It is extremely difficult to define what makes architectural excellence, therefore we often revert to the theoriesof those whom we consider to be the great philosophers and “thinkers” of our time. As society, religionand culture evolve, as does architectural style and form; therefore, to make sense of what we define as”successful” architecture, we often return to critical pieces of literature to act as guidelines to aid us in ourunderstanding of design. This essay aims to investigate and to critically analyse how past philosophers andpieces of literature have influenced the work of James Gibbs (1682-17541); in particular his work on theRadcliffe Camera, Oxford. In addition, this essay aims to question whether Gibbs’ work has influenced thedirection of modern architecture and to interpret whether consequently, the theoretical ideals which haveinformed Gibbs’ work, have been fulfilled or whether they have been compromised.
The Radcliffe Camera, which first opened its doors in 17492, is recognised as one of the most iconic buildingsin Oxford’s skyline. The building is the perpetuated memory of the English physician, Dr John Radcliffe(1650–17143); whom is one of the most distinguished intellects to ever graduate from Oxford University. In hiswill, Radcliffe gave a large proportion of his wealth to his trustees, with the purpose of building a new libraryfor the University; now known as the Radcliffe Camera.To understand Gibbs’ architectural style, one must look to his time abroad and the figures whom he was mostinfluenced by. Sent to Rome in 17034, following the death of his parents, Gibbs begun training for priesthood,however in 17045 , abandoning his religious path, Gibbs turned to the infamous architect Carlo Fontana(1638-17146), the leading master of Baroque in Italy at the time. Fontana, whom was heavily influenced byGalileo’s studies on strength in materials (published in 16387); was an extremely distinguished architect, whoin turn was influenced by the works of Vitruvius.
Initially, Fontana’s fashionable and professional architecturaltraining gave Gibbs’ the cutting edge over his competitors in England. Upon his return in 17098 ,due to hisexquisite Baroque style and the contacts he had made under Fontana, Gibbs became a very sort afterarchitect. In 17139, with the backing of Christopher Wren and under rule of the Tory government, Gibbsbecame one of two surveyors in charge of building fifty new churches in London.1. James Steven Curls, ‘ A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture’, Oxford Reference, 2006, accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.oxfordreference.com.
1093/acref/9780198606789.001.0001/acref-9780198606789-e-20042.Bodleian Libraries, ‘Radcliffe Camera celebrates its 275th anniversary’, Bodleian Libraries University of Oxford, 17th May 2012, Accessed 2ndJanuary 2018, http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.
uk/news/2012/radcliffe-camera-celebrates-the-275th-anniversary3.Bodleian Libraries, ‘Radcliffe Camera celebrates its 275th anniversary’, Bodleian Libraries University of Oxford, 17th May 2012, Accessed 2ndJanuary 2018, http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2012/radcliffe-camera-celebrates-the-275th-anniversary4.James Steven Curls, ‘ A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture’, Oxford Reference, 2006, accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.oxfordreference.
ac.uk/view/10.1093/acref/9780198606789.001.0001/acref-9780198606789-e-20045.James Steven Curls, ‘ A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture’, Oxford Reference, 2006, accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.oxfordreference.com.
Nicola Cavalagli and Vittorio Gusella, ‘Structural Investigation of 18th-Century Ogival Masonry Domes: From Carlo Fontana to Bernardo Vittone’,International Journal of Architectural Heritage: Conservation,Analysis and Restoration 9,(2015) 266.7. Nicola Cavalagli and Vittorio Gusella,, ‘Structural Investigation of 18th-Century Ogival Masonry Domes: From Carlo Fontana to Bernardo Vittone’,International Journal of Architectural Heritage: Conservation,Analysis and Restoration 9,(2015) 266.8.
