All pleasures which life has to offer are either those afforded by nature or those created by man. Among the latter, none is more powerful or more far reaching in its influence than the feelings of appreciation and delight which arise from the study of some noble edifice that has been erected by man either in the past or in the present.
The science of building is a fascinating subject and unless the resulting edifice evokes an emotion of some kind, it cannot be considered as a work of art. Vitruvius, writing on the subject of architecture some twentyfive years before the Christian era, has stated “architecture is a science arising out of many sciences and adorned with much and varied learning”. He has also said that an architect should be ingenious and adept in the acquisition of knowledge, a good writer, a skilled draftsman versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed of the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the sciences, both of law and physics, nor of the motions, laws and relations to each other of the heavenly bodies.
The ancient Indian Silpasastra of Manasara, detailing out of the qualifications of architects and their assistants, has on record similar lines, which agree with the above statement of Vitruvius.
The architect has thus to possess the faculty of scientific knowledge with that of imaginative thought. He has to know all about building materials, their occurrence, characteristics, treatment and use as well as the relative construction methods. He has to be a planner and an administrator. He should be in a position to analyse his clients’ needs and to translate them into a building programme. He has to be more than an artist because his creations serve a practical purpose in addition to the purpose of beauty in building.
The history of civilization is the story of the development of mankind’s mind and soul and the art of architecture has developed in response to these developments. When man crawled out of his cave to establish himself on the surface of this earth, his chief anxiety was to make himself safe by constructing rudimentary shelters of whatever material that was available close at hand. In rocky places he used stone, in forest areas he built with wood and where neither was available, he used mud. All these primitive dwellings, like beehives, were alike in shape—they were all round. In this barbaric age, buildings required only strength.
The earliest civilisation is attributed to Egypt and it was in this land that rectangular architecture had its origin. They fashioned lumps of clay into bricks to build a wall. However, it is only when the Egyptians used their structures for effect, that the history of architecture properly begins. From their faith that material form was necessary to perpetuate existence arose the necessity of tombs. This was the next stage, where not only strength but also permanence was sought for. The great pyramid at Gizeh has been described as the greatest and most accurate structure ever built. Each of its four sides is almost a perfect equilateral triangle, with its apex 481 feet above the base. This monument which is more like a mountain of stone would not have been possible, if the Egyptians were not well up in their knowledge of mensuration and geometry to execute such a huge and accurate structure confidently. Its magnitude and the ingenuity shown in fitting the stones together impress every beholder. Architectural requirements were less exacting, on account of limited social development, in the Egyptian era and methods of construction alone imposed themselves as the basis of design. In Egyptian architecture, we find the exposition of the post and lintel principle, with a large margin of safety.
In the architecture of ancient Greece, we find again the same post and lintel principle as that of the Egyptians but on account of their higher cultural standards and technical knowledge, we find refinement in the proportion of every member which was further enriched by sculptural decorations. Since life was lived out of doors, the Greeks designed for external rather than internal effect of their structures. They employed the beam as a dominating clement in construction. Here was beauty recognised as an adjunct of building called for in every structure.
The achievement of Romans consisted in covering large spans. Inspired by the demands for huge spaces where crowds could assemble, they evolved the arch and the vault. From the engineering standpoint the Romans made a wonderful discovery in concrete and their concrete which was derived from volcanic products was exceptionally strong. This enabled them to build cheaply and rapidly on a vast scale. As Ruskin has said “The Romans went in for a cheap and easy way of doing that, whose difficulty was its chief honour”. Thus social requirements and technological developments to answer them have progressed together. Without technological] development, the architectural requirements of Romans might have remained unachieved. It should be noted that the real beauty of Roman architecture lies not merely in their decorated buildings, but, also and mainly, in the technological and engineering applications they involve, for the achievement of their aims. The Roman structural system dominated the architectural conceptions of the period, during which the Roman empire exerted its world-wide influence.
We find the idea of force dominating the middle ages. The medieval engineers invented the domes as their new system of roofing over large spaces. The arts of stone carving and glass painting were perfect with the sole aim of enriching their structures. The medieval engineers showed better understanding of the mechanics of construction than the Romans. Having discovered the pointed arch, they knew how to buttress the walls against the outward thrust of their towering Gothic vaults. The Golhic structural system was based upon a thorough knowledge of engineering principles in general and their application to masonry practice in particular. As a consequence, a living force animated their structures which, during Egyptian, Greek and Roman era, had been kept together by their dead weight. Out of medieval structure. emerged the important suggestion of skeleton framing, which reappeared as a principle of building technique, which we find today in the practice of modern architecture.
The next period was that of the Renaissance, which though not contributing to any new system of construction, was a period of variation and improvement upon past performances.
With the dawn of the nineteenth century, we find the industrial era, calling for new structural facilities. Factory buildings, warehouses and railway stations, requiring large spaces to be enclosed, had to be constructed. for the industrial revolution. By the introduction of cast iron and later on of rolled steel to meet new needs, the nineteenth century was placed on a plane of equality with the great structural periods of the past. Joseph Paxton, in his crystal palace built in the year 1851, showed how iron framing and sheets of glass could produce a marvel of airy grace and speciousness by the use of factory-produced building components. Through the Swiss Engineer Robert Maillart was found reinforced concrete as a structural material of great elegance and plasticity.
