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The late twentieth century stripped classical style
|The flame of classicism has burned for
two-and-a- half thousand years in the architecture of Western civilisation.
Sometimes it has burned brightly, sometimes dimly, but it has never been
extinguished. The flame was very low during the period following World War
II. Traditionally inclined architects who had survived from the prewar
decades had little opportunity to ply their classical trade in the austere
years of the i 940S and early 195os, when classicism was regarded as an
irrelevant, unaffordable luxury. The flickering torch of classicism was
carried by Mies van der Rohe in his elegantly sparse buildings on the campus
of the Illinois Institute of Technology and by Eliel Saarinen in his art
gallery at Cranbrook, Michigan. In Australia, as elsewhere, modernism was
making its impact, and symmetry—the hallmark of classicism—was avoided like
the plague by ‘progressive’ architects.
Surprisingly, the Stripped Classical style made a comeback in the early 1960s. The American architect Philip Johnson, who had helped to coin the term ‘International style’ in the 193os, gave notice that he was bored with mainstream modernism when he (with Max Abramovitz and Wallace K. Harrison) designed New York’s cultural hub, the Lincoln Center, in the form of three ultrasimplified, colonnaded, flat-roofed, ‘classical temples’ arranged around a formal, rectangular plaza. The Lincoln Center did not exactly set off a world-wide avalanche of stripped classicism, but it seemed to legitimise occasional essays in the idiom by less well-known architects. (Philip Johnson was heavily influenced by Italian Fascist design).
In Australia, the Stripped Classical style won national prominence with the completion in 1968 of Walter Bunning’s National Library in Canberra’s ‘parliamentary triangle’ between Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin. Bunning claimed that his marble-clad, colonnaded, rectangular prism had affinities with the Parthenon.
Buildings in the Late Twentieth-Century Stripped Classical style are static rather than dynamic, and they show no vestiges of classical detail. The classical qualities that remain are those of predictability, symmetry, a strongly repetitive rhythm of columns or column-like elements, and a reliance on carefully considered proportions.
Reid Library, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA. Cameron, Chishoim & Nicol, architects, from 1.964. Temple-like symmetry interpreted in golden precast concrete.
Law Courts, ACT, Knowles Place, City, Canberra, ACT. Yuncken Freeman Architects Py Ltd, architects, 1961. A dign/ied and well- proportioned marble façade.
"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.
|National Library, Parkes Place West, Parkes, ACT. Bunfling & Madden, in association with T. E. O’Mahoney, architects, from 1964. A contemporary derivation in the spirit of Graeco-Roman architecture.|
In the years following the end of the Second World War classical architecture did not enjoy widespread appeal. It lost credibility with the downfall of the Third Reich, which had employed classicism in its monumental prestige buildings of the 1930s and 1940s.
In addition, the main feature of classical architecture – symmetry – was rejected by the modern international style.
Philip Johnson’s design for the Lincoln Center in New York started something of a revival in the stripped classical style in the early 1960s. With its variety of formal settings, the developing city of Canberra was a good location for buildings in this style. One of the earliest examples in Australia was the Law Courts of the ACT (1961), followed by the National Library of Australia (1968).
The style is classical architecture without the use of classical details and motifs. Symmetry, a repetitive rhythm of columns or column-like elements and a reliance on carefully considered proportions are important.