Editors Of Encyclopedia Britannica, ‘James Gibbs’, Encyclopedia Britannica, April 11, 2013, accessed 2nd January 2018, https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Gibbs-Scottish-architect9.Country Life, ‘Great British Architects: James Gibbs’, November 22nd 2009, accessed 3rd January 2018, http://www.
countrylife.co.uk/out-andabout/theatre-film-music/great-british-architects-james-gibbs-26212CLASSICISM AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN DESIGN THEORYAR30341 | Architectural History & Theory 3.1 | 2017-1802/01/18Candidate Number : 08595However, the tide was turning, and the highly ornate style of Baroque was becoming unfashionable;alternatively, the more understated decorative style of Palladio was on the rise. Gibbs was unlucky in asense; being one of the first architects to train abroad, he should have dominated the field, however hewas fighting a losing battle on many fronts. Queen Anne had lost her only surviving son, William in 170010,which motivated parliament to pass the Act of Settlement (170111), ensuring that the future ruler of the UnitedKingdom would be of Protestant faith. Queen Anne’s death in 171412, therefore saw the succession of throneto Prince George, Elector of Hanover; a German Protestant. Thus, Gibbs’ Roman Catholic faith was ratherunpopular at the time.
Moreover, as a Tory, Gibbs’ was at a disadvantage. Prince George had decided tofavour the Whigs. As a result of the change of regime that followed, Gibbs was no longer trusted by theWhigs in parliament, who would go on to dominate politics for the next generation, therefore he was takenoff the commission for building new churches. In addition, as a Scot, Gibbs was already less popular thanhis English colleagues, due to somewhat complicated relations between the English and the Scottish due toa period of religious ferment and also the merging of Scottish and English Parliaments in 170713 ; of whichmany were uncertain of. It seems as though Gibbs entered the world of architecture with ill-timing.
“Forcedto adapt his buildings to suit the prevalent taste powerfully advocated by Lord Burlington for a more austerestyle of Classical architecture”14,his beloved Baroque diluted to the likes of Palladian Architecture, his loss ofwork under new governance and his unfortunate unpopularity as both a Scotsman and a Roman Catholic.Inspired by both Wren’s circular design for the library of Trinity College Cambridge and the Mausoleum ofCharles the First, Gibbs’ continued on Nicholas Hawksmoor’s concept for the circular library in Oxford, afterbeing brought onto the project following Hawksmoor’s death in 173615(Figure 1).10.BBC History, ‘Historic Figures: Queen Anne’, BBC, 2014, Accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.bbc.
co.uk/history/historic_figures/anne.shtml11.BBC History, ‘Historic Figures: Queen Anne’, BBC, 2014, Accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.
BBC History, ‘Historic Figures: Queen Anne’, BBC, 2014, Accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/anne.
shtml13.Sandy Murray, ‘Twelve dates that changed Scotland’s relationship with England’, BBC News, 25th January 2012, accessed 2nd January 2018,http://www.bbc.
co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-1664918414.Country Life, ‘Great British Architects: James Gibbs’, November 22nd 2009, accessed 3rd January 2018, http://www.countrylife.co.uk/out-andabout/theatre-film-music/great-british-architects-james-gibbs-2621215. James Steven Curls, ‘ A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture’, Oxford Reference, 2006, accessed 2nd January 2018, http://www.
0001/acref-9780198606789-e-200416.Oxford University Estate Services, ‘The Radcliffe Camera Conservation Plan’, ( Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2012) 18.Figure 1- Left, Wren’sDesign for the Mausoleumof Charles the First. Right,Gibbs’ proposed designfor the Radcliffe Camera16.The two are very similarapart from their groundstages.02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595CLASSICISM AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN DESIGN THEORYAR30341 | Architectural History & Theory 3.
1 | 2017-18Figures 217,318 and 419(“The Temple of Hercules”, “The Tempietto” and Gibbs’ “Radcliffe Camera”(Shown left to right). Here you see the evolution of the temple across time and across different cultures.Whilst the library holds clear similarities to the circular temple motif, there remain several key differencesbetween the two. The form of the Radcliffe Camera’s structure is circular with a cupola and paired columnsof similar measurements to that of Wren’s St Paul’s.
