THE IDEA OF STYLE: GOTTFRIED SEMPER IN LONDON (GERMANY, ENGLAND)
The concept of "style" has enjoyed little popularity among architects of the twentieth century. Hermann Muthesius in his functionalist manifesto of 1902, Stilarchitektur und Baukunst, first proposed that the term be stricken from architectural discourse, so that attention might be shifted from the formal to the functional demands of design. For him "Style-Architecture" was pejoratively identified with the practice of "styles" by the nineteenth century. Hence no distinction was made by Muthesius between "styles" and the more basic and artistic notion of "style."
This dissertation proposes to examine the idea of style from the perspective of the nineteenth century, at a time when the notion was regarded as essential to the practice of architecture. More specifically, I intend to review the style theory of Gottfried Semper (1803-79): the most influential and prolific German theorist on architecture in the nineteenth century.
I have attempted in this dissertation to review Semper's architectural theory strictly from his underlying style conception. I have given broad coverage to his formative years, but especial emphasis to the four years he spent in London in the 1850's.
It is my thesis that contemporary opinion on Semper has not gone far enough in assigning him a style theory not only anti-utilitarian or anti-materialist in nature, but also one particularly emanating from the promotion of ornament.
Secondly, this ornamental preference of Semper, when pursued from his incessant search for a style definition, bound together his thinking from 1834 to 1870 into a process of more or less continuous development.
Thirdly, Semper's final formulation of style, with its focus directed at the artistic work and process itself, the raising or explicating of the underlying themes or motives, unified the seemingly disparate moments of polychromy, Bekleidung, personal will and culture.
Fourthly, Semper's conception of styles possesses relevance to contemporary architectural theory. My perspective of Semper is that of an architect, and it was his basic concern for the motivation of the artist, for approaching the heart of the artistic act, it seems to me, that renders his ideas today poignant. In essence, I believe contemporary architecture has much to gain by again making the distinction between "the styles" and "style."