo Valmarana, the Palazzo Thiene [v], and the Venetian churches of the Redentore and San Giorgio Maggiore. We see an especially conspicuous example of Palladio’s Composite on the Loggia del Capitaniato in Vicenza’s Piazza dei Signori, built as part of the residence of the captain of the Venetian militia. (Figure 4) The facade has giant half-round columns thrusting through two stories to an entablature that breaks forward over each column. The capitals compare in form and richness to those in the Baths of Diocletian, which Palladio would have known though his study of the ruins of Rome’s baths. Completed in 1572, the loggia came too late for publication in I Quatto Libri. Nevertheless, Palladio showed his partiality for the Composite when he wrote in his treatise that the order is “the best composed and most beautiful.”[vi]

Lescot wing

Figure 5. Lescot Wing, Louvre, Paris (Loth)

Pierre Lescot (ca. 1510-1578) is credited with introducing Renaissance classicism to France with his design for what is now referred to as the Lescot Wing of the Louvre. King Francis I commissioned Lescot to transform the Medieval Louvre Chateau into a Renaissance-style palace. Lescot’s effort is confined to the east facade of the southwest wing of the Cour Carre,  completed in 1551.The richly decorated work, with Jean Goujon’s sculpted panels and other embellishments, established the character of French classicism for scores of buildings to follow, particularly the rest of the Louvre and the lost Tuileries Palace. Lescot’s applied orders included the Corinthian for the ground floor and finely articulated Composite columns and pilasters defining the bays of the main floor. (Figure 5) These and the pilasters of Lescot’s  1549 Fountain of the Innocents nearby are among France’s earliest displays of the Composite order. Lescot’s work may have been influenced by the classicism of Sebastiano Serlio, who came to France in 1541 to advise on the design of the palace of Fontainebleau.

Wedding at Cana

Figure 6. Paolo Veronese, Wedding Feast at Cana, (detail), Louvre (Loth)

Renaissance artists, particularly the Italians, established a tradition of depicting Biblical events in heroic settings, often grand classical ones. This practice was a means for emphasizing the importance of the message, making sure that viewers appreciated the divine connotations. Culminating such works is Paolo Veronese’s huge representation of the Wedding Feast at Cana, competed in 1563. (Figure 6) Originally commissioned for San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, it was plundered by Napoleon in 1797 and has since been displayed in the Louvre. Veronese showed Christ and the wedding guests sumptuously dining in surroundings worthy of the Emperor Diocletian. In the background of this majestic stage set, we see accurate renderings of Composite columns, the order reserved by the Romans for their most special projects. This prompts the question as to whether Jesus ever saw any real Composite capitals. They may have existed in Caesarea Philippi, but Jesus is not recorded to have actually entered that colonial Roman city. In any case, the wedding feast, actual or apocryphal, undoubtedly occurred in more modest circumstance.

St. James, Goose Creek

Figure 7. Altarpiece capitals, St. James’ Church, Goose Creek, South Carolina (Loth)

St. James Altarpiece

Figure 8. Altarpiece, St. James’ Church, drawing by James S. Seel, (detail),
Plantations of the Carolina Low Country (1938)

Claiming a first or an earliest is always dangerous, but the altarpiece of St. James’ Goose Creek in South Carolina’s Low Country may well be colonial America’s oldest, if not first, fully developed use of the Composite order. The beautifully crafted capitals crown paired pilasters supporting a broken scrolled pediment, a composition framing the east window. (Figures 7 & 8) The tiny church was completed in 1719; its altarpiece, including the pilasters, is assumed original to that date. A description of 1727 noted the church as having columns [pilasters] painted in marble.[vii] Moreover, St. James’ is the only colonial church to retain its original carved royal arms in situ (of King George I), which here is set in the broken pediment.  We can only speculate on what pattern book may have been the reference for the order.  The altarpiece predates the English treatises of Gibbs, Ware, Chambers, or Langley.  In addition, the capitals do not match illustrations of the Composite order in the treatises of Palladio, Vignola, or Scamozzi.

