Modern Ornamentation in Architecture
Barely a few years have passed since the trumpet sounded the rebirth of decorative arts in England. and by today. the whole world echoes with it and the most distinguished artists of our age stand at the gates, waiting to lead their new ideas to victory. Since the glorious times of the Renaissance, there has not been such an intensive movement in the sphere of the fine arts. New schools are taking form in painting and sculpture. each bringing with it new ideas: newer and newer problems are solved. and the time is not long now until the particular art of today’s epoch will crystallize from the now seething elements.
One thing is certain already today: that the decorative art of the future will rightly claim first place. It could not even be any other way in our century of practical tendency, which explores the aim of every object, which is not content with art being only in and of itself. but calls for it to adjust and conform to our everyday life. How should we engage with all those objects that perpetually surround us. that we constantly see?
They emanate with their radiance the shelter of even the most modest person: should everyone understand and love that so much that it is a necessity of life, just as it was in ancient Greece and in the Florence of the Renaissance’? Insipid picture-frames and boring statues will no longer he the aristocrats o1 art: rather. they too will have to adapt to genuine beauty in their frames. which only the collective and equal collaboration of all the arts in their entirety can create.
The building in Izabella utca
And truly. the new art indeed strives to be realized according to these principles. and with just what magnificent results is demonstrated by the institutions of “Art Nouveau-. the Parisian salons and the English “Arts and Crafts- expositions, in which. by means of the collective function of all of the arts. the most astonishing artistic compositions come to light. It is surprising that until today. architecture has not – or if it has, then only in negligible measure taken part in this noble contest of the arts, whereas it would be suited for a leading role, as it produces the frame in which all the other arts can prevail. The architects of the current century have tried the entire range of historical styles: from Antiquity to the Renaissance. from the Baroque until the Empire. or even to simply copy existing buildings. or perhaps. strictly complying with the spirit of the respective styles, they attempted to find certain modified forms, which if not really new – at least made an effort for a touch of originality.
the villa in Andrassy ut
On what basis can a new architectural style develop’? On this point. there are two types of possible solutions, and these are either on a constructive or decorative basis. The consistent accomplishment of the architrave system provides the character of antique styles, while the mediaeval is furnished by the vaulted structure. Beyond these two. there is no other constructive system until the present day. The highest merit of the Renaissance era is precisely that the new architectural forms were sought and found not on a constructive. but rather on a decorative basis. The wealthy noblemen and bourgeois wanted decorative palaces. whose exterior already revealed the distinction of their owners, and whose facade, beginning with its dimensions, was not as simply manageable as before.
the building in Bajczy Zsilinsky utca
From here, Renaissance architecture lay the emphasis on the decoration of the mall: it employed the columns, cornices. console’s and other forms of the styles of antiquity, as a means of articulating the walls – and framing the apertures. Me architects of the Renaissance studied and accordingly styled the creations of nature, adapting them to their ornamentation, with the focal point of their function in the invention of new decorative forms. We see the same aspiration in the later styles as well: it is just that the trace of the transformed zeitgeist is always alternating upon the artworks. The public who fancies the heavy pomp of the Baroque epoch overloads and over-decorates the divisions. working with caryatids, opulent ornaments and cartouche: the Rococo era of recklessness and longing for pleasure. propels every sort of possible and impossible configuration. twisting the contours into spirals and branching the walls with light, masterfully composed ornamentation.
the building in Ulloi ut
Finally, the styles of Late Baroque’ and Empire transform from extravagance into simpler and more classic forms. But all of these diverse styles rest upon one basis- the basis of decorative moulding, and thus. their differences can be only decorative differences.
And where do we stand on this view in the present day? The basis today is exactly the same, because today there is still no new structural system, and hence, today’s further development can be conceived only on a decorative basis. And the mass use of the new constructive material, iron, did not change anything. because iron also does not create a new structural condition: iron structures are also only architrave systems, and thus, this material also engages with the architecture of the future only in terms of decorative moulding. The architecture of the coming century, therefore, must be invested in a decorative basis. in one or another conception of new decoration, Which consistently developed, carries in itself the pronounced stamp of the spirit of the modern era.
the building in Karoly korut
Which then are the outstanding phenomena of our century, which will inevitably leave their mark on our art? What will ascertain the requisites of modern are there? And what will distinguish this from old art? The great revolutions dissolved differences in rank. Every man has his individual freedom. This condition influences art in two different ways. As people became socially more equal. the more their ambition became that of living in more equal conditions. which inevitably led to the more uniform distribution of wealth. and following resolution of burning socialist questions. will lead in that direction in increasing measure.
