Everything vintage and retro is really in right now. Shabby chic has become a staple of home décor, rockabilly wardrobes and bedrooms are super-trendy, and the glamorous styles of the 50s and 60s divas are trending in makeup and furnishings. And, naturally, this trend is going on across the arts as well. Only five years ago tensions were running high between modernists and classical architects, with each seeing the other as competition. But things are changing with our shared cultural love for all things retro. A lot of the harsh lines and abstract concepts which were so popular in architecture only a few years ago are being replaced with a newfound respect for traditionally elaborate buildings. So where is the middle ground between the modern and the classical?
The advantages which modernism brings to architecture are undeniable: more open planning, more technical work, a greater variety of shapes and textures, playing with light and colour in ways that were literally impossible in days gone by. However the downsides of modernism are also pretty obvious when we look at typical offices and apartments in our cities: modernism, stripped of the big budget planning, is reduced to uninspired flat glass and steel, big glossy surfaces not too unlike a biscuit tin.
On the flip side, classical design or classical architecture is definitely, by virtue of what it is, outdated. It is obvious everywhere it remains, and so are its flaws: lack of light, heavy-looking buildings, and monolithic pillars and posts. However classical design also solves the great problem of modern architecture. Due to the blockish nature of classical buildings, architects in the past developed various ways of decorating their buildings to make them stand out. Arches were designed and adapted to have a range of shapes and structures depending on the lay of the brick. Pillars were carved to enhance their appearance in the room. Detailed skirting boards and plastering picked up light and reflected it back into the room, giving an air of space and luxury.
Thus, by combining the core design principles of both ages, we reach into the 21st century’s greatest developments. A combination of the advantages of both design methods results in sturdy, modern, unique, detailed buildings which are truly impossible in any other era. Take, for instance, the work of Michael Graves. The buildings take the powerful building structures that are typical of the modern era, making full use of reinforced concrete to build height and expand into unique shapes, and wide open window sections to bring light and a luxurious shine to the building. And yet he brings back classical elements, such as carved pillars from the Georgian era, the roundedness of amphitheatres in Ancient Rome, the pyramid shapes of Egypt, and Victorian cornices.
Whether we are considering creating our own designs, or still working on a book, article, or custom research paper, whatever our involvement in classical architecture we need to be looking forward. The work we have considered with a request to write an essay for me here represents everything that is possible with modern architecture and classical architecture combined. A building which is imposing, yet not heavy, modern, yet not plain, elaborate, yet not frail – this is the architectural style, not of the future, but of the present day. This is the path 21st century architects, academics, and designers need to take so as to make our mark in the history books.