Doorway detail

Figure 9. Westover doorway, Charles City County, Virginia (Loth)
Figure 10. Plate XXVI, William Salmon, Palladio Londinensis (2nd edition, 1738)

One of America’s most famous doorways highlights the river facade of Westover, the well-known colonial plantation house on Virginia’s James River. The stone composition, long kept painted, consists of Composite order pilasters supporting a broken ogee pediment and a full entablature with pulvinated frieze. The design is a replication of Plate XXVI in William Salmon’s Palladio Londinensis (London, 1734), described as a “Frontispiece and Door of the Composite Order.” (Figures 9 & 10) Historians have long held that Westover was built in the 1730s for William Byrd II. Dendrochronology, however, indicates a construction date in the 1750s. Since Byrd II died in 1744, the house’s first occupant would have been Byrd’s son, William Byrd III, and it would been he who acquired the doorway.  Most likely, the doorway was executed in England and shipped to Virginia for assembly. Less likely, it was carved on site by artisans brought over for the purpose. Either way, the doorway has inspired hundreds of imitations, but few using the Composite order.

Chambers Composite

Figure 11. Composite order, Sir William Chambers, Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture (3rd edition, 1791)

Somerset House

Figure 12. Somerset House, London (Loth)

The 18th-century English architectural treatises by James Gibbs, Isaac Ware, Sir William Chambers, and various others provided primary design sources for the five orders. Most of these writer/architects based their depictions of the orders on illustrations in the 16th-century treatises of Palladio, Vignola, and Scamozzi. Among these British works, perhaps the most elegantly illustrated is Chambers’ A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture, first published in 1759. (Figure 11) Though his depiction of the Composite order is only subtly different from others’ versions, he stated that it “is an invention of my own; in which I have attempted to avoid the faults, and unite the perfections of those [Palladio, Scamozzi, and Vignola] above mentioned.”[viii] Chambers applied a less enriched Composite order on the sprawling complex of London’s Somerset House (built 1776-96), his principal architectural work. Here he used a plain Ionic entablature, perhaps more fitting for a government office building, where his enriched entablature would be better suited for a palace or a church (Figure 12)

St. John Lateran

Figure 13. St. John Lateran, Rome (Loth)
Figure 14. Composite Capital, St. John Lateran (Loth)

What may be the largest example of the Composite order ever executed is found on the facade of Rome’s Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. Dating from the Early Christian era, the basilica was largely rebuilt in the late 1640s under the direction of Francesco Borromini. Its facade, however, was not commissioned until nearly a century later, in the reign of Pope Clement XII. The Florentine architect, Alessandro Galilei, won the design competition, which included twenty-three entries. Construction began in 1733, with completion in 1736. For a work of such enormous scale, Galilei elected to use the highest of the orders. (Figures 13 & 14)  Supporting the central pediment are paired engaged columns, topped by Composite capitals some eight feet high. The order is repeated for the pilasters framing the flanking bays. Galilei’s use of pilasters on high pedestals is reminiscent of Palladio’s Palazzo Valmarana, which also employs the Composite order with over-size pedestals. Even today, Galilei’s facade remains one of the world’s most imposing architectural statements.

UVA Rotunda dome room

Figure 15. Rotunda Dome Room, University of Virginia (from glass negative in Valentine-Richmond History Center)

Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia incorporated all five classical orders as a means for encouraging architectural literacy among the students, giving them actual models to observe. Jefferson used the Tuscan for the colonnades fronting the student rooms. The ten pavilions, housing the classrooms and faculty residences, displayed different versions of the Roman Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. However, Jefferson saved the Composite for the dome room of the Rotunda, the library structure modeled after the Pantheon. (Figure 15) Supporting the galleries of this impressive space was a colonnade of paired columns in the Composite order of Palladio. Tragically, the grand room was destroyed when the Rotunda burned in 1895. The space was reproduced with design modifications and various inaccuracies in 1976. Shown is a photograph of the dome room taken prior to the fire. Students rescued Alexander Galt’s statue of Jefferson from the burning building.

Asher Benjamin Composite

Figure 16. Plate XXI, Composite Order, Asher Benjamin, The Practice of Architecture (1836)

Boston Architect Asher Benjamin (1773-1845) is responsible for spreading the Greek Revival style throughout the land. His several pattern books illustrating the application of Greek orders and details to doorways, mantels, window frames, and other modern features, became standard references for architects and builders from coast to coast.  Most of Benjamin’s books contained images and narrative descriptions of the orders, both Roman and Greek, but with an unapologetic preference for the Greek. In his 1839 Practice of Architecture, Benjamin offered his own version of the otherwise strictly Roman Composite order, giving it a Grecian cast in the treatment of the volutes with their drapery-like swags in the canals. (Figure 16) His description of this novel order states: “Again, in each face of the upper part of the capital, the stiff awkward form of the Roman Ionic capital has given place to the graceful Grecian. The latter change cannot fail to be approved by all those who are judges of this art.”[ix] Benjamin’s order is beautiful indeed. Alas, I know of no instance of its use.