Today, we have structural systems, which can exercise complete control over space. We can span huge voids, we can enclose vertical space to any height. New methods of analysis have shown the way of designing structures as live structures, in which each member contributes its share to the stability of the whole and this is made with the minimum expenditure of material, without depriving modern architecture of its expression. Sheer mass, which used to be used in the olden days to suggest stability as an architectural expression, is losing its significance. Stress is placed on economy of construction and a structure is designed as slender as may be consistent with strength. This effect of lightness is further enhanced by use of bright surface and smooth finishes especially glass—which modern science has made available.
Modern trend in architecture is to give face treatment as a means to express the purpose for which the building is created. An astlar masonry with raked-back joint produces an impression of character, quite different from that obtained with flush jointing. Similar is the case with brick-work and its jointing. In recent years, many experiments have been made in the direction of supplanting stone, brick, tiles, marbles and quartzite by other substitutes like metals, steel. aluminium, copper, porcelain enamelled iron, pre-fabricated slabs, resin bounded plywoods, asbestos etc. for external claddings. These with their characteristic texture, colour and properties in respect of absorption and refraction of light, are made to bring out the purpose for which buildings are erected. Thus the development and rapid progress of technology have given very useful tools, in the hands of the architects, for bringing out the beauties latent in the nature of the materials, and for enhancing the aesthetic value of his structures, with economy.
In the olden days, the system of ornamentation, that was employed to cover up the massive structure, was the result of the efforts of craftsmen, carving and modelling for the enrichment of surfaces which otherwise looked depressing on account of the huge inert masses, considered so essential for strength. With increased technological knowledge and consequent decreased factors of ignorance, the structures have less inert masses and therefore less need for such decoration. This is the reason why the modern buildings are plainer and depend upon precision of outline and perfection of finish for their architectural effect. Also, now that decorative enrichment can be done either by moulding or by machinery, there is not the same virtue in these decorations as they lack the variety and the personal touch of craftsman.
The rapid spread of population in the last hundred and fifty years, together with the development of vehicular transport, has created the necessity for tall multi-storeyed buildings and sky scrapers. These engineering feats, which compel respect, are structurally so light and delicate and yet are so strong and aspiring. These could not have been designed and executed, without the advance in the field of structural engineering and foundation engineering, which arc the products of modern technological development.
There is a saying that necessity is the mother of invention. In Britain, during the second world war, numerous prefabricated houses were put up to meet housing shortage. Even in India, production of prefabs was given a trial to meet a similar situation. It is merely a question of time that these ready-made building components of beams, columns, wall panels, etc., will change the whole nature of building construction and along with it called a revolution in architectural conception and construction. Economy and speed of construction are additional requirements of the present civilized age, which calls for strength, permanence, economy and beauty. Coming to specialist buildings, the architect cannot begin his design until he has analysed in detail the functions the building has to fulfil. If it is a hospital, he has to acquaint himself with hospital routine, in order that he may be able to orient and arrange the different rooms, so that the doctors and the nurses may do their jobs efficiently. If it is a factory, he has to study the manufacturing processes, in order to help them to run efficiently. Compared to the ancient times, when planning was simple as it followed the accepted pattern with minor variations to suit, the present-day planning of buildings is continually becoming more complex and technologically influenced, on account of the continued research into the way they have to function. The architect has to study acoustic effects and the effect of absorbents and reflectors as if he were a physicist if he has to plan modern theatres and auditoriums, so that they may be cent per cent effective. As our life grows more complex with the advance of technology, scientific methods of analysis become absolutely necessary for the planning of buildings, only when the best plan arrangement has taken shape in his mind is the architect ready to think of what his building should look vertically as well as horizontally. As the general outline takes shape in his mind, he will consider what kind of treatment will suit it best. The modern architect is a constructor as well as a designer. Though he is not expected to fulfil an engineer’s role, he must collaborate with those who specialise in steel work, in reinforced concrete, in heating, in lighting, in sanitation, in fire fighting and in the many other sciences, before he can execute a modern building.
We thus find that architecture has all along been the outcome of an efficient coordination of the effect of a number of technological experts. More so is it today. In fact, the architects’ office of today are tending to be increasingly occupied by technological experts, dealing with the engineering and mechanical services of design. The new methods of structural analysis in steel and concrete have enabled modern architects to incorporate newer and more appealing form to roofs, canopies and building profiles which would have been impossible but for technological advances in the design of steel and R.C.C. structures. Though steel and concrete frame structures are in current use, structural possibility has not ended with them. Prestressed concrete is slowly, but surely, taking the place of reinforced concrete. At present, it is largely used for construction of bridges, tanks, industrial buildings, etc. But it is simply a matter of time, before its use spread over a much wider field, to include the realm of multi-storeyed buildings.
In addition to certain of its advantages over reinforced concrete, it is also a competitor to steel in the matter of the ratio of depth to span of members subject to bending. The use of prestressed concrete would make all future structures still lighter, for equal strength and, therefore, much more economical and pleasing.
To sum up:
(1) Technological progress has always influenced the architecture of any period.
(2) Such technological progress has consisted in the periodical advent of:— (a) new materials of construction—either natural or artificial (b) new methods or processes or construction including finishing, etc., (c) new conceptions, theories, calculations and design principles, as a result of the continuous research, (d) new demands made by almost every sphere of human activity, from simple protection for residential purposes to the most complex of industrial and other structures of modern times.
(3) Without the utilisation of the results of technological development, the architectural requirements of strength, permanence, beauty, economy and efficiency could not have been secured in architectural work.
(4) Architecture, without technological progress, would have stayed stagnant, stereotyped and incapable of the many artifices, which impart truth, beauty and goodness to structures.
(5) Technology holds architecture in its grip and every architect has, therefore, to remain abreast of all technical developments in the matter of design, construction and materials, if he has to keep himself professionally uptodate.