Despite its tall stature, the Radcliffe Camera gives theappearance of being short and compact, unlike the slender, lofty appearance of its ancient Greek relative; thisis perhaps due to the heavy rustication on the ground stage of the building “with a series of eight pedimentedprojections, the cornices of which are carried round the building”20, earthing the structure with its weight.The building consists of three stages in total, the irregular arrangement of the pedimented projections onthe ground stage give the impression of movement and rhythm, which resemble that of the ancient circulartemples. Paired Corinthian columns support the entablature in the middle section of the structure creatingseparate bays which are used to house collections of books. The variation in materials however furtherdistinguish the Radcliffe Camera from that of ancient Greek temples; the ground stage is formed of local hardstoneand the superstructure of Burford stone, whereas the ancient Greek temples were often constructedof a singular material, most commonly marble. The classical form of ancient temples can be seen in thestructure of the Radcliffe Camera through the cylindrical drum mounted by a dome, baring vast resemblanceto that of a drawing of a circular temple according to Vitruvius ( Figure 5).17.Visit Italy, ‘Why visit the Temple of Hercules in Rome’, Visit Italy, October 19th, 2015, accessed 3rd January 2018, http://www.travelviaitaly.
com/why-visit-the-temple-of-hercules-in-rome/18.Pinterest, ‘Tempietto Bramante’, Pinterest, accessed 3rd January 2018, https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/324470348123869874/19.
Britain Express, ‘The Radcliffe Camera’,Britain Express, accessed 3rd January, http://www.britainexpress.com/images/attractions/editor3/Radcliffe-Camera-8163.jpg20.
H.E Salter, ‘The Radcliffe Camera’, A History of the County of Oxford 3 (1954) 55.It is through the Radcliffe Camera’s circular dome form that we see its lineage to Ancient Roman architecture,and its relation to ancient circular temples. The library most likely takes its form from one of the earliestGreek circular temples, “The Temple of Hercules” and also a later form of the temple, “The Tempietto”, byBramante (Figures 2 and 3). It is highly likely that Gibbs would have visited many Roman temples during histime in Italy, and would have taken great inspiration from them. This can be seen in both the colonnade thatencompasses the inner cylindrical domed centre and the colonnade which appears to sit upon and within therusticated base. Bramante’s High Renaissance architectural design of the ‘Tempietto’ was based on the workof Vitruvius, “The ten books on architecture” and also illustrated by Palladio himself in fourth book of “I quattrolibri”.
The temple design follows the rules of the three orders and also the cylindrical arrangement known asthe peristyle; as described in Vitruvius’ literature. This universally acclaimed design is highly likely to haveinfluenced Gibbs architectural style.CLASSICISM AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN DESIGN THEORYAR30341 | Architectural History & Theory 3.1 | 2017-1802/01/18Candidate Number : 08595Figure 5 – “The Circular TempleAccording to Vitruvius”. The shape,mathematical calculations and formbare great resemblance to that of theRadcliffe Camera21.
The mathematicalapproach to design most likelyinfluenced by Fontana’s teachings,Galileo’s studies and Vitruvius’literature.21.Vitruvius & M.H Morgan, Vitruvius : the ten books on architecture, (New York: Dover Publications, 1960) 124.22.Vitruvius & M.H Morgan, Vitruvius : the ten books on architecture, (New York: Dover Publications, 1960) 124.
23.Oxford University Estate Services, The Radcliffe Camera Conservation Plan, ( Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2012) 13.24.Vitruvius & M.H Morgan, Vitruvius : the ten books on architecture, (New York: Dover Publications, 1960)31.25.
Vitruvius & M.H Morgan, Vitruvius : the ten books on architecture, (New York: Dover Publications, 1960)116.The purity of the form of the temple is subverted, enabling practical use of the library (e.g. enclosed, dividedspaces for multi-functional use). It could be said that the ideals of the Ancient Greek and their definitionof a circular temple have been unfulfilled, however, in a way, as Vitruvius describes in “The ten Books onArchitecture”, no temple can be the same.
