Before and After the End of Time: Architecture and the Year 1000

pub_fac_smith_before_after_end_of_timeThe title Before and After the End of Time: Architecture and the Year 1000 alludes to a dramatic contrast between architecture in western Europe from the seventh to tenth centuries on the one hand, and in the eleventh and twelfth centuries on the other. Whereas the earlier period saw very little building activity, and virtually no monumental architecture in quarried stone, the centuries after the turn of the millennium witnessed extensive construction of large-scale buildings accompanied by the revival of technology for building in stone. We are not suggesting a cause-and-effect relation between the failure of the world to end in 1000 and a renewed enthusiasm for the work of human hands. Nor is it the case that large stone buildings, which almost by definition require a knowledge of applied engineering and elaborate machines for the lifting and moving of weights, as well as abundant manpower and a great deal of money, appeared immediately after the turn of the millennium.

Nonetheless, since a great many such buildings were begun in the eleventh century, whereas almost none had been attempted in the previous centuries, a general comparison between architecture before and after the year 1000 is appropriate. This change in the course of architecture is represented in the exhibition in various media, each illuminating a different aspect of the subject. We include photographs of existing buildings, twelfth-century sculpted depictions of architecture, elements of architectural sculpture from medieval buildings, and modern reconstructions of buildings before and after the millennium. Altogether these objects help viewers to understand the appearance, materiality, and conceptual organization of the new architecture. Additionally, however, because all these works are drawn from collections at Harvard University, a second theme emerges: the study of this material at the University. In this [chapter], the characteristics of architecture before and after the millennium will be intertwined with the story of how this material, neglected, obscured by later building campaigns (themselves the fruit of an increasing momentum in cut-stone engineering), and even destroyed between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, became first an object of visual interest, then of systematic scholarly study, and finally of graphic reconstruction based on archeological excavation. We trace this story through the paradigmatic contributions of three Harvard men: Henry Hobson Richardson, a Harvard graduate who became one of the foremost architects of the nineteenth century; Arthur Kingsley Porter, professor at Harvard in the early part of the twentieth century; and Kenneth J. Conant, trained as an architect at Harvard and later Porter’s successor as professor of art history.

Photographs from Richardson’s personal collection depicting San Michele in Pavia, San Zeno in Verona, the Abbaye des Dames in Caen, St. Gereon in Cologne, and the Cathedral in Trier attest to the first stirrings of modern interest in the Romanesque style, so central to Richardson’s own architectural designs, and serve here to illustrate the general characteristics of the new architecture. Buildings during this period revived kinds of construction well established in classical antiquity such as stone masonry, vaulting, and the use of the Classical Orders. Even the use of figural sculpture as a means of expressing the “message” of the building, at first glance so medieval in approach, revives the practice of ancient Rome. It is because of this strongly classicizing tendency that architecture of the eleventh and early twelfth centuries is called Romanesque, meaning “Roman-like” By the mid-twelfth century, at least in the northwest of France, this classicizing style was supplanted by the first post-classical architectural style in Europe, the Gothic. Our exhibition, however, is concerned only with the Romanesque.
Although Romanesque buildings owe much to classical precedent, they also display entirely new features. Their innovations are by no means superficial but rather express the radically different mentality that had been born from the ruins of the classical world. Buildings, for instance, were now conceived in plan as comprised of modules, sometimes based on the square of the crossing (the juncture of nave and transepts) and sometimes on the square of the bay (defined at its corners by the nave columns or piers). The arithmetical proportions of the plan were expressed in elevation by the solid geometry of cylinders, cubes, and other regular solids, usually characterizing the exterior massing of the structure. A supreme neatness, precision, and purity often informs the composition as a whole. Interior supports were often compound piers (masonry masses composed of columnar or quadrangular elements attached to a central core) rather than columns. These great masses better withstood the weight and thrust of vaults, often themselves of stone. Visual relationships between the pier and vault were often expressed by wall responds-slender vertical elements attached to the wall. Much attention was paid to the mural boundary, which tended to be pierced with openings or developed sculpturally by groupings of shafts or moldings.

— Christine Smith
from “The Human Architect and Architecture Made by Human Hands”

This catalogue is published in conjunction with “Before and After the End of Time: Architecture and the Year 1000,” an exhibition shown at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University from August 2000 to January 2001. The exhibition was a part of a series of millennial events organized by the GSD Department of Architecture. The book’s essays are Christine Smith’s “Before and After the End of Time” and “The Divine Architect and the Heavenly Jerusalem”; Hunter Ford Tura’s “The Stones of the Heavenly Jerusalem”; James Ackerman’s “Observations on Architectural Photography” and “On the Study of Early Medieval Art at Harvard”; and Assistant Professor of Architecture Marco Steinberg’s “The Installation: A Question of Meaning and Representation.” The publication includes a preface by Jorge Silvetti, Chair of the Department of Architecture, and an introduction by Christine Smith and Majorie Cohn, Curator of Prints, Fogg Art Museum.

George Braziller, publisher, 2001