7 APRIL 1866, Page 11


T""-Sty-lea" were invented in bright climates and before smoke was. They are therefore unsuited to London, which was built under. a climate originally grey and cold, and has now An incurably- fuliginous atmosphere. So also is Gothic architec- ture whenever it is ornamented, and indeed any mode of building whatever which depends in any degree for its external effect upon minute elaboration or tracery. The soot fills up every hollow and loads every projection, delicate tracery becomes in a short time meaningless smudge, and in a few years an erection like the 4' Cross" in front of Charing Cross Station, which would now be .so beautiful were it not obscured by its huge frame, will be a rather ridiculous because unintelligible obelisk of concrete .smoke. That, we take it, is a rough but brief expression of the idea Mr. Herman 1VIerivale has endeavoured to work out in the- Fortnightly Review with such wealth of illustration and argumen- tative evidence, and it contains, we believe, the primary truth -without belief in which the- architectural improvement of London is impossible. Either we must alter the climate of the metropolis -or we must build in conformity with it, and as yet we have not- consented to do either. The former indeed is popularly considered impossible, vestrymen only grinning when told that it is quite within the power of legislators and architects to make London air -one of the freshest and most cleanly atmospheres in. the world. How, they ask, can we change the exhalations, or abolish the -fogs, or banish the clouds, or compel the sun to shine, or remove that cold grey tinge which they have sense to see *like a twilight, fatal to beauty of colour? Very easily we can do it all, if only-we will to get rid of the smoke. • There is no natural obstacle to -contend with. So far from the climate of London, being --originally bad, it is unusually good for the letittide—a freak, clear, yet soft atmosphere, in which there is little. haze;. in which rain washes as well as wets, and, which is free alike from. duskiness- aud. glare. Watch it those who_ doubt, at four cr'clock on a summer's morning, when the light is full, but the fires are not yet kindled, and columns -are visible, and gables defined, and undulations perceptible, and London lies, as it were, for one half-hour of the twenty-four- in, unveiled beauty or deformity. The single evil of the climate of London. for artistic purposeis smoke ; thahundreds of- tons. of coal -daily poured down from. the sky, upon_ the. city in the diffused.and. destructive form of wetted soot. Once prevent that deposit,. and London would be a vast city, lying on & well drained' soil under -a clear though chilly sky, well swept. by the wind,. and singularly free from the vapour which hangs over cities built in a basin or at the bottom of a river valley. Every building would stand out for 280 days in the year as sharp and, clear, though not as glaring, 118 in Italy ; any form of ornament would be possible, and the moat delicate shades of colour would be visible to the eye whieh was not investigating them. Event the wonderful rows of boxes with holes in them inflicted on us- by the peculiar tenure of West Loudon, a tenure which' seems purposely deeigned to prohibit originality, durability, and variety, would. be endurable, for they would present long lines either of white broken by green, or of. variegated colour. Gower Street is architecturally perhaps the most detestable habitat in- the known world, but imagine Gower Street without grey in- it, with no two houses& of the same colour, With the railings of University College tipped with gold, the build- ing itself snow white, and the gardens a mass of colour suck as reheves the eye for three months in the year on. either side of the Broad Walk in Regent's Park ! There are no obstacles to that change save smoke and the Dukeries; and we can abolish smoke if we only choose, and. Dukeries if we only dare, each object requiring only certain expenditures quite within metropolitan means. Suppose, when the sewers are done, say in 1E170, we devote the coal tax to the extinction. a smoke, the improve- ment in fact of the great climatic condition under which London lives. There are a hundred. men in. London who vicaild like nothing better than. to be called upon. for a plan, practical and. minute, for killing, the smoke, one to be act- cemplished for leas; than half the- sum which will be expended upon the sewers. Until- that object is secured, budding in Landon upon our present plaza is merely waste of power, for every projec-

tion, as.Mr. Merivale says, becomeemensly shapeleaseepository for the product of. smoke to. lodge in," every ornament is- a. stoke- hole, every balcony a coal-shoot.

