Works of William Lethaby


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Reason, and its association with evolution and progress, on the other hand, fixed the production of the architectural artefact firmly within the innovations, novelties and achievements of the present.

William Kentridge on "a world fixed in time"

Promoting a mode of invention built on synthesis of the two, and thus producing a hybrid that conformed to neither, the Hypnerotomachia also demonstrated how architectural practice could be modern and progressive; to move forward and produce something new. Their multiplicity and the diversity of disciplines from which they are drawn ensure that no single pattern of intent or rationale readily emerges.

On occasion, however, he reveals the title of a publication or its author. One such source, openly acknowledged by Lethaby on numerous occasions, is the Renaissance architectural allegory the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. In the wood he encounters a stream, a pyramid, a horse, a colossus and elephant, a portal and a dragon. The dragon chases Poliphilo through the portal into a labyrinth and into the realm of Free Will, a land governed by the Queen Eleutherylida.

Here he find the fountain of the sleeping nymph, participates in a bath with five nymphs who represent the five senses, attends a feast at the royal palace and is directed to a tripartite gate; the entrance to the Realm of Aim. Proceeding with his journey he witnesses the triumphs of Europa, Leda, Danae and Bacchus, other nymphs and their lovers, and attends a series of triumphal processions and sacrifices. The narrative is then continued in Book II, where Polia tells the love story from her perspective.

At the end of the second book, Poliphilo awakens from his dream, to find himself, once again, all alone.

William Lethaby - WikiVisually

An enduring and diverse interest in the Hypnerotomachia is demonstrated by its multiple reprintings and translations. The original edition was reprinted in Sir John Soane possessed three copies of the Hypnerotomachia, one of which he annotated. The Kensington edition was reprinted in and The Hypnerotomachia, Vergne has argued, was interpreted by the nineteenth-century reader as demonstrating that the process of architectural invention did not rely on a faithful imitation of the past, but rather was determined by a critical and creative appropriation of established canons.

He argued instead, that knowledge of the forms and types of antiquity tempered with an imaginative re-interpretation of these models would motivate new and modern structures.

Secondly, the dream context of the story allowed Colonna to evoke imaginary and hybrid monuments. These structures visually acknowledged their sources, but had combined and modified them in such a way that the final product produced was distinctly new. These are piled one on top of the other, except for the triumphal arch, which is affixed to the temple facade, and the labyrinth the triumphal arch leads to, buried within the interior of the pyramid. The description accompanying the illustration of the pyramid explains that it is over one and a half miles long and almost equally high.

The pyramid set above the colonnade, we are told, is six times the size of the great pyramid of Cheops. The obelisk above that another mile and half. Perched at the top of the obelisk is a rotating bronze statue of Fortuna.

The second focused on the association established by Colonna between this process and the idea of love. He is asked to choose one of the doors so that he can move from the Realm of Free Will, representing the present, into the next Realm of Aim, symbolising the future. As soon as he makes his choice, the nymph Logistica, who represents reason, leaves Poliphilo in disgust.

Thelemia, on the other hand, representing desire, will and fulfilment, encourages Poliphilo to pass through the door. On the other side Poliphilo meets a beautiful nymph who he instantly falls in love with. It is later revealed that the nymph is really Polia, his lost and true love. It was also a reference to the idea of architecture as a liberal art and science. This choice, one which greatly upset Logistica—the nymph of reason—indicated a third possibility; Love, the voluptuous life or life of desire. The key attribute of this third possibility, is that it, like the door itself, lay somewhere in between those of action and contemplation.

Evidence supporting this assumption is found in Architecture, Mysticism and Myth.

In the Hypnerotomachia the architectural future represented by this process is the description and image of the circular Temple of Venus fig. It reflected the light of day so perfectly that he contemplated the profound and limpid sky as in a quiet sea: everything was reflected as in a polished mirror. Recognising that each historical epoch must be valued for its own achievements, the nineteenth-century architect also came to recognise that no one style could be valued over another, as each was organically tied to a specific time, place and culture.

Responding to this situation, the architect could adopt one of two strategies. He could identify a particular spirit or past epoch and establish it as a paradigmatic model for future practice or he could reject the past outright and seek to determine what was specific and unique to his own age. Seeking to attach the fine arts to the moral values of an ideal past, Ruskin bound modern architectural practice to the craft methodologies of the medieval mason. This he suggested was only possible through the manipulation and modification of canons extracted from an antique past.

Lethaby, W. R. (William Richard) 1857-1931

However, Lethaby was also adamant that the present day architect must not simply replicate the architecture of the past but that he must also strive to produce new forms and types. The message of present day architecture, he concluded: cannot be that of the past—terror, mystery, splendour. Planets may not circle nor thunder roll in the temple of the future. No barbaric gold with ruddy bloom; no jewels; emerald half a palm over, rubies like an egg, and crystal spheres, can again be used more for magic than beauty.

No terraced temples of Babylon to reach the skies; no gold plated palaces of Ecbatana, seven walled; no ivory palaces of Ahab; nor golden houses of Nero with corridors a mile long; no stupendous temples of Egypt at first all embracing, then court and chamber narrowing and becoming lower, closing in on the awed worshipper and crushing his imagination; these all of them, can never be built again, for the manner and the materials are worked out to their final issue. The Great Pyramid, which literally piles one famous building on top of another, represents a stylistic catalogue.

While this was a central theme of the Renaissance treatise, one which was clearly comprehended by nineteenth-century readers, the text was possibly better known for the association it established between architecture and love. Throughout his career Lethaby acknowledged that there were two distinct and different ways of knowing and creating, one active and transformative the other reflective or contemplative. Science is what you know; art is what you do.

I eat, therefore I work, and I work, therefore I think, are necessary preliminaries. Now we are ready for a reasonable and not falsely refined life-philosophy—I eat, work, and think, therefore I am. In , Lethaby wrote and published an unauthorised biography of the architect Philip Webb. Here he identifies heart as a quality that allowed architecture to surpass contemporary definitions of art the revelation of the imagined through the active processes of making.

The value of heart, Lethaby argued was it demonstrated that architecture was more than art or simple necessity, more than art or science and thus more than action or contemplation. Heart, like the Temple- idea before it, becomes a point of reconciliation, a middle ground in which a romantic and scientific thesis of nature, and thus architectural invention, come together.

For the romantic, the mind revealed the divine, natural and objective truths. The body and its organs, on the other hand, represented the physiological, the arbitrary and individual. In the first segment is the letter W and in the second, the letter R. However the depiction of these three letters in a heart, which is in turn divided into three portions, suggests a second reading.

Wedged between the two is the letter L representing love, heart and desire.

W. R. Lethaby

Building on conclusions made in nineteenth-century readings of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Lethaby isolated heart as a theory of invention which offered a middle path between the mainstream doctrines of the known and the imagined. For Lethaby, the advantages of such a theory of invention, as demonstrated in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, was that it would produce an architecture that overcame the modern tensions between past and present by facilitating one that emerged from the dialectical interaction of both.

Daniel Defoe. The Shell Country Alphabet. Geoffrey Grigson. Louisa Hoskyn. King Arthur. Masters and Servants in Tudor England.

William Lethaby

Bloody British History: Hereford. David Phelps. London in the Middle Ages. William Benham. Sabine Baring-Gould.

Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby
Works of William Lethaby

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