But the greater the number of parts into which public property is divided, the smaller the individual portion. and the greater the need will be for the reduction of the demands of the individual, even more so. as these demands will ultimately be universalized. Everyone would like to participate in everything good, and thus. art also will no longer be a privilege of those certain favored few. but will be the right of everyone: art must be rendered democratic, accessible to all. And this can be achieved only if it will be simple.
Simplicity, thus, is the first requirement of the art of the future.
The accomplishment of human rights influences art in another way, as well. In every man there is the aspiration a priori to perpetually perfect himself and his environs, and if the external conditions are favorable and facilitate this type of ambition. his character may develop in enormous measure. And which era could be more suitable for this aim than the age of individual freedom, in which everyone enjoys equal rights and in which everyone must stand on his own two feet. if he does not want to be ruined in life’s hitter battle. In such situations, it is only with distinguished individuality that anything can be created by anyone: to a much greater extent, this individuality is required by the artist, in which case this someone aims to create not only something, but something great.
The second factor exerting an influence to the greatest extent on the definition of the character o1 our century is the Herculean progress of the natural sciences.
The liberated human factor undertook with Titan power the discovery of the secrets of nature and the knowledge of the natural forces “This ambition had a paralyzing impact on art as this mammoth devotion of energies absorbed humanity to such an extent. that there was barely a moment to think about art. Only when the primary work was completed and the continual progress of the natural sciences and their attained results were consequently assured could They once again begin to think that the human spirit could riot be deprived of beauty – without art, what was life worth? – and with renewed strength gathered during their long rest, they set about their work on beauty and culture. But in this ambition, the great progress attained through the natural sciences could not remain without influence. Man, who had become acquainted with a substantial part of the great, eternal beauty and profound secrets of nature, in his aim of regenerating art, turned first and foremost to nature and began to copy its beauty to serve this goal. Thus originated naturalism. But naturalism can never he the ultimate aim of art, because man wishes to express in a work of art his own world of thought and reason. and aspires for the work of his own mind and heart to also be visible. “Es ist ja eben darum Kunst. well es keine Natur ist”. as Goethe put it.
Only the configurations of nature as they have occurred through human individuality and the appropriate adaptation of the laws of beauty can hold a claim as the mark of an artist.
But if naturalism is already discussed and settled. and the competent representatives of art have long ago returned to the appropriate path, the enormous influence exercised by naturalism upon modern art is undeniable. which truly deduced and made its own all those attributes that have developed art to its advantage. Under the effect of naturalism. the techniques of painting and sculpture were transformed. Here plein-air painting. aerial perspective and the depiction of moving objects were learned. there, the decorative reproduction of pulsating life. The more ex-motifs for the decorative artist. who then expanded his range with the material to be adapted; an entirely new breed of stylization was established, in which the decorative artist sought his task not in the breaking down of natural forms to the limits. but rather in reflecting these forms in their own naturalness and in achieving a decorative effect only through their arrangement. By this means. they transformed the treatment of surfaces and created there the marvelous patterns of textiles, tapestries and frescoes, which we so admire in English, and more recently French, artworks. “The artist was finally taught the recognition of the beauty of the raw material and the employment of beautiful material in conformity with nature. And I cannot recommend heartily enough to the decorative artist the knowledge of material that flows from naturalism, because it is from this that the most significant knowledge in modern art springs: tectonic processing of material. We know that every material is beautiful only in its own naturalness and in the processing that calls for a natural structure. We also know that beautiful material produces an effect without any sort of decoration whatsoever, and thus we must cease the adulteration of material, which until now has lived as a bane incarnate on the body of the decorative arts. Let us delude neither ourselves nor the world, when we produce stone or wood from brick and plaster. hard wood from soft, or marble from oil paint: let us rather remain – if we cannot afford more noble with simpler materials and endeavor to find their most appropriate artistic forms. It is in this latter circumstance that I see the principal reason for architecture not following the example of the other arts until now. tor not vet treading the path of modernization: it cannot vet find the decoration suited to its aims, and it cannot adapt modern decoration to material. Where the architect has the opportunity to work in stone, it goes more smoothly, as there, it is only the decoration that has to be suitably transformed in the modern spirit and the apparatus explified. The most powerful device of architectural
cornices. not incongruous with the tectonics of the stone. maintainable. But what should the architect who is compelled to work with plaster and mortar do? And today it is these materials that are available tor the most part. Well then, let us seek decorative solutions appropriate for this material. arid keep in mind that there is no material that is so bad that a genuine artist would not be able to pour his soul into. We must be aware that it we would like to resolve a plastered facade tectonically. we have to break with almost every basic form of architecture. Considered from a tectonic perspective, projecting cornices, tympani. columns. rustication – they all become impossible, if they are not produced train stone. And what remains, then. with which we can achieve an impact? There is enough that remains. The rhythmic partition and connection of apertures remains, as does the division of wall surfaces with panels, ribbons and inserts, as well as the proper decoration. which – if it is finally liberated from antiquated hackneyed treatment – is capable of furnishing thousands of new motifs. Is it not a nine enough task for the ambitions of an architect – or artist of building – to make an impact architectonically with decoration?