Mokhovaya Street Apartment House

Figure 17. Mokhovaya Street Apartment House, Moscow (Igor Palmin for Landmarks of Soviet Architecture, 1917-1991)….
Figure 18. Detail of Mokhovaya Street Apartment House (Igor Palmin for Landmarks of Soviet Architecture, 1917-1991)…

During the 1930s, the Soviet leadership determined that Russia needed an architecture that reflected the country’s greatness and history, something that Constructivism, the term for Russia’s version of the International Style, was unable to do. With the founding of the All-Russian Academy of Architecture in 1933, the classical style was established as the official image for the nation’s architectural enterprises. One of the first buildings to exhibit this new attitude was Ivan Zholtovsky’s 1934 apartment building on Mokhovaya Street, in the shadow of the Kremlin. With its giant half-round Composite columns and broken entablature, Zholtovsky’s apartment house design was directly inspired by Palladio’s Loggia del Capitaniato. (Figures 17 & 18) The elegant building signaled that Moscow’s citizens were entitled to the palatial architecture formerly reserved for aristocracy. Its huge, boldly crafted capitals are among the 20th-century’s rare examples of monumental versions of the order. Zholtovsky studied and traveled extensively in Italy. Prior to the Russian Revolution, he designed a Moscow mansion that is a close copy of Palladio’s Palazzo Thiene.

Monument Ave. Richmond.

Figure 19. Apartment house, Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia (Loth)

Contrasting with Zholtovsy’s grand edifice are the many American buildings of the first half of the 20th century employing stock capitals. Typical are Richmond Virginia’s numerous apartment houses fronted by porticoes with columns mass-produced by architectural supply companies. During the 1920s, a trend developed for people giving up their urban Victorian houses in favor of commodious, low-maintenance flats. These apartments were well-appointed with many modern conveniences. The porticoes gave them an aura of grand mansions and provided two or more levels of outdoor seating. Any of the five orders could be used; the Composite, though not common, was readily available. (Figure 19)

The overall rarity of the Composite order on 20th-century structures raises the question as to whether the Composite has a place on 21st-century works. So far, examples are very few, but the order is not extinct. British architect Quinlan Terry applied the Composite to Ferne Park, a country house complete in 2003. Duncan Stroik enriched the interior of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel at Thomas Aquinas College with Composite order pilasters.[x] Several architectural supply companies still offer canonically correct Composite capitals. It falls to the architect to determine the appropriateness of the order, and to decide what signal he/she wishes to make with its use. The Composite is the highest and most elaborate in the hierarchy of the orders, an order originally developed for grand imperial projects. Like a rich Christmas pudding, it is best to reserve it for special occasions.

[i] Leon Battista Alberti, The Ten Books of Architecture, (Dover Publications reprint of the 1755 Leoni edition), p. 141
See “The Scamozzi Ionic Capital,” posted in ICAA Website Classicist Blog, Classical Comments, Sept 1, 2011.
Alberti, op. cit. endnote 1, p. 145.
William Chamber, A Treatise on the Decorative Parts of Civil Architecture (Dover Publications reprint of the 1759 3rd edition), page 59.
Some scholars maintain that the Palazzo Thiene was designed by Guilio Romano and that Palladio was mainly in charge of its construction. However, in I Quattro Libri, Palladio offers no hint that the design is not his.
Andrea Palladio, The Four Book on Architecture, (Tavenor and Schofield translation, 2002), Book One, p. 44.
I am grateful to Louis Nelson of the University of Virginia for giving me this reference.
Chambers, op. cit., endnote 4, p. 57.
Asher Benjamin, The Practice of Architecture, p. 64.
I am grateful to Scott Douglass, Jeffrey Davis, and Erik Bootsma for bringing these 21st-century examples to my attention.

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Along with Rome and Washington, D.C., Paris is one of the few remaining mid-rise world capitals. Offering glorious walks along the quais beside the Seine, with the Cathedral of Notre Dame ahead and the low Paris horizon beyond, Paris is also the world’s most-visited city, with some 28 million visitors a year.

With the blessing of the Mayor and the Paris City Council, however, developers are poised to attack Paris from within. In July of 2008, the City Council decreed that six skyscraper projects of up to 50 stories should be built at the city’s gates. Now is the time for world opinion, Parisians themselves, UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, to raise an outcry so loud that it stays the backhoes.

