Architecture is a speech known and read for all men; and it is by its great buildings, even more than by its literature, that a country or an age is estimated by posterity. 'Hoc fecit Wykeham' Parents' Review, 1890/91.
I've come to better understand and appreciate this two-fold blessing: that history provides a structure and sense of order to the study of other subjects and that the other subjects in the realm of the Knowledge of Man---literature, citizenship, composition, languages, art and so on---'vibrate' about the story of mankind in time, harmonizing and deepening my understanding---and my relationship---with each other. It has been, for me personally, the key to unlocking a paradigm shift, setting subjects free of their isolated compartments and truly experiencing a relationship with learning.
One of those topics that pivots about history is that of Architecture. At the Second Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat I will be hosting an immersion session on Architecture. That means, rather than talk about architecture in a Mason education, we will dive in and experience some actual lessons on the topic. Our session will be full and yet there is much to say about the topic and how it relates to a Charlotte Mason education that might be of interest. So I thought a post would be timely to lay just a bit of that groundwork and whether you can come to the workshop or not, you might, hopefully, be inspired to consider the study of architecture.
Architecture is the most universal of all the arts. It is also the most expressive of all the arts, expressive not only of the artist but of whole peoples and their times. Furthermore, it is the one art which touches everybody. (Architecture: Five Thousand Years of Building by Joseph Watterson, W.W. Norton & Company, 1950, 3)
How Mason Approached Architecture and How We Might Do So
1. Architecture as History. Joseph Watterson said, "Buildings are conceived by men, built by men, and used by men. To know something of the men and the times which produced them, why their buildings took the forms which they did, and how those forms originated is to add greatly to an intelligent enjoyment of them." (Watterson, 3) I would propose that the inverse is true as well; to know something of the buildings conceived and used by men is to know and understand something of the men and the times that produced them.
One of the books Mason used in her programmes is a good illustration of the union between history and architecture. In A History of England, Mr. Arnold-Forster frequently included little vignettes about clothing, housing, cathedral building, and so on to complement his narrative. Why? Because hearing of the clothing and the homes and the sights and the sounds of other times helps us visualize them. Miss Mason talks more about this in Chapter 18 of Home Education.
Mason suggested that "plays, novels, essays, 'lives', poems, are all pressed into service and where it is possible, the architecture, painting, etc. which the period produced." (Vol. 6, 177-8) All these are 'pressed into service' to learn history and to build those tableaux.
So, one approach to architecture might be to read of the development of architecture through time, corresponding your readings to the time period in which you are studying history. Illustrations could be added to a Book of Centuries. A suitable book for this might be Hillyer's A Child's Introduction to Art: Architecture; Architecture Shown to the Children by Gladys Wynne; The Story of Architecture Throughout the Ages by P. Leslie Waterhouse; or Architecture: Five Thousand Years of Building by Joseph Watterson. If you have come across any other living books, please mention them in the comments!
2. Architecture as Art. In Ourselves, Miss Mason talks of the instructive value of art. "The artist has indispensable lessons to give us, whether he convey them through the brush of the painter, the vast parables of the architect, or through such another cathedral built of sound as 'Abt Vogler' produced." (Vol. 4, 102, emphasis mine) On some of her programmes, books on architecture were included under the heading "Art and Architecture."
Like other art forms, architecture has a language of sorts; its ideas are conveyed not by words and sentences but by forms and design elements, light and space, function and materials. It can be a foreign language for the uninitiated, but even a minimal exposure to some ideas and some basic terminology opens the book of architecture wide enough for anyone to enter through.
A second approach to architecture might be to adopt the method of art appreciation in a Mason school. Choose an architect from the era of your history studies and study several of his works over a term, doing a 'Picture Study' of the building.
3. Architecture as Science. In addition to including architecture on her programmes in the category of art appreciation, Anne White writes that Miss Mason also included it under the heading of General Science. "So the history of architecture is the story of many great buildings and the men who designed and built them," Watterson tells us, "and it is the story of the growth of the techniques of construction and the development of the arts of planning and design." (Watterson, 5; emphasis mine) The story of architecture is incomplete without a consideration of the technologies and materials available to it. To know something of physics is to understand the arch and the dome. To see how the Romans developed concrete is to appreciate the scope and durability of Roman structures. In a discussion of Science, Mason gave an example of the types of questions children might be asked: "How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Give drawings." (Vol. 6, 220)
A third approach to architecture might be to look at a particular material (ex. concrete) or design element (ex. dome) or structure (ex. castle) and follow its usage and development in time. Use your Book of Centuries to record drawings or highlight advancements through the ages.
- Select an architect for your next Artist Study rotation. Read bits from a biography and do a 'picture study' of photos of various buildings. Choose a few concepts or terminology to introduce at the beginning of the study and then note those in each 'picture study' small talk.
- A chronology of architecture can be used like seasoning to add interest to other History or General Science readings. Hillyer's book, for example, has generally no more than 2-3 chapters on any time period.
- Do you conduct Family Studies as a group in your home? Read through a book such as Hillyer's for a term and get a broad sweep. This can add some variety to subjects you typically tackle.
Which brings us full circle back to the immersion session at the upcoming CMER: we will look at Approach #2 and use the lifetime of one architect to illustrate how architecture can paint for us those 'living pictures' of the mind, a tableau vivant for our Houses Beautiful. We will read and narrate and I will send you home with a term's worth of study that you may print out and try in your own home.
I hope to see you there!
We want in our architecture something that will speak to our imagination and to our heart, that will speak to us of things we want to know, and show us things we want to remember. An architecture that will call up Nature's Cathedrals, her giant columns, her stained windows, her fretted vaults, her turrets, her spires and pinnacles, an architecture whose inspiration has been caught from Nature's own woods and plains: that has in it the strength of the hills and the haunting beauty of the forest; the mystery of the silent stars, and of those other lesser stars "that in earth's firmament do shine." Such an architecture would be worth praying for, and—paying for; and if you know one that any or all these things I wonder if you can tell me its name. Does it begin with a G? (Architecture Shown to the Children by Gladys Wynne, 126-127)