As our series on the history of architecture approaches the 17th century, Jonathan Foyle sums up his views on how the profession developed in the preceding centuries, and how it began to become defined.
Over the many centuries that the previous articles in this series have covered, the march of architectural professionalism in Britain has really been more of a ramble. As we arrive at the age of Christopher Wren, modern writers have had a hard time making convincing distinctions about the way the architectural world of the 17th century transformed a latent craft-based tradition into a regulated service industry. It's as well to use the opportunity to take stock and examine the issues.
Medieval master-masons conceived buildings according to resolved structural geometries that depended on a firm control of the constituent parts: they were architects according to John Harvey. The term 'architect' found increasing usage during the 14th and 15th centuries. During the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538 Thomas Eliot described an 'architectus' as a 'maister of workes, deviser of buildyng'. The problem is that these 'maisters of workes' also worked with master carpenters whose aesthetic judgment may have been quite separate in the execution of a roof, or choir stalls and canopies, so that a total conception was compromised. So how do we negotiate that?
Did the Medieval master-masons and carpenters perform the building work themselves? Because that would be a craft-based tradition rather than the manner of a modern architect who envisages and directs the work without getting mortar under his or her fingernails. So in 1960, Barrington Kaye argued that 'it was the separation of the architectural from the constructional function of the craftsmen that ultimately led to the formation of the architectural profession as a separate entity'.
So why, during the 13th century, do we hear complaints that authorities were strolling through the building site instructing masons and carpenters; doing none of the work while being paid more than the craftsmen? Wasn't that an architect at work? Kaye goes on to argue that the conception of a building 'as a work of art' is the mark of an architect's vision that did not exist at that time. With little difficulty, Alec Clifton Taylor's essay 'English Parish Churches as Works of Art' argued otherwise.
So perhaps it's not quite so clear-cut? or maybe God is actually in the outlines. In the Tudor period, a new attention to regular planning was noticed by John Summerson, who claimed that Ralph Symonds in Cambridge was 'one of those artificers who were gradually creating the professional role of architect by taking a large view of the problems connected with building and ministering to the new taste for 'regular' planning.' So an architect is defined as a dedicated regulator of form and space en masse.
But this was hardly new - didn't the daring vaults of centuries ago depend on regular bay units and proportions to achieve their physical equilibrium and aesthetic harmony, and weren't the plans of monasteries generated by the regulation of their square cloisters?
The water is muddy. Upon closer inspection, we've seen that the 'new taste' or 16th-century brand of regularity was distinctive, inspired by Italian neo-Vitruvian ideas, but there was no professional body of architects there: Renaissance men were pluralists who loved regular forms and irregular workloads.
Maybe the benchmark of an incipient architectural profession is something different - perhaps it's in the training.
After all, what is a professional body but a means of removing caveat emptor from the marketplace by establishing professional standards and guaranteeing the competence and thoroughness of services? To establish standards, we need clear transferable information about what an architect should do. For Barrington Kaye, Inigo Jones 'may be described as the first professional English architect. There is no doubt about either his authorship of the designs of, for instance, the Queen's House, or the Banqueting House, Whitehall, or his intentions as an artist. Whether or not the tradition ascribing to him a joiner's apprenticeship is true, he fitted himself by his extensive travels overseas, during which he examined and measured the monuments of antiquity, critically annotating his copy of Palladio's Quattro Libri dell'Architettura as he did so. He also discussed technicalities with Scamozzi in Venice, and filled his sketchbooks with drawings of the Italian masters. In short, he invented a form of architectural education which was to set the model for the next two centuries.' Some (by no means all) of Jones' work is documented - but so is some work of, say, Richard Farleigh, the early 14thcentury designer of Salisbury Cathedral's ethereal spire. Jones was an 'artist'; but wasn't, for convenient example, Richard Farleigh also an artist with a focused, if different, vision? He too travelled abroad. He filled sketchbooks, just like Villard d'Honnecourt did in about 1220. He processed the achievements of others into his own concepts (like the designer who turned the best of the churches of Normandy, with a bit of Islamic form and decoration, into Durham cathedral). He had technical knowledge - not unusual, if one is a craft-based exponent of building rather than an officebased masterplanner type.
Jones was undoubtedly a formidable intellect, and his drawings reveal a process through stages of uncertainty and awkwardness in the Classical repertoire, but it's difficult to imagine that all previous designers were unself-critical and avoided drafts. To judge the ultimate point that Kaye made - that Jones introduced an educative curriculum that created the professional body we've come to know as architects - we need to know how he actually did his pioneering educating. Was there a prescription for learning - a list of tasks akin to that in the RIBA's Inception-to-Completion roll-call learned at architecture schools today - or were people just supposed to copy Jones' attitude and experience? Or was it none of the above?