The same corrupting brew of avarice, political ambition, and architectural theory that menaces the skylines of other cities today also threatens the beauty and livability of the City of Light. As elsewhere, politicians and developers in Paris argue against height limits by holding up the plight of poorly housed low-income families. That argument, however, turns out to be a smokescreen.

Paris has had height limits for hundreds of years. When new zoning laws relaxed those limits in the 1960s, the grotesque results provoked such outrage that Parisians re-imposed limits in 1977. The Tour Montparnasse, at 51 stories, built in 1973, and visible like a giant thorn from everywhere in Paris, is universally hated. After 1977, heights in the central city could go only to 31 meters (roughly102 feet or 10 stories), and on the periphery to 37 meters (roughly 121 feet, or about 12 stories). That law saved the Paris skyline for more than 30 years.

In 2008, however, having sufficiently bested the anti-tower Green Party at the polls, the Socialist City Council lost no time in authorizing tower projects. It set a new limit for lodgings on the periphery of 50 meters (about 164 feet or 15 to 16 stories), while new office towers could reach 200 meters (50 stories). Au revoir to the traditional low horizon of Paris.

Project Triangle

Projet Triangle. Image courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron.

Mayor Delanoë argued that building towers would help young families with children afford to live in Paris and, but only secondarily, that it would provide office space for corporations. Talk about sentimental appeal! France does indeed have a housing crisis. Government agencies say that ten per cent of the population of 65 million is either without shelter or badly housed. In 2009, an advocacy group staged a brilliantly telegenic sleep-in, with orange tents sheltering homeless people along the Canal St. Martin in eastern Paris glowing brightly in every French living room on the 8pm News. Entire families now live in tiny rooms under the eaves of Paris buildings or crowded into firetrap tenements. Many middle-class families can’t afford Paris rents. The Mayor’s stated goal is 70,000 new units a year. No one can resist the appeal of providing housing for young families with children.

In fact, however, of the three tower projects the City Council of Paris has approved so far, not one provides housing in a 50-story tower for young families. The first skyscraper, an in-your-face glass pyramid designed by Pritzker Prize-winners Herzog & de Meuron, will rise above the low exhibition halls at the Porte de Versailles in the 15th arrondissement, towering over the six-and eight-story buildings of Paris, smack in the line of sight of the Eiffel Tower. Vociferous opposition has come from an organization of local associations called the Collectif contre La Tour Triangle. Whether the Tour Triangle will provide a public benefit has been the subject of an official inquiry. Its financing has been attacked by Le Canard Enchainé, a newspaper. After first being slated for offices, however, this tower is to be a hotel, not housing.

Paris courthouse

Paris courthouse. Image courtesy of Renzo Piano.

The second and third developments will go up on the last large tracts of undeveloped land in Paris, remnants of its nineteenth-century growth in industrial power. Out at Clichy-Batignolles in the 17th arrondissement, the government is building apartments and offices on the vast railyards that back up the Gare Saint Lazare. According to plans, at the far western end, next to the ring road, the Périphérique, will stand Renzo Piano’s four-layered skyscraper, visible from central Paris. It will house courts of law for the national government inside glass walls. But no young families. Some of the lawyers who would have to relocate from the Palais de Justice on the Île de la Cité have in fact brought suit protesting transfer into what they allege is an extravagantly expensive new building on the edge of Paris, when, as they say, the budget for the judiciary is already overstretched and more convenient and less expensive alternatives exist. Apartment buildings in the Clichy-Batignolles development reach 14 stories, as now permitted, higher than in Haussmannian Paris, nor are they on the boxy Haussmannian model, tightly lined up along the streets, but they are instead irregularly shaped structures with spaces between them. The overall plan is reminiscent of a suburban corporate campus.


“Duo.” Image courtesy of Jean Nouvel.

The third location is in the 13th arrondissement on the opposite side of Paris, a formerly industrial area now dubbed Paris Rive Gauche that includes the new Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It is being cut into chilly post-Bauhaus neighborhoods. No family takes a Sunday afternoon stroll along its frigid main drag, the concrete, glass, and steel-bordered Avenue de France. The architect Jean Nouvel has just unveiled the design of his “Duo,” two 50-story towers to be built speculatively there, to hold offices and perhaps a hotel. And as in the 17th, apartment buildings in the 13th will not only violate the traditional height limits of Paris, they will be separated from each other, rather than being built in the tightly-knit Haussmannian pattern that supports the boutiques, cafés, and street life that help make Paris unique.

