THE CLASSICAL HOUSE
The classical house is a temple to family, to ordered hierarchy, to comforting stability, to social unity. A “Patriarchy” you might say. As can be seen, the columned man stands noble before a stable family, diverse in parts, beautifully unified in purpose. The door seems a stout husband, the window above seems a sympathetic wife, and each little window gives the appearance of children with the family resemblance. We are artistic beings who design from what we know of what we see, of what we dream. As in the façade, the face of a classical house, a balanced composition, as in the measured restraint of rooms, balanced in logic to pace the day, to order tasks, the acceptance of responsibility, a respect to neighbors, and to oneself.
Notice the balance of ambitious vertical columns stabilized by the grounded horizontal stone: the vertical aspires, almost proud in accomplishment; the horizontal extends to settle itself on the solid earth. In contrast, by opposition, you will notice the progressive house is a tilted chaos, a conflict of parts, an aggression, an exposure, a hubris in life and body, society unbalanced. The classive house is composed, regular in beauty, good for family, true to the classive civilization that sustains tradition.
There is truth in what we see and what we know: a recollection of oneself, an inherited memory of parents and parents before and before, from time out of mind. Notice that we Classives build temples to family, a unity almost divine, father, mother, child, a trinity worthy of reverence and devotion.
THE PRIMITIVE HUT
If we are to believe Laugier: the most honest, the most natural, the most beautiful, and the first precedent of “house” was “Classical”. You might say, “All of architectural history is a Classical Revival.” Always we return to first principles, the “Classic”, that way of being which is most true, most healthy to creatures of our nature, to we persons of a family who make a home within community. In Classive Civilization (our civilization) we sustain traditions that facilitate liberty of thought and speech and action, traditions that encourage individual excellence, the thriving of persons after the nature of their body, and the truth of their soul.
Yes, this first house, the Primitive Hut, a structure scaled to the body, is a stable structure not unlike a body, sticks like bones, tightly woven reed skin for walls, a front, a back, two sides, just like us, with a bottom foot and a heading roof, with windows alike eyes, windows that open to breath-in light and air, a door … et cetera. You will notice in the primitive hut, even today, that the hut is most often bi-laterally symmetrical, friendly, because it is us, a bilateral creature logically balanced.
Laugier begins his essay on architecture* with, “It is the same in architecture as in all other arts: its principles are founded on simple nature, and nature’s process clearly indicates its rules.” You will notice the simple ease of a classical house, because the classical house is honest, true to nature without the apology of ideology or the excuse of political relevance. First, the house is a structure to mediate the extremes of weather that disquiet human comfort. Second, the house is a facility that allows the activity of tasks, the necessity of rest, of sleep and feeding and storage and craft. Third, the house is a structure to gather family, the male and female, the youth and adult, those essential variations necessary to create a strong person, a unified familial whole.
Architecture came to be, as Laugier suggests, by the tree, “the woods, a garden”, you might say, “the place of our begetting, an Eden”, its stalk becoming the column that shoulders limbs, limbs which Atlas-like bear the beams of roof that direct the million little drops to flood away. And that, the Doric Order, stout and tree-like … even in stone, the triglyphs remember a wood joint no longer necessary, except for the necessity of beauty. Alike us, alike each person, a house is more than structure, more than material, a house is a story, alike a novel or a dream, an idea beyond the physical thing; a house exists in the eye, in the mind, in Beauty where the soul lives, where the soul breathes, and where the soul finds meaning beyond mere structure.
The primitive hut is a creation in Beauty by man, Beauty born of reason, alike the Beauty of God’s pattern, naturally patterning … perhaps, the Beauty of human creations is God’s pattern, patterning.
The primitive hut has, as has the classical house, these elements: column, entablature, pediment; storys, windows, doors; in Orders Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, hos epi to polu.**
THE CLASSIC AND THE CLASSIVE
At its best, the Classical is confounded, merged, synonymous with the Classic. Both the “classic” and the “classical” are the generating excellences of tradition, from anywhere within the tradition: 4,000 years ago at Knossos, 5,000 years ago in Thebes, 5 days ago in these pages. A “Classic” is a best example to which all else of the type is measured, is judged. The Classic is not an experiment, as in the error or occasional happy accident of moderny things. The Classic is a development within a tradition following from first principles (into verse, building, statue, song, et cetera). The “Classive” is the tradition of Beauty, Goodness, Truth first codified in Greece, expressed and manifest in the creations of Homer, Platon, Phidias, et alia. The Classive is our generating tradition, initiated in first life, in conscious mind, in truth applied, as first we know in Egypt, the Levant, Crete, as now we live in our tradition matured, Periclean Athens, the first pinnacle, the acropolis of the Classive.