We have attempted to express the principles and viewpoints listed here in the facades of two apartment buildings (Izabella St. 94 and 96. in central Budapest). I believe that this is the first such attempt in this sphere (to the best of my knowledge. even abroad there is no such solution for a facade). and thus. in all
likelihood. on the one hand. due to its uncommonness. on the other, as a consequence of the nearly unavoidable do errors in the ease of any such first attempt. it will strongly provoke the criticism of our colleagues. Nevertheless. we have seized upon this attempt brave‑
ly and with confidence and we will he richly sated our efforts and our research. even if we were
able to appreciate only one healthy idea from all those
The drawings published herein speak clearly enough for themselves. and I would like to add just a few remarks to them. We placed every large-scale architectonic motif on the facade. The divisions are as simple as possible. “Two wide. ornamented friezes divide the facade along its height: the windows of the first and second stories are connected in the simplest manner, and the whole is crowned with a simple concave band with no divisions at all. and a wooden parapet visibly projecting from afar. The character of the whole is provided only by the decoration, which we endeavored to accomplish in the spirit of modern ornamentation, entirely contrary to the models until now. The four friezes symbolise the four elements. On the larger of the two houses. the Two suns of the upper frieze and the two female nude figures from the lower friezes that strain towards the suns establish a certain projection-like division. whereas on the smaller house, there was no need for this due to its narrowness.
“The earth is represented allegorically by stylized trees. peacocks that signal terrestrial vanity. snakes and the two female figures that struggle toward the sun but are restrained to earth by the snakes. The air is symbolized by the sun. moon and stars. files of birds and the figures of night and clay: water is represented by fish, coral and crabs: fire by allegorical fire-breathing dragons. Apart from these. we employed as embellishment at the frames of windows. parapets and pillars. hollyhock and sunflowers, lilies, the leaves of a bulrush-like plant and a soutache-like ribbon ornament braided in an original way. which we might even call Hungarian-style. Finally. I will make one more note. which is perhaps the most important of all: the fact that the facades are colour-ea.
Perchance. I will not have to explain why. Since we all know to What extent we have forgotten colour: that our eyes cannot even discern a healthy colour effect: and that for some time every artist worthy of something yearns to see colour on our houses. which was so for the most part on die houses of ear such a long time. It is natural. then, If we deviate from the templates. in this regard too. we attempt innovation, especially when we can hope with confidence that the professional circles will receive our endeavor with sympathy.
The paints are simple lime, which, with the addition of curd and eggs according to an old recipe. became firmer and more lasting against the impact of rain. The facade of the larger building is blue-green and yellow, while the smaller is red and green.
On both of them, metallic gold is rather opulently applied.
And with this. I believe. I have related everything on this subject that might interest the readers of this periodical. I hope that the professional audience will not judge our endeavor one-sidedly, but will examine whether they have chanced upon a sown seed with a potential for further development and which might once, with attentive and competent cultivation. yield fruit?
(from “A Modernizmus Kezdetei, Ernst Muzeum kiado 2005, (c) all right reserved)