Building substance as well as style
Bubbling away beneath the surface of all debates on contemporary architecture are questions about style: what it means and whether it matters. To many people, architecture and style are, effectively, inseparable.
There are, for example, advocates of Classicism, who assert that its forms and proportions are the necessary basis for all good design. Others, no less obstinately, assert that the Contemporary—however you choose to define it—is the only idiom appropriate for the modern architect.
in reaction, others still have attempted to reject any stylistic allegiance; to them, style is, at best, a mere question of finish and, at worst, a distraction from more important questions about what makes good architecture.
Whatever your perspective, style is impossible to ignore. This is partly true because, in one sense, it’s impossible to escape: to state the obvious, contemporary architecture—for all its variety—is also a product of its time. Consequently, the informed eyes of the future will easily be able to identify and characterise it. in this regard, some themes and qualities of the architecture in the past decade readily suggest themselves.
There is, for example, a delight in natural, weathered finishes as well as a desire to express in architecture the distinctive character of a building’s setting. This can be done by the use of local materials or by imitating the detailing of nearby historic buildings. in both cases—respectively by dint of craftsmanship or design—these buildings, therefore, consciously draw on tradition.
However, style remains hugely important in a more conventional sense, too, and public discussion about architecture is still usually framed with reference to it. When describing buildings, for example, people quickly end up invoking such familiar labels such as Arts-and-crafts, Postmodern or Palladian, both as a means of contextualising designs and explaining aesthetic choices, so how you define these terms matters.
Just how many styles of this kind are represented as living traditions in 21stcentury british architecture is proven by the diversity of the new country houses presented in this issue (page 66). indeed, remarkably, perhaps the only familiar style not represented here is the gothic.
Country Life could take sides and promote one style in preference to others. in reality, however, we are delighted to see so many very different approaches to 21stcentury country houses developed with such striking success. if only more contemporary office architecture and mass house-building projects reflected such variety and invention.
‘To many, architecture and style are, effectively, inseparable
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