Failing-this great work, which, if we ever get a Home Secretary without hereditary woods, or a.Severeigm with a. taste, or a muni- cipality with an architectural_ despot, will assuredly be-attempted, the alternative is to try-Mr. Merivale's idea, and devise a. system of architecture suited to.alocality in, which the- air is on fine days heavy with smoke, and on wet days thick with. coagulated soot. That system must have, three features, not one of which: is visible in the buildings of modern London—great simplicity and massive- ness of outline,, great brightnees or rather distinctiveness of colour, and great capacity for being washed. The-simplicity is. essential, in order to deprive the soot of foothold. If there is. nothing on which to ledge the soot will fall to the ground, and the column therefore must have the plainest capital, windows the thinnest ledges, and finely cut mouldings be entirely omitted. Tracery must. be abandoned with, a sigh, and architecture assume something of the Egyptian character—a grandeur dependent on. vastness, a beauty sought only in perfection. of clearly cut outline. "Delicacy of detail, it has been shown. abundantly, is wholly un- suited to our condition—not more or less, but wholly; because in a. few years it must unavoidably become (unless in some ex- ceptional situations) not more or leas obscure, but amply invisible. This.is really no matter of opinion.; it is, mere matter of fact, of which every one must have, satisfied himeelf„or cannot fail to satisfy himself with the slightest expenditure of observation. And. yet we go en, year by year, erecting pretty crotehets, towards which thousands are thrown. away,. in, carving atone into marvels of- fretwork. Such erections MIL but serve to fill the pockets and feed the- self-opinion of clever embellishers, and to please the eye of the passer-by for three or four seasons; then to disappear in the blackness of Erebus." "Delicacy of detail," then, the temptation.. of all modern architects, for costliness of execution. is their gstin, must be surrendered, and replaced absolutely by distinctiveness and beauty of outline, one architecture becoming. to, the architecture of to-day what an outline by Flaxman. ie to an engraving from "in Italian,, a long,, grave, yet imposing frontage,. such as that of the noble Procuratie of Venice, seems in the maim to suit our requirements well ; so does the palatial style of Genoa, for the. Genoese architects were compelled by the extreme narrowness of the streets on which their buildings abutted to make them, as flat-faced, as possible, and avoid broken outlines and projections, which are unsuitable in our case, as we have seen, for different rea- sons.. For projections and recesses are with us, in truth, smoke- traps; for which reason the side of our new public offices towards St. James's Park is predestined to irremediable blackness..." The result will no. doubt be a certain sameness as well aa grandeur, but that. can be greatly relieved by colour. We are the. wealthiest race on earth, and have among us materials exactly suited to our climate, materials which will glow through. & fog, and. shine through a haze, and absolutely repel contamination even from wetted soot. There is the rose-coloured granite used. in the Westminster Crimean monument., and the- reddish granite. of Aberdeen„ and the" veined and coloured limestones of Corn-wall, Devon, Purbeck, and Ireland," and the green marble, most. beauti- ful of surfaces, which Lord Henry Petty tried so hard. to popu- larize, and of which his family still own great quarries, and pure white granite,, and black granite—blade is a colour utterly neg- lected; though it picka out. a dark red building excellently—and the American brownstone, and. the thousand coloured marbles, stones, porphyries,. and agates which, if we had but the courage to." veneer" our buildings, woultiall he available. We know quite well how that word will shock all genuine artiste, and there isa in it something repulsive, but the nearer they are to the first claw,. the more readily they will acknowledge that. the, truest architecture is that whittle adapts. itself most perfectly to climatic and economic conditions. If the storms will not allow of gablie„ we must have flat roofs ; if the soot makes: brick unendurable, we must veneer brick with a substance over which soot has no power. London is a city of residences, not of public buildings. We cannot build

private houses of malachite or porphyry, but once admit this idea, and the mineral wealth of earth is at our disposal, and our long, dull, streets may gleam amidst the falling soot and under a leaden sky