Alexandrian Egypt, Augustan Rome, Medicean Florence, Julian Rome, Elizabethan London, Napoleonic France, Georgian England, Republican America (before progressive corrosions) were other Classive pinnacles. You will notice a variation in the Classical, the before and the after of the “Christian” (and its Judaic genesis). Before Christianity, forms were conceived in abstract eternals, “ideal”, you might say, imbued with vast, universal principles. Since Christ, forms are conceived in specific personality, “soulful”, you might say, imbued with individual experience of the divine, or the sublime. Reference statues, reference Phidias, Chartres, Michelangelo, Saint Gaudens … houses tell the same.
The Classive is liberal, a structure of thought whose resistance is illiberal tyranny, communism, the totalitarian Progressive. The Progressive, the Classive, polar opposites that in different directions seek a similar end, “human perfection” … though the Classive and the Progressive differ in definitions of “human” and “perfection”. In general, the Progressive assumes the universe to be “atoms and the void”, assumes humans to be soulless, numbered amoeba in a petri dish, spots to be perfected by the scientific experiments of government functionaries. The Classive assumes the universe to be “God’s [gods’] creation”, assumes humans to be “soulful“; the Classive allows self-determination, universal contemplation, personal liberty of action that each soul might find perfection unique to itself. Houses for the souled are one thing, houses for the souless are another thing. The one is Classive, the other, Progressive. You can see this truth manifest in the classical house, in the modernist house. Here, the classical house.
THE CLASSICAL TEMPLE
The classical house is a temple, alike our first temples, though not a temple to house enormous gods, their serving priests and priestess. The classical house is a temple to a family. Perhaps I should reverse, just a bit…
Our classical houses of the Mediterranean, some three thousand years ago, differ slightly from the classical houses of America, unless our house is in Southern Florida or Southern California. The classical houses of America are first, the primitive hut, the Scandinavian log cabin, the Cape Cod; second, the Spanish, French, English colonial styles, each a simple, few room habitation that remembers the motherland and follows, as-much-as budget will allow, the fashion of the kingdom’s monarch. The classical American house is a third type, a house Enlightenment born (18th Century—1700s), a house designed by reason after nature, conscious of tradition, eager to excel, suited to a child of God, fitted to a humane life, and polite, communitarian, a good neighbor in a company of houses…
The classical house is a family temple composed of rooms that pace a day, that fulfill life, that serve revolving needs. There is little difference between Roman basilicas, Palladio’s villas, Georgian mansions, and Williamsburg townhouses, little difference between the Athena Parthenos (the Temple of the Maiden—the “Parthenon”), The British Museum, and Robert Frost’s Ann Arbor House. The difference, scale. Another little difference, bodyless divinity to bodied necessity, the animal requirements and the day’s vicissitudes. All classical houses embody divinity, honor the family, and serve the growth to excellence of an individual person.
The Classical Revival revives many classive traditions. The house might be Inigo Jones’ Queen House (1616 – 1635), London, the house might be Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (1772 – 1809), Charlottesville; the earlier, the Palladian, the later, the Roman, through the French refinement. The Greek Revival is another classive revival—your local Main Street bank, your local white house upon a hill. Again, all of Classive architecture is a reviving of classical tradition, alike measured breath, a filling and a releasing. Note the classical revival house styles circa 1800, our Federalist White House, the English Regency, the French Empire, these of a piece, each the beginning of a “national” style … the nation-state being a new, political invention, these united states being the oldest continuing nation-state (of the type, an organization postdating kingdoms, principalities, empires, caliphates, et cetera). The classical revival house of the 18th century after Christ was a genteel revival, created for the most part by gentleman, unlicensed architects ambitious to create a society of equals, equal to the best of Greece and of Rome.