Lawsuits are either ongoing or threatened, and all three projects have elicited protests. In addition, the architectural preservationist organization SOS Paris has appealed to UNESCO to consider expelling Paris from its World Heritage list if plans for towers go forward. The towers will be visible from the center of Paris, spoiling the background for the UNESCO-protected World Heritage site along the Banks of the Seine. SOS Paris has also appealed to the World Monuments Fund to add the skyline of Paris to its biennial Watch List of endangered cultural heritage.

Why is the City of Paris not planning housing in these 50-story towers for young families? Because no government with its eye on expenses is going to build high-rise towers for middle- and lower-income housing. High-rise housing may work in luxury purlieus where tenants can afford penthouses, but in no way is it economical. The cost of building rises sharply above the sixth floor and it jumps again above 20 stories. Taller structures need heavy lateral support and expensive fire protection. And in any high-rise, larger proportions of the floor space must be given over to stairways and elevators, not income-producing apartments.

In addition, high-rise housing of the style planners in Paris now demand, i.e., “towers-in-the-park,” yields less density than the old Haussmannian way of building compact six and eight-story blocks. In fact, traditional Paris is already one of the densest cities in the world, more than four times denser than London, denser even than Mumbai. Paris could squeeze in just as many young families or more if it sustained, revived, and advanced its own traditions and used the building patterns that have worked so well there for more than a hundred years. As Deputy Mayor Denis Baupin, a member of the Green Party, says of the towers planned for Paris, “A district with towers is less dense than a Haussmannian district, because each tower has to have space around it.”

Again, why then, is the government insisting on building 50-story towers? The Mayor and City Council believe that office towers will attract high tax receipts and rental income from the corporate executives who will have spectacular views of Paris from those 50th-floor offices. First Deputy Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that Paris must join the corporate leagues of Singapore, New York, and London. She and the Mayor think towers are how to get there. Developers argue that without towers Paris will become a “museum” city, like Venice. They may all think it doesn’t matter if Paris looks like every other city in the world.

But the economic argument alone does not explain this epic collision of urban planning theories, taking place behind a smokescreen of talk about young families and “density.” To throw over the unparalleled success of Haussmannian Paris requires a cataclysmic conversion. If corporate headquarters buildings can be added inside or outside Paris, in La Défense or other suburbs, and can keep Paris competitive with other capitals, why build office towers inside Paris at all? And why build apartment buildings separated from each other, instead of using the traditional Parisian model and simply extending the dense, low, closely-knit, enormously successful, traditional fabric of the city?

Here is where prevailing modernist dogma comes in. It says that each new historical era must exhibit a style peculiar to its own period, “of its time.” Most of us think of each place, especially each great city, as unique, in possession of its own character. But according to the modernist dogma, time is more important than place. The period when an architectural style is first used is the time with which it must be identified. Accordingly, the designers and apologists of new developments in Paris strenuously announce their refusal to follow the successful model of the Haussmannian blocks of Paris that they see around them. To do so would be what they call false history and “pastiche.” The style of our twenty-first century era is towers, they say, so towers is what Paris must get.

Polls show that the majority of 21st century Parisians do not want towers. The Mayor says he knows about the polls, but he must “do what is right.”

Thus, an unholy alliance of developers and politicians hides behind pious talk about young families. Opportunism masquerades as courage. And current architectural theories justify developers in piercing the serene skyline of Paris and cursing that unique European city with buildings suited to Hong Kong.

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Lutyens Resumed, Lorimer Revealed


May 17 – 25, 2012

Arranged by Classical Excursions

Group Travelers at Grey Walls

Group Travelers at Grey Walls, Lutyens

Monzie Castle

Monzie Castle, Lorimer

Lindisfarne Castle, Lutyens

Lindisfarne Castle, Lutyens

By Thomas Hayes, Director of Classical Excursions

Paul Waite, our remarkable tour leader and trustee of The Lutyens Trust, and Thomas Hayes, director of Classical Excursions, introduced participants to country houses in Northern England and Scotland designed by icon Sir Edwin Lutyens as well as Sir Robert Lorimer, known as “the Lutyens of Scotland.” The work of the latter architect was a revelation in that not only did he design original work (Hill of Tarvit) but also restored and updated the interiors of Scottish Baronial castles with Arts and Crafts as well as classical interiors (Kellie Castle, Ardkinglas Estate, Earlshall Castle, and Monzie Castle).

