Monday, August 20, 2012


Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1 March 1812 – 14 September 1852) was an English architect, designer, artist and critic, chiefly remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival style; his work culminated in the interior design of the Palace of Westminster. Pugin designed many churches in England, and some in Ireland and Australia. Pugin was the father of E. W. Pugin and Peter Paul Pugin, who continued his architectural firm as Pugin and Pugin.                                                                                      Wikipedia

The facts about Pugin lie in our collective memories as clichés, such is their character and his reputation. The Wikipedia entry sums up our perceptions precisely. He enthusiastically revived the Gothic, worked tirelessly on the Palace of Westminster and built many churches worldwide. A recent report ( see Tasmanian Gothic - Jun 2012 – ABC Television - Program Guide - ABC1 - Religion/Ethics - Compass ... where on the 200th anniversary of Augustus Pugin's birth, Compass explores his work in Tasmania) showed that he was so committed to his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1835 at Salisbury that he, at his own cost, prepared complete plans and details for new churches in Tasmania, designed and had manufactured fittings, fabrics and liturgical items for these churches, and sent these documents and items out to the new colony to save lost souls. All of this was achieved in lifetime of only 40 years. It is said that he worked himself to death.

What is not so commonly known is what his ideas were beyond these hazy Victorian understandings and histories. Here are a few of his own words taken from Stanton Phoebe’s Pugin published by Thames and Hudson, London in 1971. These are interesting as they show how the Gothic Revival has an intimate relationship with its own past and with modernism. Ideas on the necessary relationship between materials, functions, details, construction and even decoration are familiar to us as issues that helped shape what came to be called ‘the new International style’ of architecture. That these ideas grew through the Gothic Revival is something that is rarely recalled or remembered. The concepts are identical to those promulgated by Louis Sullivan, ‘father of modernism and skyscrapers.’ We seem happy to think of things Gothic as ancient and retrograde, muddled enthusiasms of a misguided, indulgent era that was transformed, transfigured, by the ideas of modernism. It seems that things were otherwise. It makes one ask more about just what modernism and gothic might be, given this common ground: just what is the difference; and why is this so? Pugin’s comments on novelty, royalty, climate and social values also seem as relevant to us today as are his expositions on the principles of materials, forms and functions that have been absorbed into the psyche of our time that is currently exploring different matters and matters differently.

 p.85 ‘I feel convinced that Christian architecture had gone its length, and must necessarily have destroyed itself by departing from its own principles in the pursuit of novelty or it must have fallen back on its pure and ancient models.’ (Pugin writing in True Principles)

p.86: In the end, even the remarks addressed to the Queen on the subject of Westminster Abbey appeared just as Pugin had written them: he noted that ‘the apathy of royalty towards this sacred fabric. . . . We hear much of the interest certain distinguished personages take in the performance of a learned monkey, or equestrian evolutions, but small regard indeed do they pay to the resting-place of their ancestors.’ He suggested that ‘a visit to the neglected and desecrated pile of Westminster might teach them the instructive lesson that royalty departed is easily forgotten.’ (Pugin writing in the second edition of Contrasts)

p.84: The asides on scale are telling: Pugin observed that ‘in pointed architecture the different details of the edifice are multiplied with the increased scale of the building: in classic architecture they are only magnified.’ He concluded that one thing wrong with St. Peter’s, a building he had, by the way, never seen, was ‘purely owing to the magnifying instead of the multiplying principle having been followed’.

p.81:  The following principles are set forth in its text. (The page number in each case is that in the printed book.)

All ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building (1)
In pure architecture the smallest details should have a meaning or serve a purpose (1)
Construction should vary with the material employed (1)
The external and internal appearance of an edifice should be illustrative of, and in accordance with, the purpose for which it is destined (42)

Pugin must have found ample precedents for each of these ideas in Vitruvian and other, earlier, architectural theory.
Two other observations play on the edges of Pugin’s argument, but never reach the status of principles. He asserted that local and national styles and traditional forms in architecture should be respectfully considered and if possible maintained, for he said climate, cultural influences, local building materials, and native methods of construction often combined to produce structures which met the standard of his principles. And he broadened his definition of the elements necessary for quality to include social values, expressed for him through Catholicism. It was these two final points which separated Pugin from earlier theoreticians.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.