Saturday, October 4, 2008

Eclecticism, Part B

The height of the Eclecticism Movement came towards the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. During this time, instead of producing completely new design, designers were looking to the past to get inspiration. “In design, it (eclecticism) has come to mean the practice of selecting from historical precedents whatever seems suitable or attractive for a particular project” (Pile, 301). Although Eclecticism thrived in both Europe and America, it seemed to expand more in America. Americans viewed the idea of incorporating history into their designs as producing culture and status. In Europe, the major incorporation of Eclecticism was in the Paris Ecole, the first true professional school of architecture. Students produced drawings of historical buildings as part of their schoolwork. This way of designing at Ecole became known as the Beaux-Arts style. One key difference between European and American Eclecticism is that in Europe, students and designers studied historic buildings in order to understand their attributes, not to imitate them. During this time in America, the idea was that “originality was forbidden; only imitation of the past was tolerable” (Pile, 303). This led to cities and towns being developed with various styles and unrelated buildings. Styles that were used in America included French Renaissance, Late Victorian, and Roman Classicism. A style known as American Renaissance was introduced and included buildings such as The New York Public Library and New York’s Grand Central Station. Interior designers also had to take historical precedents and incorporate those interior designs into the buildings or homes they were decorating. Should designers of this time have looked to past precedents for inspiration? This was a time of new ideas and new ways of thinking. Does referring to the past seem counterproductive? How do you come up with a new idea if you are always looking back in time? Or was that their goal?

17 comments:

Meredith J. said...

I don't think that they necessarily HAD to look back for historical precedents; I think that those references were everywhere, so it seemed to become almost second nature for them to include something from the past in their work. But on the other hand, I feel that designers felt that they HAD to include historic precedents, as evident by the quote from Pile that you included ("originality was forbidden; only imitation of the past was tolerable"). And, I wouldn't say that it was completely counterproductive to include those historic ideals, but it also didn't help in letting designers come up with a completely new style and set of ideas. Granted, a little bit of history is always going to be tucked in some places, but the styles shouldn't be so overwhelming influenced by those old ideals.

Amy Clark said...

Looking to the past for inspiration is fine; we are all inspired by different things. What is counterproductive to me is the imitating of past styles and forbidding originality. This takes away the designer's creativity and prohibits innovation. As Pile mentions, Richard Morris Hunt "was most successful when he was most narrowly imitative...and least successful when confronting problems...where historicism offered no ready models" (Pile, 306). He was referring to Hunt's inability to effectively address the design problem of the tall building. Louis Sullivan, an architect associated with the Art Nouveau movement, was credited with solving this issue. By focusing so much on imitation, it limited a designer like Hunt and his capabilities. Every new movement (Victorian, Arts & Crafts, etc.) seems to be a reaction to the previous movement. Eclectismn could be a reaction to Art Nouveau where nothing was to be duplicated from the past. It seems strange to me that designers wanted to follow this path. Looking to the past and not creating original work appears to be the goal of Eclecticism; I'm not sure it was a good one?

Katie Bluhm said...

I think we always have to look to the past to move forward into the future. Although it may seem counterproductive to someone who is not well educated in the design process, it will in fact inspire designers to create something new. Every new idea has to come from somewhere. There is no such thing as creating something completely original. Inspiration has to come from somewhere. So when designers look to the past, they are not looking for a simple solution, but for inspiration for something new and modern. Designers and architects have looked to the past for centuries, and have advanced us this far into the future and modernism. For example, The White House in Washington, D.C. was designed by an architect named James Hoban. Hoban’s plan was inspired by the style of Andrea Palladio, a famous architect of the sixteenth century. Connections between Hoban’s White House and Palladio’s Rotunda, or Villa Capra are evidence of looking to the past for inspiration. The front elevations alone are very similar, but with a few more modern adjustments in Hoban’s eighteenth century president’s palace. In fact, not only did James Hoban draw inspiration from Andrea Palladio, but Palladio himself drew his inspiration for the Rotunda from the Roman Pantheon. Architects and designers have been drawing inspiration from the past since the beginning of time. It has never been counterproductive, even in the Eclectic Era. New ideas just don’t come from thin air. They have to come from somewhere, and where better to look than to the masters of the past.

Jessica Brake said...

I’ll have to agree with Katie on this. New ideas just don’t come from nowhere. Like Olivia stated above, designers of this time period were looking to the past to get inspiration for the future. And in America, originality was “forbidden”, so therefore, designers where almost forced into looking at past designs to come up with inspiration for new designs. We, as design students, do this all the time. When working on projects we are told to look at what has been done and analyze it. How did it work? Can it be improved? How does this give us inspiration for a new concept? Ultimately I think that it was necessary for designers to study past designs in order to move forward. Just like in every progressive movement in order to move forward you need to study the past and know what and how it all worked in order to make it better. Some may think that this is counterproductive, in a way it may be, but by becoming aware of your historical precedent you can develop those ideas and turn them into something new. That’s what I think the Eclecticism designers were working towards, studying and analyzing past ideas and developing them into new concepts and designs. In the video we watched in class Tuesday we saw this in many of the Vanderbilt mansions. For example, The Breakers was built with a heavy Renaissance influence, but had a more modern appeal to it.
Our past is what shapes us. It’s a story of who we are and how far we’ve come. I think that it’s important to remember that in design.

