The Cotman Collection | 27

Cotmania. Vol. X. 1934-5

Archive: SDK Sydney Decimus Kitson Archive
Reference Number: SDK/1/2/1/10
Page: 13 recto

  • Description

    Press cutting from The Builder - A Centenary History

    Article discusses the history of architecture with a mention of Kitson of a letter from John Sell Cotman to his son, where Cotman says in one of the early meetings of the Institute that it is remarkable how different the character of the head of the Architect is from that of the Painter - "Their heads have a more masculine and grand character than those of the Painter, and I believe that the study of architecture requires it". The article muses whether a modern artist would notice this today.

    Date: 1934-1935

  • Transcription

    {press cutting}
    IN our leading article last week we considered some of the many matters of professional and public interest which are of some note in connection with the centenary which is being celebrated this week of the Royal Institute of British Architects. As we then said, a hundred years is a short span in the history of the art of building, but it marks a long and important period in the status of the architect as we know him to-day. With all the uncertainties confronting the profession as to the trend of design and practice, the increasingly closer relations with other professions and interests, and the growing and exacting public demand for knowledge and efficiency from the architect, it can be said with some confidence- bearing in mind the complexity of the present times and the development of conflicting interests- that the position of the architect in the social state was never better than it is to-day. To a large extent the present-day architect belongs to a profession that was never so united as it is now, nor so much entitled to take its place with the other great professions which exist for the benefit of the general community, of which they are part, as well as themselves.
    The gradual emergence of architects as members of a profession was an inevitable consequence of the various movements directed by the R.I.B.A. to improve the status of architects, and this, we believe, is the outstanding achievement of the Institute, in a large measure, during the century of its existence, assisted in part by other agencies actively pursuing the same ends. To what extent this has been achieved will be realised by those who read the Centenary History of "The Growth and Work of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 1834-1934." Even to readers of this journal lack a full knowledge of the activities of the R.I.B.A. may be pardoned, but this little book, though it makes no pretence to enter into all the intricacies of Institute history in detail, shows, as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, R.A., the President, tells us in the Foreword to the book, how varied have been those activities and "what good service the Institute has been able to render to the profession and the country and has itself received from its members continuously throughout a hundred years." This is borne out by Mr. J.A. Gotch, F.S.A., Past President, the editor of the book and author of some fifty very interesting pages of general history of the Institute, in the course of which it is made clear that while safeguarding its own domestic concerns, in the early part of its history "it kept an eye on matters of general interest connected with architecture," and while it has continued to do so since, it has developed the scope of its activity considerably by its educational and examination work, and by its unification and registration policy.

    Mr Gotch describes at some length the registration movement, although the registration of architects is dealt with in a separate chapter. Other chapters of the book devoted to Institute matters are: the Allied Societies; architectural education; architectural competitions; professional practice; the Library; the Journal; and the Architects' Benevolent Society; while an excellent account and analysis of architecture of the past 100 years concludes the text part of the book, which also contains illustrations of the various premises occupied by the Institute and the thirty-four portraits of Presidents. Apart from the professional interest of this History, there is a more general interest if only in showing once more what may be achieved by individuals working together for common objects, in the attainment of which by men of high principles self-interest does not ignore certain obligations to the community. But the items of professional interest are many, one of which is mentioned in Mr. Sydney D. Kitson's account of the Library, in a letter to his son from John Sell Cotman, who had presented his etchings of "Norfolk Architectural Antiquities" to the Library. In the course of this letter, describing one of the early meetings of the Institute, he says, "It was most remarkable to see how very different the character of the head of the Architect is from that of the Painter. Here the heads were all large-with one exception, and he does not rank well as an architect. Their heads have a more masculine and grand character than those of the Painter, and I believe that the study of architecture requires it. Calculations must come into their account. The effect of the mass was singularly fine." We wonder whether a modern artist would notice this to-day.
    Whether we agree or not with all Professor Goodhart-Rendel's remarks on architecture since 1834, there can be no doubt about the general soundness of his discriminating analyse of the contribution of the works of the deceased architects of the period. We quoted in our last issue the remarks of the same writer on a question of definition. "Architecture," he said, "in the sense of design is an art, and architecture in the sense of an architect's practice is a profession. If you take the term in both senses, it cannot be covered by one definition; if you limit it to either the question becomes needless." If such reasoning had been applied to past inquiries as to architectural art, we should have been spared a great deal of of unnecessary discussion on the subject, and as we may still be making similar mistakes in our present-day discussions the final words of Professor Goodhart-Rendel's article in the History may be worth quoting. "At the present time," he says, "all the buildings of which I have spoken may seem to belong to an order of things that is passing, if not already past. In so far as they have been the product of that vicious method in which buildings are designed from the outside inwards I hope that this may be true. The opposite process, however, that of designing from the inside outwards, needs a very great deal more talent and experience than many who now attempt to practise it have at their disposal, and a backward glance over the last hundred years, if it do nothing else, may remind us profitably of much devoted pursuit of aesthetic sensitiveness on the part of people perhaps not so very much stupider than ourselves."
    With these remarks before us and in bringing our notice of this interesting History to a close, we should like to suggest to the Institute the advantage of devoting more time in the future to the public and professional advancement of architecture by means of lectures and publications by some of its scholarly members. Our ideas in regards to architecture are repeatedly changing, and it is impossible to say what the development may lead to. There is, therefore, a need for closely reasoned explanations of theories that are upsetting our traditional standards of taste and art, and the Institute might well devote some time to the consideration of such matters.

Press cutting from The Builder - A Centenary History