I have a plan for this column, and if you’re interested in art, design and architecture, I think you’ll like it. For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about their history, in chronological order, starting with 3,000 B.C. Egypt and ending with midcentury modernism.
If that sounds too academic, don’t worry. It’ll be the Reader’s Digest version. I’ve also made a handout of the entire series with accompanying illustrations. Send me an email if you’d like to receive it.
Why did I come up with this plan? A glimpse into the reasons for each style, or “period,” may give deeper meaning to the pieces you have in your home or even the architecture of your home, itself. As a designer, I’ve used this knowledge to create better spaces for my clients. Ones that are cohesive, enhanced and authentic.
If you’d like to know the difference between a curule stool and a Barcelona chair, bas relief and Bauhaus, Chippendale and Frank Lloyd Wright, or if you confuse Queen Anne with King Louis, or want to know how Columbus’ discovery of America contributed to the end of the Italian Renaissance, my plan is for you.
So let’s get started with a prologue. From early times, art, design and architecture were a reflection of a people’s culture and circumstances. Public works, especially religious buildings and forums, were built with both function and aesthetics in mind. They served as showcases of building techniques, engineering, stone and metal works, painting, stained glass and mosaics. Art, design and architecture were also intertwined with historical movements like the Renaissance, Arts and Crafts and Modernism.
Geography played a crucial role as well — and Egypt is a perfect example. Let’s travel back 5,000 years. Egypt had led an isolated existence for a very long time with deserts to the east and west, mountains to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. But its Nile River had served many purposes. Its northerly flow provided a means of transportation, its fertility provided food, and its clay provided recorded history depicted on pottery.
The Nile also enabled the shipment of ebony, basalt, granite, limestone and sandstone from Nubia (Ethiopia). And, Nubia’s rich gold mines led Egypt to produce fine art and structures as well as become a wealthy and powerful force.
The Nile’s plentiful mud was made into kiln-dried building bricks. But because most of the brick has been destroyed over time, our understanding of Egyptian architecture comes from its long-standing stone pyramids, temples and tombs. Wood was imported from Lebanon because the indigenous palm, acacia and papyrus were too soft to construct buildings.
The Egyptians developed post and lintel construction in which a horizontal wood or stone beam is set atop two vertical wood or stone columns. Because there was no structural assistance other than the strength and balance of the structure itself, square and plumb-line tools were crucial.
This method of construction consequently resulted in balanced, symmetrical, and serene architecture. These characteristics would later be embraced by the Greeks who would build the Parthenon, one of the most classical and proportioned edifices in history.
More about Egypt and then on to Greece next time. I hope you will enjoy this series.