Theory and Design in the First Machine Age

By Reyner Banham | Go to book overview
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2: Choisy: rationalism and technique

IF GUADET'S MAIN thesis is almost lost beneath a flood of miscellaneous informatiom Choisy's, to which information is everywhere subservient, is always in view, even if it continually opens side issues or casts light on other matters. His book1 is history, but it is history with a single theme--Form as the logical consequence of Technique--that makes the art of architecture always and everywhere the same

With every people, the art will undergo the same choices, obey the same laws; prehistoric art seems to contain all the others in embryo.

For Guadet, composition was the perennial theme, for Choisy it was construction. The difference is one of background and work, not of generation, for they were men of almost the same age, Guadet, born 1834 died in 1908, Choisy, just seven years younger, died in 1909. There was a difference of temperament also; Guadet was, apparently, very much the Grand Professeur, and in his later years almost as diffuse in personality as in his writings, but

Though short in stature, M. Choisy, was a man of very fine presence, with something military about his personality2

and photographs taken of him at the time he received the RIBA Gold Medal, 1904, show a rather hard-faced, business-like man in the sort of square-rigged jacket affected by sea captains and constructional engineers.

An engineer by training, he took a down-to-earth, practical-minded view of architecture which remained for him, as for Henri Labrouste, L'Art de Bbtir. For him, the essence of good architecture, was always construction, the business of the good architect was always this: to make a correct appraisal of the problem before him, after which the form of the building

This discussion of Choisy and his ideas is based on the Histoire exclusively, since this was the work of his that was most widely read and exercised the most general influence among the next two generations of architects. His other books, such as the exhaustive Art de Bbtir series, each dealing with some major phase of architectural history, such as the Roman or the Byzantine, were more specialised and more bulky, and therefore hardly known to general architectural readers, though their effective conclusions are summarised in the relevant parts of the Histoire.
Obituary in The Builder ( London, 25 September 1909).


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