Eclecticism is a nineteenth and twentieth-century architectural style in which a single piece of work incorporates a mixture of elements from previous historical styles to create something that is new and original. In architecture and interior design, these elements may include structural features, furniture, decorative motives, distinct historical ornament, traditional cultural motifs or styles from other countries, with the mixture usually chosen based on its suitability to the project and overall aesthetic value.
The eclectic architecture , takes its roots in historicist architecture . If the historicist architecture was more dedicated to imitating the currents of antiquity (such as Greco-Roman ) and not to incorporate characteristics of other cultures or architectures, the eclectic architecture is mainly dedicated to the combination of architectural currents.
Thus, its main feature is to combine two or more architectural styles in a new structure, which in turn, is something new, with characteristics of the currents it takes, but with new ones.
The term “eclectic architecture” also applies freely to the variety of styles that emerged in the nineteenth century after the neoclassical boom. In any case this period happened to be denominated like “historicista” with the step of the time.
In the last decades of the twentieth century , on the other hand, a new boom of eclecticism developed, hand in hand with the concepts of postmodernism . This current has been called ” neoeclectic “.
Eclecticism came into practice during the late 19th century, as architects sought after a style that would allow them to retain previous historic precedent, but create unseen designs. From a complete catalogue of past styles, the ability to mix and combine styles allowed for more expressive freedom and provided an endless source of inspiration. Whilst other design professionals (referred to as ‘revivalists’) aimed to meticulously imitate past styles, Eclecticism differed, as the main driving force was creation, not nostalgia and there was a desire for the designs to be original.
Some of the most extreme examples of eclectic design could be seen onboard ocean liners (which at the time were the primary form of overseas transport). The lavish interiors were crafted with a mix of traditional styles—in an attempt to ease the discomfort of months abroad and to create the illusion of established grandeur.
At a similar time, such vessels were being used to transport colonists to undeveloped areas of the world. The colonisation of such areas, further spread the Eclectic architecture of the western world, as newly settled colonists built structures commonly featuring Roman classicism and gothic motifs.
To a lesser extent Eclecticism appeared across Asia, as Japanese and Chinese architects who had trained at American Beaux-Arts influenced schools, returned to produce eclectic designs across Asia such as the Bank of Japan (1895) by Kingo Tatsuno.
Eclecticism in Art and Architecture
Eclecticism is characteristic of the styles of European art since the beginning of historicism . As an art process, postmodern eclecticism is important for critical reflection on existing material. The term eclectic or eclectic refers to a single work of art, in which various past styles are processed. With regard to the respective artistic quality, a distinction must be made between imitation and personal development. The term may be given a negative emphasis if the artist chooses non-creative elements from other works and joins them into a new work instead of creating one’s own.
In architecture, eclecticism is the citation of architectural style elements of several bygone eras on a new structure. This methodology can be found in particular in the historicism of the 19th century, but also, for example, in the 11th century in the southern Italian Romanesque , where a Arab-Byzantine-Norman style of mixing was created. Also in the postmodern architecture of the 20th century.
An eclectic is one who chooses what is suitable from the existing and tries to adapt it to his purposes.
Eclecticism and Historism
Eclecticism , analogous to historicism , is also used as an epochal concept. Eclecticism, however, is considered unsuitable as such an epochal concept, since at that time there were other architectural attitudes as well. As a substitute designation and delimitation eclecticism against historicism can be used to better classify the then widespread style pluralism : Thus, the numerous neo-styles in architecture (see Neo-Romance , Neo-Gothic , Neo-Renaissance , Neo-Baroque ) served not only a reference to past history, but also to establish a location reference, a characterization of the building task or a coherence of the construction.
Eclecticism , within historicism, can also mean the mixture of styles of the form apparatus used on a building.
The term eclecticism , in the context of historicism and pejorative connotation, can also be a criticism of the selective design process of many architects of the 19th century.
Eclecticism as a method term
Architectural design can result in a selection process of existing styles and forms. Elements from different models can be combined with each other. These examples sometimes come from similar architectural circles (Roman temple type with Greek columns) or from completely different (Renaissance portico next to Egyptian columns and Moorish window frames with Gothic spire). In the selection process, temporal references (as in historicism) or spatial (as in exoticism ) may play a role.
Eclecticism as a methodology can also mean the use of different shapes and styles on different buildings within the overall work of an architect, if he is to meet the respective, different, building task.
George Gilbert Scott saw the method of eclecticism positively:
“Eclecticism in itself is a good principle, that is to borrow from the art of all kinds the elements with which we can enrich and perfect the style we have identified as our basis and our core according to our plan.”
Gottfried Semper, on the other hand, criticized the “art disciple” who “stuffs his herbarium with well-pasted drawings of all kinds”
“In the expectation that the appointment of a Walhalla à la Panthenon, a basilica à la Monreale, a boudoir à la Pompeii, a palace à la Pitti, a Byzantine church or even a bazaar in Turkish flavors can not fail to last long.”