Hill at Tarvit, Lorimer

Hill at Tarvit, Lorimer

Kellie Castle

Kellie Castle, Lorimer

Ardkinglas Estate, Lorimer

Ardkinglas Estate, Lorimer

Earlshall Castle, Lorimer

Earlshall Castle, Lorimer

The varied itinerary included fine examples of Lutyens houses such as Overstrand Hall (walls of rough, unsquared flints marked by bands of roofing tiles, window mullions of red brick), The Pleasaunce (two existing houses are masked by unique angled bay windows two or three stories tall), Gledstone Hall (there are similarities to Lutyens’ Viceroy House at New Delhi; the present owner is a painter), Heathcote (high quality design while making it sufficiently akin to neighboring buildings), Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island (a restored 16th century fort visited between tides of the North Sea), Whalton Manor (an ingenious melding of an odd assortment of residences and a huge favorite), and Grey Walls (exterior walls of rich cream rubble and roofs of grey Dutch pantiles used also for the window lintels; clever siting of the house).

Overstrand Hall, Lutyens

Overstrand Hall, Lutyens

Overstrand Hall, Lutyens

Overstrand Hall, Lutyens

The Pleasaunce, Lutyens

The Pleasaunce, Lutyens

Gledstone Hall, Lutyens

Gledstone Hall, Lutyens

Gledstone Hall, Lutyens

Gledstone Hall, Lutyens

Gledstone Hall, Lutyens

Gledstone Hall, Lutyens

Heathcote, Lutyens

Heathcote, Lutyens

Whalton Manor, Lutyens

Whalton Manor, Lutyens

Whalton Manor Drawing Room by John Fowler

Whalton Manor Drawing Room by John Fowler

Group Travelers at Whalton Manor

Group Travelers at Whalton Manor

Grey Walls, Lutyens

Grey Walls, Lutyens

Grey Walls, Lutyens

Grey Walls, Lutyens

Grey Walls, Lutyens

Grey Walls, Lutyens

Paul and Tom broadened the scope of the itinerary to include Sion Hill by Walter Brierly, a contemporary exponent of the Wrenaissance style so close to Lutyen’s heart, and Dalmeny House, an 1817 Tudor Revival house by William Wilkins where guests were afforded a peek at its 18th century French furniture once belonging to the Rothschild family, and scores of museum-quality paintings.

Sion Hill

Sion Hill, Brierly

Dalmeny House, Wilkins

Dalmeny House, Wilkins

Edith Bingham and Al Shand at Caledonian Hotel

Edith Bingham and Al Shand at Caledonian Hotel

One should not travel to Scotland without seeing the work of the celebrated Adam clan. William Adam (1689-1748) was considered the foremost architect of his time in Scotland and was father to three architects – John, Robert and James, the last two of whom were the developers of the “Adam style“. Our tour included two homes by William – Dumfries House, a magnificent 1750s house and favored preservation project of the Prince of Wales, and Chatelheraut, an exquisite rococo hunting lodge on the grounds of the razed Hamilton Palace, as well as son Robert’s Gosford House, featuring vast Palladian windows and an equally vast Piranesian entrance hall later added in the 1890s.

Chatelheraut, William Adam

Chatelheraut, William Adam

Chatelheraut, William Adam

Chatelheraut, William Adam

Chatelheraut, William Adam

Chatelheraut, William Adam

Gosford House

Gosford House, Robert Adam

The beautiful photographs shown here were taken by ICAA member and friend, James Carter, an architect based in Birmingham, AL.

Posted by Kelly Cordova on | 2 Comments


Calder Loth

Calder Loth

by Calder Loth
Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s Advisory Council.


Digges House

Figure 1. Dudley Digges house, Yorktown, Virginia (Loth)

What could be more American looking than the ca. 1755 Dudley Digges house in Yorktown? (Figure 1) With its dormer windows, weatherboarding, symmetrical facade, and picket fence, it is the very image of the ideal American home, modest, cheerful, and polite. The Digges house was built by Englishmen for an Englishman, yet if we visit England we see almost no houses that look like it. Why?  To answer that, we need to look at English housing of a couple of centuries earlier.  A typical fine manor house is Agecroft Hall, begun in the late 15th century near Manchester.[1] The courtyard presents us with a remarkable display of fine joinery. (Figure 2) Though impressive, we need to remember that during the Tudor period England was running short of timber. The great forests were being over-harvested.  A house such as Agecroft Hall thus was an example of conspicuous consumption. Only a wealthy person could afford such a blatant display of timber, one with an abundance of complicated decorative joints.  Lesser folk had to content themselves with timber of inferior quality.  We see this in the simple Tudor-period houses in the village of Titchfield (Figure 3). Their poorer quality timbers have warped over the years, giving the houses the picturesque wonky appearance that we find so endearing today.

