I gathered the following seven images of Neoclassical styled estates from the internet. Six of the images are historic structures that were built at the turn of the Nineteenth Century or early in the Twentieth Century. One of the images is a house that was built in the 1990s and caught my attention on the front cover of a magazine on luxury estates.
A person who studied architecture history could identify several of the examples because they are historic, and were designed by famous architects, and by the process of elimination, could single out the estate that was built recently. If a person has not studied architecture history, and is unfamiliar with the estates shown, would they still be able to tell which estate is the one that was recently built?
Here’s a hint: The architects that designed Neoclassical buildings were trained to design in traditional styles; it was fundamental to their architectural education. When the Modernist movement came, architecture schools abandoned the training of design in traditional styles because it seemed as if it would never again be necessary. Because of this discontinuity in architectural education, architects wishing to design in traditional styles had to be self-taught. The result is that there is a large number of amateurishly designed traditional styled buildings, and very few that are academically correct. The untrained architect does not understand the Classical Orders, and the details and proportions that are required to competently apply them to a design, and so the results end up looking more like a caricature of traditional architecture.
A person who thoroughly studies traditional architecture would look at the posted images and would immediately identify the recent work because of its caricature look. What I wonder though, is whether a layperson can distinguish a caricature looking traditional building from one that is academically done. Could a person of average intelligence, with a college education, for example, a doctor, lawyer, accountant, biologist, etc. be able to pick out the estate that was designed in the 1990s?
What caught my attention when I was browsing through the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble was that the house that was featured on the cover was built with a very large construction budget that could easily accommodate a properly designed façade. I wonder how this house could have been built. When the architect presented the sketches, drawings, renderings, and construction documents to the clients, couldn’t they see that they were getting a caricature of Neoclassical architecture rather than a relevant example of the style? I read the description of the house in the magazine and some of the statements are laughable. It is being described as “…an elegant, refined, luxurious, restrained and perfectly executed expression of neoclassic architecture inspired by the Louis XVI period.” It goes on to say that the “…interpretation of the period style is masterful” and that “Painstaking attention to detail was applied to the execution of each facet of the residence.”
It occurs to me that this is one of the problems with practicing traditional architecture in the Twenty-first Century. Not only are untrained architects designing amateurish, caricatures of traditional architecture, but the people who commission the architects are unable to distinguish the difference. People can easily distinguish an image of Mickey Mouse as a caricature among other photos of various rodents, but not so much when it comes to architecture. Was the architect’s client of a century ago better educated than today’s client, or does the proliferation of bad design make it difficult to distinguish good from bad?