with a variegated brightness of colouring which would take half the melancholy out of London life. We admit there are those wretched Dukes. They will not grant freeholds if we offer them a thousand guineas a square foot. They will not even grant leases of the old decent length, and they will inflict rules as pre- posterous and as unchangeable as Building Acts upon their powerless tenantry. But Dukes can be taught in the course of ages as well as charity children, or they can be overruled by Par- liament, in wise Building Acts, or—well, we suppose it would be blasphemy to suggest that Dukes could be hanged, Mr. Fergusson sitting as judge, with architects for jurymen, and Mr. Merivale for public prosecutor,—but still this is a realistic age, and Dukes have necks. Mr. Merivale, we see, still hopes something from zopissa and glazes of silica, but he is nearly in despair, and we are wholly despairing. Science never helps leaseholders, and the only refuge is in better material, solid for great buildings, thinly veneered for private dwellings, but in both imperishable, full of colour, and capable of being washed. Washing is heresy, no doubt ; but why, in the name of common sense, should a building not be washed, like anything else, if only it be washable? There is no mechanical difficulty whatever. We could spout water up to the tops of our houses outside just as easily as we now do inside, ' or pour a stream of water from a steam engine when there is no fire just as readily as when there is. A regular London house plated, so to speak, with finely polished white, or brown, or grey granite, could be washed as perfectly as a door-step in half an hour at an expense of a sovereign or less, and one washing a quarter would keep London as bright as the pillars of the Carlton Club contrive to keep themselves. Mr. Merivale points out with great force that buildings exposed to the wet west winds often "enjoy a most remarkable exemption from costly blackness, and even from less obnoxious weather stains ;" but all buildings cannot face the west, and what is the use of civilization if it can- not create a west wind? Captain Shaw would create it in an hour of the most effectual kind, if it were ordered and paid to do so, and the objection to the use of such means, if tree at all, is an objection also to the practice of availing ourselves of the forces nature has placed at our disposal—a practice which every architect commends, particularly when it pays him. With designs in which outline shall replace ornament, frontages veneered with rich stone, courage in the use of bright colours, and unlimited water, London might still be changed from one of the dreariest into one of the gayest and most varied of great cities. Of course it would be simpler and better to extinguish smoke, but with a House of Commons too cowardly to give London a municipality, and too selfish to forget that its members live for six months in the year amongst green trees, we have suggested what is practi- cally the easier course—a course which four or five men, Russells, Grosvenors, Bentincks, and Portmans, could secure for us unaided, if they would. Of course they will nothfor they have abbeys and old trees, and pleasant lakes and bright streams, and sweeping hills within their own domains, and care for London only so far as Londoners swell their rent-rolls ; but still they could do it, if they would, and an ideal is something.

Mr. Merivale has touched but one small division of an endless subject—the city life of Great Britain, the life of half the race of whose achievements we all profess to be so proud, but it is some- thing to see it touched by one who is outside "the profession." The architects would help us if they could, and the artists, but they are powerless among Englishmen, and our only chance is to induce the representative of the greengrocers to bestir himself. He is all-powerful, that mysterious entity, though he finds it so much easier to overturn the cattle trade than to pull down Northumberland House, and can help us if he is willing, and he will be made more willing by one article full of Mr. Merivaie's chatty scorn than by a volume of learned disquisition. We must, if Englishmen are not to be driven into choosing between junipered gin and helpless melancholy, whiten, and brighten, and lighten our grey, soot-bedimmed, sad cities, and the first step in the process is so to rebuild them as to make them capable of cleanliness and colour and visible beauty of structure. Those points are in the culture of a people as valuable as hygiene, which between Dr. Lankester and Calvinism, the fear of cholera and the hope of profit from sewage, epidemics and the Social Science Association, stench and lecturing lorcllings, we shall, when this generation is dead of weariness and malaria, possibly secure.