“We must not build temples according to the same rules to all godsalike, since the performance of the sacred rites varies with the various gods”22. Gibbs’ portrayal of an ancientGreek/Roman temple has been subverted, however the Radcliffe Camera is acting as a temple built to housethe memory of Radcliffe and his beliefs, therefore, rather than reflecting the temples entire physicality, thelibrary spiritually reflects the ideals of the ancient Greek.An important element adding to the temple-like nature of Gibbs’ library is its position in the city of Oxford. TheRadcliffe Camera stands in the centre of Oxford, in Radcliffe square. “Radcliffe Square was in the centre ofthe mediaeval city, with Broad Street to the north, then known as Canditch, lying just outside the city walls”23.This central area of Oxford then became a hub for scholars, whom studied in schools set up in a series oftenements. Again, much like the ancient temples, the location was of great importance.
Vitruvius writes “If thecity is on the sea, we should choose ground close to harbour as the place where the forum is to be built; but ifinland, in the middle of the town”24. He then goes on to write “The quarter towards which temples of immortalgods ought to face is to be determined on the principle that, if there is no reason to hinder and the choice isfree, the temple and the statue placed in the cella should face the western quarter of the sky”25. This thereforecompromises Vitruvius’ idea of a classic temple, as if John Radcliffe is the God like figure of which the libraryis dedicated to, the entrance to the Radcliffe Camera faces due North, rather than West, and Radcliffe’sstatue sits above the entrance to the Upper Reading Room, facing South. It is then in question, why, iffollowing the ideals of classical Greek architecture, would you then not follow them completely? Perhaps itwas merely something that was not considered in its design, or perhaps deemed unimportant, as culturallythe temple was not of the same significance to the British as it was to the ancient Greeks.02/01/18Candidate Number : 08595CLASSICISM AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN DESIGN THEORYAR30341 | Architectural History & Theory 3.
1 | 2017-18Furthermore, in relation the Radcliffe Camera’s location and form, we see how as an architectural device,the dome and the circle serve as religious symbols. The classical geometrical shape found in Renaissancearchitecture; the circle centred within a square, represents eternity; once again, the position of Gibbs’ librarywithin Radcliffe square indicates a higher meaning, one driven to ensuring the enduring memory of its patron.”During the Renaissance, the circle and the sphere were considered the perfect shapes, conforming to theRenaissance thinkers’ idea of God…Renaissance architects, following the principles of the Leon BattistaAlberti, reverted to the basis of design for churches.”26.
Here we see the Renaissance influence of Gibbs’ timein Rome and also the influence of religion. (The Dome is an architectural metaphor for the heavens becauseits interior shape is concave)27. Although politics and monarchy may have changed, it appears that religionhas remained highly influential in the design of buildings, even in buildings of academic purposes, rather thanreligious ones.As previously discussed, Gibbs’ strength was in Baroque architecture, however taste at the time leant towardsthat of Palladio, resulting in the intermingling of both styles.
Gibbs’ nemesis (whom was the man to informthe authorities of Gibb’s Catholic faith), Colen Campbell, “made scathing attacks on his architecture in hisillustrated celebration of Classical architecture in the kingdom, Vitruvius Britannicus”28.In a bid to fight againsthis critiques, Gibbs’ resolved to the more austere taste of Palladian architecture, championed aggressivelyin the 1720s by Lord Burlington. This change in style is more apparent in his work towards the mid to late1720’s, especially in “Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire and Ditschley in Oxfordshire”29. Despite the advancetowards Palladian architecture, Gibbs’ tends more so to follow Wren rather than Burlington. The RadcliffeCamera bares great similarities to St Paul’s Cathedral, perhaps one of the greatest masterpieces of Baroquestylearchitecture, however the pointed profile of the Gibbs’ dome appears more so like St Peter’s Basilica inRome, rather than Wren’s in London. The plasterwork of the interior and the saucer domed structure of theroof, in contrast, are similar to that of St Paul’s, with detailing more similar to that of Italian Baroque churches.The “applied classical orders for the Piano Nobile and also buttressed dome above, surmounted by a lanternand the ‘Syncopated’ rhythm of upstairs bays with intermediate ones under the buttresses broken up byblind niches,”30, are more exuberant than those found in Palladian architecture, however more restraint thanclassical Baroque. Although, it could be argued that Gibbs’ simply preferred the style of Northern Baroque incomparison to the more decorated Southern Baroque style.
