WHAT WAS EXPECTED OF THE BRIGHT YOUNG THING IN THE LATER 18TH CENTURY?
Jonathan Foyle's study of the history of architecture reaches the Georgian era, when the method of educating and training architects became clarified.
The Augustan Age, the Age of Enlightenment, or the century of Hogarthian disease-ridden, gin palace bawdiness and slaveryfuelled social injustice. See it as you will, the Georgian era in Britain bore the fragile infancy of the architectural profession.
As the last episode of this series argued, a profession is more about an educational curriculum that enables the co-ordination of responsibilities than a craft-based training for task work. There were precedents, of sorts, already established for designers on the continent, beyond the insular communities of the guild systems.
The grandest architectural academy was in France, established by Colbert in 1671 as part of the drive led by Charles Le Brun, with the intention of training artists and sculptors to dress Louis XIV's Versailles and Paris with a grandeur that would inflate the monarch's self-regard and instil awe and a sense of privileged access in those who served him. Alright, it was showing off.
In the UK, the Royal Academy (RA) was founded in 1768, and a professor of architecture was provided to train young architects. Their education was a homely affair - sometimes literally in an architect's home - through an apprenticeship which usually saw a relative pay high fees in return for long days in the drafting office within a back room or perhaps an office, and the promise of invaluable professional contacts. Sir Robert Taylor seems to have been the first to take in lads for training. A period of study abroad was viewed as a refining process. Such studies in the Mediterranean might generate a portfolio of drawings, which could be worked up for display and submitted to the RA in the hope of one of the annual silver medals or a prized gold, which was only awarded in alternation with painters and sculptors.
Today, an 18 year old aspiring to reshape the urban environment might be expected to have a brace of art and science A-levels, along with competence in maths. Three such subjects usually see the welcome mat rolled out at the architecture faculty.
But what was expected of a bright young thing during the later 18th century? A pamphlet published in 1773 (anonymously, but sometimes attributed to George Dance the younger) explains beautifully the typical incipient career of a would-be architect.
Called An Essay on the Qualifications and Duties of an Architect, it is worth exploring at length for a first-hand experience:
It reads: '? Lest any should imagine it is easy for an Architect to be thus accomplished, especially if he has had all the Advantages of Education, and pursued his Studies with the vigour he ought, and omitted of no Opportunity of Improvement; I shall in the next Place enquire whether there is any probability of a Person's being thus far qualified.
'. . . When an Infant, he very early discovers an extraordinary Genius for Drawing, and particularly for Drawing of Buildings for Civil Use; his Parents, willing to encourage this Propensity to the Study of Architecture, are determined to educate him accordingly; they place our young Gentleman, from the Time he can speak to the age of about Fifteen, under the Tuition of the most eminent Masters, where he improves himself considerably in Drawing; learns to write; makes no small Progress in Arithmetic and Geometry; attains likewise to a tolerable Proficiency in the Latin Tongue; and has some little Knowledge of Greek; he makes also no small Improvement in French, and is enabled to speak it with fluency; which from its Universality we may suppose will be no small Advantage to him on his Travels.
'He is now, having received a liberal Education, articled to an eminent Architect, to whom is given a very handsome Premium.
His Master, who is a conscientious Person, is determined that the young Gentleman shall want no Instruction which it is in his Power to give him. Accordingly, the first Year or two, he instructs him how to practise those rules of Arithmetic and Geometry he has learned at School, by applying them to the Mensuration of the several Artificers Works, taking care at the same Time that he improves himself in his Drawing, and particularly in every Branch of it relating to Architecture. When about two or three Years are elapsed, the Youth is taught to design, and to draw correctly the Plans, Sections, and Elevations of all Kinds of Edifices; his Master, desirous that nothing shall be wanting to complete him, has proper Persons to give him all necessary Instructions in his Absence; and our youth is instructed in Mechanics, Hydraulics and Perspective, which we may reasonably suppose to take much of his Time; [?] He is now drawing near the latter Part of the Time he was articled for, and his Master, in order to complete his Education, and form his Taste, takes an Opportunity of either taking him or sending him Abroad; if he himself cannot go with him, he takes Care to Place him with a Person equally qualified to instruct and assist him.
The youth now makes the tour of France and Italy; inspects all the ancient Remains of Architecture, measures and makes accurate Drawings of the Ruins, as well as of their original State; studies their Proportions; searches into their Antiquity; explores the Materials of which they are composed, and the Manner in which they are put together; and makes any Observation that is likely to prove of the least Utility. When this is done, he turns to the works of the Moderns, examines them carefully; compares them with the ancient Works; marks their Difference; and improves upon both in his own Designs. Thus he proceeds, 'till he has informed himself of every Thing curious and useful among the Works of either the Ancients, or the Moderns. He now returns home, at the Age of about Two or Three and Twenty, and in a Time after commences Business for himself, and is by Profession an Architect.' The skills that the Georgian architect was equipped with were based on 2,000-year-old traditions of load-bearing masonry, with updated ideas on usage, fenestration, and whatever passed for advances in domestic technology in the preelectrical age. Modern essentials like fire-escape options, bathrooms and damp-proofing courses (except for a low-set course of slate, perhaps) were yet to exist in common houses: your escape might be through a window, while ventilation and damp proofing were automatically alleviated by draughts through the sash windows and the porous masonry.
If you live in a Georgian house, it may be of small comfort that its design, supervision and financing could have been solely entrusted to a 22 year old fresh from his travels, who drew volutes like an angel, but for the first time held responsibility for the work of wily tradesmen in an age of rampant speculative development. Like many an architecture graduate today, he may have been a stranger to the common methods and materials of the building site. A command of proportions gleaned from the ancients undoubtedly makes for some handsome perspectives, but cast your eye on the number of iron tie-rods that suture the bones of Georgian buildings in lesser streets. Many of the most inadequately built Georgian buildings have of course long since gone: in a curiously Darwinian way, time and gravity connive to edit out many weaklings to leave us with the best and most robust examples. It's nostalgia's most cunning trick.
Much of this is acknowledged by our Georgian writer.