Fritz Schumacher differentiated eclecticism as a design method:
“There is a reckless-superficial and conscientious-scientific eclecticism, there is an eclecticism of comfort and one of conviction, an eclecticism of mind and one of feeling.”
Eclectic worldview and humanities
The term has already been coined in antiquity , for example at the time of Christ’s birth. At that time, different schools of philosophers existed side by side, and there were thinkers and politicians who were called eclectics because they combined elements of different positions. The most famous representative of this direction was Cicero . In his ethical ideas he essentially adopted the teachings of the Stoics , but also incorporated values from the Academy and the Peripatos . In Christianity, the eclectic motto of Paul von Tarsus Examines everything and keeps the good as a basic principle that facilitated the missionary inculturation of the new faith in the ancient world.
In the humanities , the concept of eclecticism characterizes the method of forming a new unity from set pieces of different systems , theories or worldviews . The often derogatory use of the term reveals a preference for self-contained, isolated theory systems over the selection of true statements from different theories when refuted elements are not adopted. The fact that eclecticism is legitimized by science theory is shown by Richter (2011).
Eclectic architecture first appeared across continental Europe in established countries such as France, England and Germany, in response to the growing push amongst architects to have more expressive freedom over their work.
The École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, considered to be one of the first professional architectural schools, trained students in a rigorous and academic manner, equipping them with skills and professional prestige. Teachers at the École were some of the leading architects in France, and this new method of teaching was so successful, that it attracted students from across the globe. Many of the graduates went on to become pioneers of the movement, and used their beaux-arts training as a foundation for new eclectic designs.
Whilst the practise of this style of architecture was widespread (and could be seen in many of the town halls constructed at the time), eclecticism in Europe did not achieve the same level of enthusiasm that was seen in America—as it was assumed that the presence of old, authentic architecture, reduced the appeal of historical imitation in new buildings.
The end of the 19th century saw a profound shift in American Architecture. Architects educated at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, such as Richard Morris Hunt and Charles Follen McKim were responsible for bringing the beaux-arts approach back from Europe, which was said to be the cornerstone of eclectic architecture in America. At a time of increasing prosperity and commercial pride, many eclectic buildings were commissioned in large cities around the country. The style thrived, as it introduced historical features, previously only seen in the aristocratic architecture of European countries such as Britain and France, contributing to a richer sense of culture and history within America. In the case of Hunt and many other eclectic architects, his ‘typically eclectic viewpoint’ enabled him to make stylistic choices based on whatever suited the particular project or the client. This flexibility to adapt, and to blend freely between styles gave eclectic designers more appeal to clients.
The creation of skyscrapers and other large public spaces such as churches, courthouses, city halls, public libraries and movie theatres, meant that eclectic design was no longer only for members of high-society, but was also accessible to the general public. While some of these buildings have since been demolished (including the original Pennsylvania station and the first Madison Square garden—both in New York City), projects that remain from this era are still valued as some of the most important structures in America.
As a style that offered so much creative freedom, and no guiding rules, the risk of creating an unsuccessful design was apparent to all. Projects that failed to harmoniously blend the different styles were subject to criticism from professionals (particularly those who were against the movement).
Enthusiasm for historical imitation began to decline in the 1930s and eclecticism was phased out in the curriculums of design schools, in favour of a new style. The shift towards Modernism was significant as it was seen by many as avant-garde and the new technology and materials being produced at the time allowed for greater innovation. Despite the move away from eclecticism, the era still remains historically significant as it “re-opened the doors to innovation and new forms” for architecture in the following years.
The rise in eclectic architecture created a need for interior specialists who had the skill, understanding and knowledge of past historical styles, in order to produce suitable accompanying interiors. This resulted in the emergence of Interior Decoration as a regarded profession. Prominent Interior Decorators in this era (between the late 19th and early 20th century) include Elsie De Wolfe, Rose Cumming, Nancy McClelland, Elsie Cobb Wilson, Francis Elkins, Surie Maugham and Dorothy Draper. Whilst the clientele of these early decorators consisted exclusively of wealthy families and businesses, the works of such decorators were regularly featured in popular publications such as House and Garden, House Beautiful, and the Ladies Home Journal. Publishing the lavish interiors of these magnificent homes helped to spread the eclectic style to the middle classes, and less extravagant imitations or the incorporation of similar decorative elements became a desirable feature in domestic decoration. Aesthetic preferences varied from region to region across America, with Spanish styles being favoured in California, and elements of ‘colonialism’ being popular in New England.
In contemporary society, styles that draw from many different cultural and historical styles are loosely described as “eclectic” though references to eclectic architecture within literature and media are usually about buildings constructed within the eclectic movement of the late 19th-early 20th century period.
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