The evidence of Palladian architecture is evidenthowever; the Corinthian columns, pediments and symmetrical design of the Radcliffe Camera all highlycharacteristic of Palladio’s work ( Figures 6 and 7).26.Alva William Steffler, Symbols of Christian Faith ( England: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2002) 74.27.
Alva William Steffler, Symbols of Christian Faith ( England: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2002) 74.28.Country Life, ‘Great British Architects: James Gibbs’, November 22nd 2009, accessed 3rd January 2018, http://www.countrylife.
co.uk/out-andabout/theatre-film-music/great-british-architects-james-gibbs-2621229..Country Life, ‘Great British Architects: James Gibbs’, November 22nd 2009, accessed 3rd January 2018, http://www.countrylife.
co.uk/out-andabout/theatre-film-music/great-british-architects-james-gibbs-2621230.Geoffrey Tyack, ‘Architecture of the Radcliffe Camera’, Lecture and Presentation, 4th February 2015CLASSICISM AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN DESIGN THEORYAR30341 | Architectural History & Theory 3.1 | 2017-1802/01/18Candidate Number : 08595Figures 631 and 732 – “Chiswick House” and the ” Radcliffe Camera”, ( shown left to right).
Here we see LordBurlington’s “Chiswick House”, recalling purer Palladian style and form; the perfect picture of the buildingsdescribed in the literature of antiquity. On the right we see the more theatrical Baroque style of the “RadcliffeCamera”, contrasting starkly against Lord Burlington’s work, the prevailing and more fashionable style at thetime.31.Chiswick House and Gardens, ‘ House and Gardens: The House’ , Chiswick House and Gardens, 2018, accessed 3rd of January 2018, http://chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk/house-gardens/the-house/32.
Claire Giordano, ‘The Radcliffe Camera’, Quantum, 8th September 2014, accessed 3rd January 2018, http://blog.quantum.com/data-stewardshipgeoint2013-and-the-radcliffe-camera-2/#.Wk1Ptd9l9PY33.Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture , ( Printed by John Watts for the author, 1715 )22.In “The Four Books on Architecture”, Palladio writes “A fine building ought to appear as an entire and perfectbody, wherein every member agrees with its fellow and each so well with the whole, that is may seem absolutenecessary to the being of the same”33. Taking this into account, one could argue that, through integrating thetwo different styles, Gibbs has not met Palladio’s theoretical ideals, however to others, it could be said thatthe Radcliffe library is in-fact extremely successful, as to the eye of many, the Radcliffe Camera is in a waythe beautiful agreement of both styles, appearing as “an entire perfect body”.
It is extremely difficult to say whether the Radcliffe Camera influenced proceeding architecture in Britain.Upon careful consideration, one might argue that in-fact the Radcliffe Camera did not influence the modernarchitects of today, as the building is stuck in-between two iconic moments in the history of architecture.It is neither pure Baroque, nor pure Palladian architecture, therefore it is the compromised ideals of bothstyles. Woefully, in many ways Gibbs did not meet his full potential; either due to the disadvantages causedby his chosen faith, cultural heritage, his political ideals and simply the ill timing of his return to Britain; hewas in-fact too late to enjoy the height of Baroque architecture in Britain.
Despite this, Gibbs sought hisown success through the publishing of “A book on Architecture”, which is certain to have contributed to thechanging ideals and minds of intellects across the world; perhaps influencing its readers to one-day designin the same style as the Radcliffe Camera. Vitruvius may have felt the structural form of the ancient Greektemple compromised in Gibbs’ library, however, one could argue being one of the only ancient architects toleave behind his literature, it is too ambiguous to decide that these were the definite ideals at the time. It isfair however, to say that both Alberti and Vitruvius might have considered the Radcliffe Camera a successin reference to their ideas of worship, memorial and eternity, as the architectural devices in the buildingclearly perpetuate its patron John Radcliffe & house his memory; as do the ancient temples of the Greekhouse the Gods.