A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method – Sir Banister Fletcher
Back in the mid 1980’s when I started learning to be an architect up in Leeds, before the days of the internet with its instant access to unlimited knowledge, the library was where you went to learn more about things that interested you…
Big enough to be exciting to a small town boy like me whilst still being small enough so that all your mates lived no more than 10 minutes walk away, Leeds was a most excellent city to be a student in.
The same couldn’t really be said for Leeds Polytechnic however. Underfunded and lacking those visionary leaders and teachers that set great institutions apart, it generally seemed happy with its lot and didn’t push the design envelope (or the students) too far.
Consequently the architecture library (or more specifically section 720 if I remember the Dewey Decimal system correctly) was disappointingly thin, sadly lacking anything published after about 1975… and the few new/ contemporary books the library had were booked out all term by those that got there first..
Still there was one old book that caught my attention, even if it didn’t really help develop my design skills or understanding of Neo-Rationalism, and that was A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method by the marvelously named Sir Banister Fletcher.
Initially published in 1896, it was a huge tour de force, whose stated aim was to:
“…display clearly the characteristic features of the architecture of each country by comparing the buildings of each period and by giving due prominence to the influences – geographical, geological, climatic, religious, social and historical which have contributed to the formation of particular styles, and which hitherto have not been emphasised systematically in presenting the story of architectural development. The Tree of architecture will help the reader to realise the importance of these influences and the gradual evolution of the various styles.”
Containing literally hundreds of beautiful line drawings and grainy b&w photos, it became the standard reference text for architectural historians in the first half of last century and I can clearly remember tracing over some of the drawings for various history essay submissions (oh how the tutors must have sniggered, as yet another student tries to pass off achingly familiar drawings as their own…)
Several years ago I came across a Twelfth Edition from 1946 in a local book fair and so for the princely sum of £8, I could once again marvel at the quality of the drawings and wonder at the amount of time and effort that must have gone into this excellent tome…
This last image is from the very back of the book and gives you an idea of how up to date the schemes and visuals were for a student hungry to know more about The Bauhaus and Modernism. And if more evidence were needed, I’ve just checked through the index and even as late as 1946, there is still no mention of Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright, let alone Walter Gropius…
Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed perusing the yellowed pages of this wonderful old book for today’s post. Well worth hunting down a copy if you have an interest in both architectural history and penmanship…. In fact I’ve just learned that there was a 20th edition/ 100th anniversary version updated by Dan Cruikshank published back in 1996. Its available here on Amazon, but at £145, I’d click over to an online second hand book shop, and see what they’ve got….