Agecroft Hall

Figure 2. Agecroft Hall, Richmond, Virginia; originally built near Manchester, England (Loth)

Tudor houses

Figure 3. Tudor vernacular houses, Titchfield, England (Loth)

These English timber-frame houses had exposed framing systems with the voids filled with nogging (an infill of various materials usually covered with plaster). When the timbers warped or shrank, they created cracks in the nogging, thus exposing interiors to the weather.  This became a common problem after a couple of centuries, so by the 18th century, many of these houses had their walls covered with ceramic tiles for insulation, a practice called tile hanging. Tile hanging became ubiquitous throughout England. Often these tiles were applied in decorative patterns, using tiles with differing shaped ends. (Figure 4) Interestingly, these vernacular structures attracted the interest of American architects and builders in the late 19th century.  However, instead of employing ceramic tiles as sheathing on frame houses, builders resorted to the much cheaper and easily worked wood shingles.  Illustrated here is a typical example of an American late-Victorian house with wood shingles referencing tile hanging. (Figure 5) The house also has Tudor-style exposed framing in the gable.  But the front porch tells us that this is obviously an American house, not an English one.  The lavish use of wood shingles in this period led to the development of a distinctly American architectural style—the Shingle Style—where shingling covered most of a dwelling’s surfaces.

Tudor vernacular

Figure 4. Tudor vernacular house, Hampshire, England (Loth)

1890 house

Figure 5. ca. 1890 house, Lynchburg, Virginia (Loth)

But we have gotten ahead of the story.  When colonists first arrived on these shores, they found a land with no buildings as we know them, but an endless supply of timber.  We might think that with all that timber the first settlers would build dwellings elaborately displaying this bounty of fine wood.  But, because the colonists needed to put up basic shelter as quickly as possible, the first housing in English America consisted of crude, hardly permanent, earth-fast structures, none of which has survived. Nevertheless, during the middle of the 17th century, the settlers in the Chesapeake region developed a simple but efficient framing system consisting of timber members or scantling of more or less the same proportions so that they could be used interchangeably. To enable these structures to be erected quickly, the joints were kept as simple as possible. As a protection from the extremes of the region’s weather, the frame was sheathed with wooden clapboards. Clapboards are short boards of hardwood, normally oak, that were split or riven, rather than sawn.  We have an image of a dwelling of this period with the conjectural model of a Chesapeake plantation house based on archaeological evidence discovered at Stratford Hall. (Figure 6) Its framing has none of the elaborate joints one would find in an English Tudor or Jacobean manor house.  Clapboards cover both its walls and roof. A more conspicuous example of a clapboard house is the reconstructed structure at the Anderson Forge in Colonial Williamsburg—its walls and roof are covered with unpainted clapboards, not pretty, but functional. (Figure 7) Dwellings that looked like this were once a dominant part of the Chesapeake region’s cultural landscape, yet nearly all have vanished.

Cliffs Plantation model

Figure 6. Cliffs Plantation model (Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc.)

Anderson Forge

Figure 7. Anderson Forge, Williamsburg, Virginia (Loth)

By the beginning of the 18th century, the sheathing for more refined Chesapeake-region dwellings tended to be weatherboards. In contrast to clapboards, weatherboards are of soft woods: yellow pine and sometimes poplar, and are sawn rather than riven.  Cypress was the preferred wood in South Carolina. The stands of tall virgin trees made these long boards, free of knots, possible. Weatherboards are tapered in section and normally about eight inches wide and ten to twenty feet in length. Better quality weatherboards have a smooth planed surface. A timber frame house sheathed in weatherboards was frequently preferred over a brick dwelling since it tended to be less damp. Clifton, a 1760s wooden plantation house, is representative of the high-style colonial-era dwellings in Virginia. (Figure 8) The house preserves its original weatherboards. Properly maintained, this siding will last indefinitely. Regrettably, because such frame houses were susceptible to fire, we tend have more brick houses of this quality surviving today than wooden ones.


