What Killed Classical Design and Brought It Back to Life
New York Public Library
For over five centuries, from the Italian Renaissance to 1914, classical style dominated both interior design and architecture only to be succeeded by Modernism. What happened? How could a style who’s roots date back two thousand years to the Greek Republic and the Roman Empire, all of a sudden go out of style. Was modernism so much a better style than classical, or did some cataclysmic events make classical simply unaffordable.
Four such events may have changed the course of architecture and interior design forever by rendering classical design too expensive. Leaving Modernism to become the accepted style, of a budget conscious new era, by default.
The first of these cataclysmic events was the Great War. From 1914 to 1918, Europe erupted into warfare. The casualty toll was horrific, 15 million dead, another 20 million wounded. Trench warfare, machine guns, poison gas, and artillery that could fire shells 15 miles, were the weapons of mass destruction. The soldiers who charged out of their trenches into the face of machine fun fire were the painters, carpenters, stone carvers and ornament makers who’s talents in peace time created the great classical masterpieces of Europe. The average soldier was a craftsman, skilled and talented in the classical arts. When left for dead, in no-mans land between the trenches, their skills died with them.
If the Great War wasn’t bad enough, it was closely followed by the worst pandemic virus outbreak in history, the Spanish Flu. It erupted in June of 1918 and raged through December 1920 leaving between 50 million to 100 million dead. It is estimated that 27% of the world’s population fell ill and between 3% and 6% died. The Spanish Flu was so vicious that victims could have been perfectly healthy at breakfast and then be dead by dinner.
Partly as a result of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and partly from the Great War, four European Monarchies ceased to exist. Kaiser William II of Germany, Archduke Charles I of Austria and the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire were all toppled due to their defeat in 1918. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was toppled by the Communist inspired Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The following year the Tsar and his entire family were condemned to death by the Ural Soviet Workers committee. The collapse of so many royal families and the weakening of many others was a huge blow to classical architecture and interior design. Marxists believe in a classless society, obviously not interested in classical design.
The final death blow to classical architecture and interior design was the great depression. The stock market panic in 1929 and the ten year depression that followed effected classical design in two ways. First, the rich clients who favored classical design lost much of their wealth. Second, the classical artisans who survived the Great War struggled with bankruptcy. In short the buyer’s couldn’t buy and the artisans couldn’t pay their bills.
All these events brought about the death of classical design. The modernist styles that succeeded classical was not due to it’s superiority. In fact modern styles were inferior to classical but were never the less affordable and could be executed with less labor and building materials.
There are many other reasons why modern styles prevail today in architecture and design which are outside the scope of this article, but we are interested in the trend toward classical design.
In Daniel Pink’s New York Times Bestseller A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future he establishes a provocative viewpoint that the era of left brain dominance and the information age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which right brain qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning, design and artistry predominate. He uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding our times. Artistry gives people something they are missing from the mass produced products on the market today.
In the last 90 years we have seen all types of modern designs come and go. The so called modern designs of the 1950’s look old and totally out of date today. In the next two decades today’s greatest modern designs will also look out of date. In part this is because modern designs have no structure, order, rules or balance, unlike Classical design has. Prince Charles of the United Kingdom summed it all up when he said “modern architects have done more harm to the London than the Luftwaffe did during the blitz”.
Classical Design will never be out of style. Technological advances make it possible for more people to afford ornament and embellishment cast out of resin which is excellent for detail. Acrylic paints and finishes make unique finishes possible such as metallics and plasters. Products which make all over patterns possible on ceilings and floors such as adhesive backed stencils by Modello Designs and digitizing images for fabrics, walls and floor applications. The company Architexture product Tattoowall™ is a patented and certified new technique created for the production of direct and lasting transfers of digital images of elaborate decorations on computer for any surface of any size. It is not the application of a film or paper, but the direct transfer of color onto a desired surface. An “affresco effect” is derived that does not require any preliminary wall treatment in order to fix the color. Invented to create murals, Tattoowall™ has been used on a variety of surfaces such as, building plaster, untreated cement and bricks, without size limitations.
The versatility of the technique allows for the decoration of highly irregular surfaces with textures of up to 0.2 inches. Tattoowall™ can also be adapted to suit architectural variations in planes such as domes or corners.
It is an exciting time for Classical Design particularly when combined with the best of what we have today. Not an either or, but inclusive.
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