Jones left a corpus of drawings that was studied by John Webb. We don't know if these constitute the earliest educational training, but they probably did not. In Elizabethan Northamptonshire, the mason John Thorpe used French printed books and Classical orders and educated his son, who in turn left one of his drawing books to posterity. Robert Smythson left a similar book. The chronic scarcity of earlier architectural drawings means we don't know what was passed down as acceptable professional practice, but workmen presumably always had to understand conventions of drawing to achieve precision and avoid expensive mistakes.
I contend that all of these problems and semantic Gordian knots have been caused by conflating two issues - the first is of the architect as a competent designer of architecture; and the second is the establishment of what constitutes an architectural profession guided by competence, regulation, checks and balances. The former existed very many centuries ago; the latter was still some way off when Inigo Jones was designing. The reason for the conflation is that Jones looks like a man with a fixed series of values and formal prescriptions that continued in use for some time later; he commands his subject with authority, and that's an attractive prerequisite for a professional identity.
Like most historical pigeonholes, it's not that neat.
The craft tradition lived on and transformed Jones' Classical style into what has been coined 'artisan mannerism', a bucolic tirade of engagingly swollen and abstracted Classical references which makes up the bulk of common buildings. The last two instalments of this series suggested that the polite end of the diverse and complex world of 17th-century architecture was populated by gentleman designers whose origins can be found in the rise of mid-Tudor house building following the Reformation. But it was dominated by characters from the worlds of theatre (ironically including Jones) and science (including Hooke and Wren).
Far from witnessing an architect as a distinct type of person, those versed in the polarised worlds of emotion and reason were deemed equal bedfellows. Perhaps it was inevitable that sooner or later they would climb into one large bed and consummate their relationship.
This happened in the early 18th-century, when a neoJonesian attitude developed. Jones' architecture was easy to adopt as a mantra. So much so that it might have been available as the flat-pack of its day. He used no domes, his spaces are clear and his design depended on the relationship of Classical elements on sheer facades. Wren's design is different, but still the grander facades have a planar feel to them which evokes his mathematical training.
Vanbrugh, Archer and Hawksmoor were the characters who took rational form and infused theatre into it, bringing the massing and abstraction of European Baroque (rather than the existing native essays in those qualities more haphazardly applied by 'artisan mannerists') into a new intellectual acceptability. Castle Howard, Blenheim and the like have been called the Whig style, the Protestant triumphalist equivalent of Edwardian Baroque in its fin de siècle exuberance. Like its counterpart, it was incredibly expensive, indulgent and short-lived.
Politics and economics created the circumstances for the first true movement towards architectural professionalism. In 1711, the Tories trounced the Whigs. It was to be an age of conservative moral rectitude. In architectural terms, gone was the massing and play in favour of the Jonesian Classicism embodying order and restraint. Admittedly, no two ages are the same, and there were several differences that moved Jones' work by baby steps into a basis for training a group of architectural professionals according to the same philosophical and informational material.
In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht established a peace across Europe. The Grand Tour began in earnest and now architects really did undertake their progress to Italy as a matter of course (Wren, by contrast, made just one visit to Paris). Many of the AngloItalian dilettanti had a patron in Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, who owned great tracts of land in Ireland and poured the revenues into his building projects and collections of Italian art and antiquities. The most famous are Burlington House in Piccadilly and Chiswick House: the latter is Palladian to an extent that Jones was not, while its details are more chunkily Roman than Jones' ever were. But still Rysbrack's bust of Jones heralds the entrance steps opposite one of Palladio.
Style is one thing; the most important factor in uniting architects was a manifesto. It might be expected that Scotland, as a nation of Presbyterian disciplinarians, would offer the best British architects in this century of sparse rationalism, but in the 1710s Robert Adam and William Chambers were still over the horizon.
Among Burlington's coterie, Colen Campbell offered the proselytizing zeal, and was the driving force behind Vitruvius Britannicus. From 1715, these volumes of beautifully engraved exemplars of the English Palladian school represented a taste that was traced back to Jones' pioneering achievements. Campbell catalogued Jones' known works, and did not ignore the later 17th century but selected the best buildings after Roger Pratt's admirably simple Clarendon House, Piccadilly, including Belton in Lincolnshire by William Wynde.
In establishing a lineage of paragons, all extraneous detail was edited out - including fripperies like window mullions (and people) - to render the form as clear as possible. This is what the modern architect aimed for; here were rules, clarity and a common aesthetic standard. Campbell practised what he preached at Mereworth Castle in Kent, which was based on Palladio's Villa Rotonda near Vicenza, with minor concessions to purity and modernity such as its more rounded dome exchanging pantiles for lead. The tragically demolished Wanstead in Essex, the finest pediment-fronted house of its age, was also Campbell's.
As for many political and artistic movements, Campbell's manifesto was a mere call to arms. The written rules of engagement are another issue. The Georgian age that created some of our most memorable streetscapes brought about the architectural pupil and organised professional bodies. The midto late-18th century is characterised by terraces, the architecture of units and standards. It starts to feel a little more like the modern world, and that's when the real origins of the profession begin.
Jonathan Foyle is an architectural archaeologist and TV presenter