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The craftsman
Vol. XVII, Number 3 (December 1909)

Need for a public board of architecture,   p. 326 PDF (408.1 KB)

Page 326

  It is this individuality of homes that
makes some towns impress a stranger,
traversing their streets, so favorably. He
passes house after house, all of them so
different that he instinctively associates
with them the personalities, the lives of the
families that occupy them, and seeing but
the exteriors of the houses, receives a sense
of intimacy with the people of the town.
   One hears much of the unfriendliness of
the city, and truly there is nothing quite
so oppressive and coldly repulsing as the
monotonous front of a city block. It
neither reveals nor hides, but simply pre-
sents its characterless, expressionless face,
blank as the face of a gambler, like a bar-
rier between the passerby and the lives be-
hind it. Not so with these friendly Cali-
fornia houses, each one truly a home radi-
ating the individuality of its owner.
ANY a town has been turned into
        a patchwork of ill-assorted build-
        ings only because the most public
        and necessary form of art is com-
monly treated as a matter for private spec-
ulation and for individual taste and fancy.
It is true that architects are not entireiy
free, but have to work in accordance with
certain by-laws and civic customs. Still,
that is not the question at issue here.
Whatever the restraints under which
architecture is now carried on, the results
are bad far more often than they are mod-
erately good. No town building, there-
fore, ought to be put up until the designs
have been approved by a Board of Archi-
tecture, maintained by the public and re-
sponsible to the public, this act of approv-
ing to consider the designs in relation to
their site and surroundings.
  A right thing in a wrong place means
confusion; and when a street in its archi-
tecture tries to babble in a score of differ-
ent languages, many right things may be
found in the wrong places, so the con-
fusion may be, and frequently is, un-
limited. And this brings in the last point
that concerns us all in the relation of archi-
tects with their clients. There are two
kinds of client, one public, the other pri-
vate. Out of town, no doubt, the private
client is often a friend to the best work
that architects now do; but the client
whom they need in town is the citizen
spirit, a public opinion alert and proud,
watchful and educated. "Do not think,"
says Ruskin, "that you can have good
architecture merely by paying for it. It
is not by subscribing liberally for a large
building once in forty years that you can
call up architects and inspiration. It is
only by active and sympathetic attention
to the domestic and everyday work for
each of you, that you can educate either
yourselves to the feeling, or your builders
to the doing, of what is truly great ...
It does not matter how many public build-
ings you possess, if they are not supported
by, and in harmony with, the private
houses of the town;" and hence it is
chiefly by popular efforts that cities must
be adorned.
  Anything, then, which has a tendency
to fix public attention on the nation's archi-
tecture is a thing to be welcomed; and so
I have ventured to speak with frankness
on many questions over which writers
glide nervously lest they should give of-
fense to their architect friends. They for-
get that an architect counts for nothing at
all as compared with the influence of his
profession on a nation's public and private
life. To be good he must be excellent; and
excellence in all art is a wise and brilliant
use of traditions plus something personal
and somethin- new and great in human
emotion.-(From "The English House," by
W. Shaul Sparrow.)

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