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The Evolution Of English Architecture

In 1958 Bruno Zevi (1918-2000) defined architecture as “art of the space:” however, perhaps the most logical and meaningful definition of architecture is: “Architecture as man-made environment.” This means that it is the mirror of progress and evolution of humanity. Not extending the search to another area of the world, and remaining only to English example, the definition of architecture as “man-made environment “is particularly evident.

When the Romans left Britain, the Anglo-Saxon houses were made of a frame of wood filled with grass and mud. The chief of a tribe lived with his warriors in a bigger house called a “hall.” The hall was a big room, wide and smoky with a fire in the middle. There was a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. Often there were oxen in the corner of the hall. Even in the houses of the nobles the furniture consisted of a table and a few stools and forms.

After their conversion to Christianity they began to build churches usually of wood, but during Canute’s reign (1017-1035) many churches were built of stone. One of the oldest Saxon churches in Britain is at Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire. It was built in A.D. 700: simple and sturdy it is a typical Saxon church. The tower of Earl’s Barton was also erected by the Saxons and is still standing.

There has been substantial progress on these technical arrangements with the arrival of the Normans who came with William the Conqueror (1028-1087). To defend themselves against the attacks of the native Saxons, the Normans built many castle, and Dover Castle is one of them. They used much stone and built very thick walls. Therefore Norman architecture is generally very strong. The Normans also built very beautiful churches, as we can see by the splendid example of the nave of Waltham Abbey. Notice the heavy round pillars supporting round-topped arches. The Normans were also clever in making beautiful patterns in stone, as we can see in the doorway of the church.

During the Middle Ages, the Lord of the Manor lived in a Manor House. This was built in stone and had openings which were very like church windows. At first there was no glass and the windows were unprotected and closed with wooden shutters at night. Later on small pieces of glass began to be fitted into frames. Towns in the Middle Ages had narrow and dirty streets. Many of the houses were shops as well as homes. On their doors there were painted signs ( a fish, a boot, a pair of scissors) showing the nature of the business carried on within. The roads were in bad repair and people used to walk ankle-deep in mud. Open drains ran down in the middle of the street. Pigs, sheep and Chicken looking for food wandered among the rubbish.

However, the merchants lived above their shops. In their houses there was a living room with a large fireplace on the first floor. The bedroom was over the living room and jutted out the street so that servants could easily throw water into the street gutter. In the old town of York there is a street called “the Shambles” were one can still see houses of that kind.

In Architecture the Middle Ages from 1200 to 1500 are marked by the discovery of the pointed arch and the triumph of the Gothic style. Gothic contains three periods: Early English (13th century), Decorated (14th century) and Perpendicular (15th century). A perfect example of Perpendicular style is King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. In this period the pointed arch becomes blunted as shown in the picture, the windows are made of mullions which are vertical and horizontal stone bars with the blunted arch above them, the roof is supported by great outside buttresses each with a tall pinnacle. Between the buttresses are huge windows of stained glass.

the windows of stained glass and the pinnacles of King’s College Chapel at Cambridge could be regarded as incontrovertible evidence that architecture and human progress are the same thing: “Architecture as man-made environment.”

Find the best architects Cambridge has to offer, or simply read more information about Cambridge architecture

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