Carrie said...

My feeling on the Eclecticism movement was important in America because there were no true historical precedents of the past. Still today America is a very young country and did not have all of the influence from the past like other countries had. So I think it was okay for designers in America to have looked in the past precedents for inspiration. I do believe that this was a time of new ideas and new ways of thinking but I think that America needed to look to the past, because it had no real past, before it could move on to other newer and better things. It does seem a bit counterproductive in other countries but not in America. I think the true goal in America has to look to the past, learn from it and start a new way of thinking.

Veronica said...

I agree with Amy that forbidding creativity was counterproductive. Looking at the past for inspiration is good and can be excellent when trying to solve a problem that was already solved in the past. However, I believe that forbidding and criticizing originality was a mistake because artists started to look at past creations and to imitate these ones.
Architecture and arts saw amazing developments and creations through time and I believe that imitating them because it is considered better than come up with something new is ridiculous.
Architects and designers were then comparing their works with works of artists such as the Greeks and Romans, Palladio, Michelangelo, etc. I am a fan of history and everything that was created during it; I also like originality and everything that is modern.
I think that Eclecticism could have combined both imitation of the past and originality, and maybe created a movement similar to the 1400s-1600s European Renaissance. That way architets and designers could have come up with new ideas, benefitting both the past, present and future.

Meaghan Boenig said...

I agree with Meredith that it was not necessary for designers to look to the past for inspiration, but was more second nature for them to do so. This was not a new concept. Before the Eclecticism Movement, designers often looked at past ideas or designs for inspiration. We do the same thing today. As design students were are constantly asked to look through books or magazines or take pictures of things that motivate us and inspire new designs. In this way, using the past for inspiration is not counterproductive. As Amy pointed out the idea that “originality was forbidden; only imitation of the past was tolerable” (Pile, 303) is counterproductive because as I just stated new ideas can come from looking at the past. Forbidding originality is similar to a design student being given a design problem with infinite guidelines or restrictions for the solution. How is the design student supposed to come up with a new, innovative solution when they are so limited?

Sabrina said...

This poses some interesting points. The Eclecticism period of America was partially based on the eclecticism period of Europe. This European period was guided by the formation of the Ecole Des Beaux Arts. This first professional architecture school stressed the importance of looking back to historical precedent in order to solve the problems of the present while also emphasizing an individualized solution to the problem through its curriculum. The Ecole Des Beaux Arts’ curriculum was practically the same as that which is used at the University of Kentucky. Here, students are assigned a problem based on a "simulation" and forced to solve that problem within a certain time period before presenting their solution to a "jury." Thus, students of the Ecole of the past and students of many design schools of the present have been encouraged, in the Beaux Arts style, to problem solve by incorporating the ideas of the past, seeking out improvements to these ideas, and then creating a totally new solution for the simulation. However, what is important to recognize is the difference between the Ecole design process/present design process and the lack of a design process during the American Eclecticism period. The American Eclectics were simply cutting and pasting historical precedent onto more modern buildings. They were not addressing known problem areas or seeking any kind of individualized solution, in fact, it was stated earlier that they were not even “allowed” to seek out originality. Thus, the American Eclectic Period was not truly following the Ecole Des Beaux Arts, which the individual artists seemed to look up to.
Thus, I agree with Amy and Veronica in saying that referring to the past is not counterproductive, in fact we are all using this method within our own studio. However, what became counterproductive in the American Eclectic Period was the fact that designers were no longer solving problems, they were simply reading up on past solutions and then implementing them piece for piece. Although they may have been a positive influence in American culture in defining an American elite, they were not influential in progressing design as a whole.

Kayla.E said...

The interior designers did not 'have' to look back for inspiration but as it said in the reading and like you also stated "orignality was forbiden; only imitation of the past was tolerable" (Pile, 303). So if most everyone of that time period believed this then i'm sure the interior designers felt as though they had to (even if they did not want to all the time) keep going back and getting inspiration from the past to keep their business coming and to statisfy the society. Referring to the past in some ways does seem counter productive to a certain extent but in other ways it could be looked at as an advantage. There is a big difference in looking back for inspiration and then trying to improve upon that design in a new way, and looking back and just repeating the same mistakes as were done before. Again its like what i said to the question before this, if you looke back to the past and pick something to try to improve upon then that is moving forward because you are updating or making something more advance, better. If you are looking back just to repeat ideas that have been done before regardless if they worked the best they could or not, thats not moving forward.