The “Neoclassical” is, as its name states, the “New Classical”, a classical different from the classic Greek and Roman, a modern style bold and daring, beautifully artistic, and made by a new people (Europeans and Americans, Australians and Canadians) with new ideas of a new way. The notion of an academic neoclassicism is, mostly, an absurdity, the public-relations meme of modernistic architects and progressive university professors. The Neoclassical was optimistic, the expression of triumph, and this is why the neoclassical looks, well, triumphal. The neoclassical house too is an expression of triumph, without the fuss and bother … honest work, sincere in practice, observant of rules in fealty to tradition. The World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, is triumphal neoclassicism; The City Beautiful Movement, which made our cities great, was the everyday practice of classical beauty in classive life. Good examples of the neoclassical are found in the houses of Charles Platt, Cass Gilbert, “McKim, Mead and White”, John Russell Pope, and a thousand others Philadelphia to San Francisco.
The current classical revival, a classical renewal, is in part a rediscovery, in part a revolution against modernist orthodoxy, in part an artistic expression, in part an organization of clubs, each with its members, its mission, its constituency, its good and generous clients. Then too, architects of the Classical Renewal are eager to discover patterns, as might a scientist; to define terms, as does a scholar; to create rules, as do missionaries who would save a population. Quinlan Terry, Robert A. M. Stern, Andres Duany, James McCrery, Dr. Nir Buras and other excellent, professional architects expand the classical renewal ever outward, adapting to locations that know little of the Classive, to conditions where old forms are imaginatively renewed. China, Africa, Arabia, Europe and all the world prefer classical architecture, as scientific studies and popular polls demonstrate. American houses of the Classical Renewal tend to be clean in line and form (or Beaux Arts exuberant, as in the example, below), well balanced and well measured without the grasping and stumbling so often found in contemporary modernity, in houses of the signature architect, the contract developer, and the big-box builder.
CLASSICAL HOUSE PRECEDENTS
NEO-CLASSICAL HOUSE PRECEDENTS
CLASSICAL HOUSE CHARACTERISTICS
American Classical houses extend from the first, 18th Century Roman Classical Revival, through the Beaux Arts, to The House Beautiful Neo-Classical, to the current Classical Renewal, a revival most often exhibiting Georgian characteristics. The Classical Renewal tends to the Georgianesque, preferring the polite pediment to the assertive temple porch. In all, the following characteristics should serve to identification classical house style.
Monumental, formal, overwhelmingly bilaterally symmetrical. Bold temple porches seem a stage for the theatrical.
Low pitched, occasionally mansard; balustrades are often employed to hide low roofs. Chimneys tend to be thin, symmetrically balanced, tall, and flanking the house.
Windows are large, celebrated in a framing with classical detail, sometimes each window will boast its own entablature or arch. Long, square, or narrow, the mullions are heavy, likely cruciform.
Structure and Materials
Stone and brick are most common, though modest examples might be of wood; high-style examples are of marble. Think “riches and luxury, and taste”, sometimes refined, sometimes extreme.
Space and Floor Plan
Rational, rectangular masses subdivide themselves within a solid, central box. A center hall bisects the house, dining and kitchen on one side, living and library on the other.
A restrained celebration of entrance, ennobling and formal. Columns, pilasters, pediment, even if lacking the typical two-story temple porch.
Wreaths, swags, putti and other statuary, urns, and the occasional pineapple provide ornament in a comfortable, human-scale.
White, or variations of yellow and beige. Then, brickish, if of brick.
A grand sobriety in the garden, a formal ease in paths, a monumentality in shed, pool house, garage.
As mentioned (above), a great variety attends the Classical house. The purest form might be the Roman as interpreted by the Beaux Arts architects of The City Beautiful, those architects who created, or who were influenced by The Worlds Columbia Exposition, 1893, many of whom are represented in examples above and below.
CLASSICAL HOUSE RENEWAL INSPIRATIONS
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* Marc-Antoine Laugier, “Essai sur l’architecture”, Paris, 1753.
** Andres Duany, architect, planner, author, identifies dozens of Orders in variation; I am adding, here-and-there, Orders to bracket the Five Essential Orders, “Levantian”, Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite, “Aeolian”.
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Featured image: Graceland, Memphis, Tennesse, 1939, Furbringer and Ehrman, architects
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