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Old Colonial Grecian 1788—c. 1840
|01 Fernhill, Mulgoa||16 Gladesville Hospital|
|02 Elizabeth Bay House||19 Darlinghurst Courthouse|
|Until the mid-eighteenth century, ‘classical’
architecture meant ‘Roman’—either as it was built in the days of ancient
Rome or as it was reinterpreted during the Renaissance and later periods.
Then, following the rediscovery of the style of the ancient Greeks by the
British and the French, architects such as ‘Athenian’ Stuart in Britain and
Benjamin Latrobe in the United States popularised the Grecian virtues of
gravity and restraint, contrasting them with the Roman traits of
extroversion and ostentation. By 1830 the ‘Greek Revival’ was the height of
fashion in Britain, Europe and the United States.
While the most scholarly architects adopted an antiquarian approach, insisting that Greek temple forms be copied exactly, others were more concerned with a search for pure geometry and timeless proportion. The ideal was to combine archaeological correctness and formal abstraction:
historians have since used the name ‘Neoclassical’ for this synthesis. It can be seen in buildings such as the British Museum, London, designed by Robert Smirke in 1823.
For the style in Australia, both ‘Greek Revival’ and ‘Neoclassical’ have been rejected in favour of ‘Grecian’. The latter word has often been used during the last two centuries (albeit not always consistently) to mean ‘having characteristics and qualities suggestive of ancient Greece’. The hint of vagueness contained in this interpretation of Grecian allows the term to be used fairly flexibly in an architectural context.
The best Australian example is probably Lady Franklin Museum, near Hobart, a tiny temple-like building, free-standing in the manner of ancient Greece. More often, several Greek forms were ingeniously combined in the one design, as in the storeyed steeple of St George’s Church, Battery Point, Hobart , reminiscent of the Tower of the Winds in Athens, or as in Darlinghurst Courthouse, Sydney , where the prism-like, parapeted courtroom has a Doric portico with Greek embellishment as well as later, flanking wings.
The pedimented temple shape was ideally suited to a gable-roofed house, while classical colonnades made grand verandas. Sometimes gable pediments had lesser pitches than did their classic precedents, and columns were more widely spaced than scholars of archaeology would have condoned. Of the three Greek orders, the Doric was the most favoured because it was the simplest as well as being more ‘masculine’ or powerful-looking than the Ionic or Corinthian. In fact, Ionic and Corinthian rarely appeared in the exterior design of Old Colonial Grecian buildings in Australia.
Darlinghurst Courthouse, Taylor Square, East Sydney, NSW. Mortimer Lewis, Colonial Architect, for central block, 835. Adapted from a design in Peter Nicholson’s The New Practical Builder (1823).
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
RICHARD APPERLY, ROBERT IRVING, PETER REYNOLDS. PHOTOGRAPHS BY SOLOMON MITCHELL.
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.