Molly Rowland said...

It seems that America has always looked to Europe for architectural styles and designs.
I believe that, in a way, Eclecticism was an important time for America. I believe this because in Europe new ideas and new design foundations were always being produced. Styles originiated from Europe. In America, however, few styles belonged to the country itself.
Eclecticism implemented these historical styles into American design,and therefore, gave America the foundation it needed. This time period seemed to be a kind of "catching up" phase in America.

maggie clines said...

Of course history is history and there is no true way of knowing how or why people did what they did, but I feel as though the designers of the time began to feel the need to once again familiarize themselves with the past. I think that after the Art Nouveau period, designers needed to brace themselves on something reliable and true. They chose to look at the past to honor it and grow from it. I do however think that there is the possibility that instead of having buildings be only imitations of the past, they should have used the past and then grown from it. I think that though it may seem counterproductive, it was important for designers to go through this style so they could learn from it and move on to modern movement. I think that there of course are ways to create new designs by using historic precedence, but that’s just it, it is not imitating but rather recreating in a new personal style.

Carrie R. said...

I think that we will always look to the past during the process of design. It enables inspiration, innovation, and the learning of mistakes that have been made. But limiting design to only past work is counterproductive, it puts a block on creativity and innovation in creating something completely original. Since in America, originality was forbidden, nothing new was being created and it limited designers to only thinking “inside the box”. Where as Europe appreciated past works, but used it as guidelines to come up with something completely original. So I believe that looking to the past for inspiration in creating something new is crucial. How can we create something without looking to the past? It’s near impossible. I think that the goal of Eclecticism was just this. To look in the past and learn from it. Eclecticism played a big part in enabling America to somewhat catch up and have a historical structure to rely on for themselves. It also created a basis of what had been acceptable in the past and was what enabled the transition from this period to the next, modern design, for America.

Elizabeth Chaffin said...

It is very hard to create something from nothing. Ideations come from looking at other objects; whether it be historical buildings or a flower. Ideas are always coming from everywhere. Even though this is true, it can sometime be counterproductive in the thought process and steer someone towards a design that has already been done. Certain elements can be pulled from those to create new philosophies of design to incorporate components of the past into some ingenious.

Julie said...

Finding inspiration in anything is looking back at them and taking things from them, whether they are flowers or previous buildings you're still creatng your own new idea based off something else. Even though it's not a completely new idea and total step from the past there's still progress being made and an effort to take the positves from the past and build off them. This is successful because we learn from the past and are able to see and fix our mistakes for the better of the future. The past was beautiful we preserve historic houses and places because of the amount of greatness we see in the work created why should we not look to those buildings to continue to create such beauty for the future?

Kelsey said...

I strongly believe that without historicism society as we know it would not exist. People have to learn from what other people have done in the past in order to grow in the future. Democracy would not have come to be without previous systems of government or monarchs. And the same goes for design, modern design cannot exist and expand without something to expand on or from. So to answer the question about whether or not designers should look to the past for inspiration, I believe absolutely, they must. I think it is important in more than just design to understand what worked and what did not. During the eclectic period architects like Hunt, McKim, Mead & White, and Garnier were all “imitating the work of the past,” (Pile 301). According to Pile, they were “relying on history for inspiration,” which has been a common practice for many years. Early Greeks copied works from Egypt, and the Byzantine architects coped works from the Greeks, and so it goes on. But the eclectic designers and architects were not backtracking in history however, they didn’t simply see a style a copy it, they mixed and matched “selecting from historical precedents…in….whatever seems suitable or attractive for a project,” (Pile, 301). So in the time of such forward thinking, the eclectic designers were not being counterproductive in their designs, but I believe rather, they were getting back to the classicism and traditionalism of design. Although it was easier for some, like the “stripped classical” designers to come up with “new” design, very famous designer like Richard Morris Hunt had problem designing when historical precedent did not fit the design, for example his New York Tribune Building (Pile, 304).

Christa Mueller said...

This era was just another part of the cycle of style. We go through periods of originallity and then periods of looking to the past. This has its good points and bad. First of all, I'm never for suppressing originality. Yet secondly, I can understand the fear of loosing quality of design. Which I'm imagining is the reason for the revivals of historic styles. I beleive that it is important to go back to historical design every few generations because otherwise we would end up permanently in eras of design like the 1970's and the Victorian era, not that they didn't have any good qualities.

carrie w said...

I believe that designers should defiantly look to past precedents for inspiration. The truth is almost everything that is designed is inspired by something in the past whether it was intentional or not. I do not think that referring to the past is counter productive. Look at any great architect or designer from the past or the present. They have always been inspired by the works of people that have come before them. They use these inspirations as starting points and abstract them until they are unrecognizable. Also it is true that some architects really do just imitate the works of the past. This i believe can be somewhat counterproductive because it is restricting people from having the next great design!

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