Figure 8. Clifton, Cumberland County, Virginia (Loth)

As we see in the close-up of a demonstration building in Colonial Williamsburg, the weatherboards were often finished with a bead along their bottom edge. (Figure 9) The beading added visual refinement and helped prevent splintering at this vulnerable point. In this example, we can see the nail heads following where the weatherboards were nailed to the studs. Thusly attached, the weatherboards had an overlap of about one and half inches and an exposure of about six inches. The weatherboards are stopped by beaded corner boards, a standard treatment for weatherboarded walls. In some houses, particularly in southern Virginia, the weatherboards have molded edges; i.e. the bottom edge is planed with a quarter-round molding rather than a more fully rounded bead. (Figure 10) The bead or molding was usually continued along the lower edge of the sill, where the weatherboard met the sill. Occasionally, weatherboards were finished with a cyma molding, but such examples are rare. (Figure 11) Being of softwoods, weatherboards were always either painted or whitewashed as a preservative.

Demonstration Frame Structure

Figure 9. Demonstration Frame Structure, Williamsburg, Virginia (Loth)


Figure 10. Montrose, ca. 1820, Dinwiddie County, Virginia (Loth)


Figure 11. Montpelier, ca. 1760, Surry County, Virginia (Loth)

Because of England’s scarcity of quantities of timber, structures sheathed in weatherboards are extremely rare in the Mother Country. The use of board siding was limited primarily to small outbuildings and some farm structures.  Nevertheless, weatherboard siding was an established  tradition in pockets of southeast England. We see an example of early beaded weatherboarding on a post-Medieval structure at Felstead School in Essex. (Figure 12) [We might note that it was in this building that the Virginia planter, William Byrd II of Westover, attend school as a lad.] We also find weatherboarded vernacular houses in the picturesque town of Rye in Sussex. (Figure 13) Other examples can be seen in areas of Kent. Weatherboards on English farm buildings were often tarred, but were usually painted on dwellings.

Felstead School

Figure 12. Felstead School, Essex, England (Loth)

Weatherboarded houses

Figure 13. Weatherboarded houses, Rye, Sussex, England (Loth)

While weatherboards became the preferred sheathing in the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies, clapboarding persisted as the primary covering for the northern colonies, especially New England. Salem’s Witch House (also the Jonathan Corwin House), although heavily restored to its 17th-century appearance, offers us an image of an early clapboarded house. (Figure 14) Because the clapboards were of hardwood, they frequently were unpainted and left to weather.  The largely renewed clapboarding on the 1730s Hartwell Tavern in Concord, illustrates the somewhat coarse character of clapboards. (Figure 15) More often than not, clapboard structures, like the Hartwell Tavern, did not have corner boards; the clapboards were butted at the corners. The detail of the siding on an 18th-century dwelling in Salem, (Figure 16) shows the typical dimensions of clapboarding. Clapboards were anywhere from forty to forty-eight inches in length with a vertical exposure from three and a quarter to four and a quarter inches. The individual boards were shaved at their ends to form a lap joint. Most New England houses had a layer of horizontal sheathing boards beneath the clapboards to provide insulation.  Sheathing boards  were rarely used in the southern colonies, although the spaces between the studs and braces frequently were filled with brick nogging, which served primarily for rat proofing.

Witch house

Figure 14. Witch House, Salem, Massachusetts (Loth)

Hartwell Tavern

Figure 15. Hartwell Tavern, Concord, Massachusetts (Loth)

Late 18th-century house

Figure 16. Late 18th-century house, Salem, Massachusetts (Loth)

The use of weatherboards and clapboards continued well into the nineteenth century, although architectural writers such as Andrew Jackson Downing promoted  vertical board-and-batten siding, particularly for Gothic Revival houses.  Weatherboards and clapboards enjoyed resurgence in the twentieth century  as part of the Colonial Revival movement. Colonial Revival  New England area used clapboards or materials simulating clapboards, and the southern states preferred weatherboards or their imitations. (Figure 17)

Colonial Revival house

Figure 17. 1950s Colonial Revival house, Richmond, Virginia (Loth)

Alas, many of our dwellings, old and new, suffer the indignity of aluminum versions of weatherboards and clapboards, but that is a depressing phenomenon which we will not dignify with discussion here.

[1] Agecroft Hall was threatened with demolition in 1925 but was purchased American businessman, Thomas C. Williams, Jr., who had it dismantled and re-erected in part in Richmond, Virginia, where it now serves as a museum.

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