chapter  3
23 Pages

Architecture in ruins

ByJonathan Hill

The early eighteenth century is associated with a significant transformation in the English landscape when the picturesque came to the fore. As a counterpoint to an austere Palladian villa or pavilion, found or fabricated ruins were a feature of many estates, offering contrasting temporal metaphors. Rather than attempt to transcend materiality in the universal geometries of ideal forms, an alternative design strategy celebrated broken and decayed structures. On the one hand, the eighteenth century continued to characterise the immaterial as timeless and distinct from the material, and on the other, it discovered the immaterial in the material. Associating self-understanding with the experience of objects and places subject to the weather, the eighteenth century conceived the immaterial as temporal and experiential not only in the actual absence of matter—material decay—but also in the perceived absence of matter seen through mist and rain. A found or fabricated ruin acknowledged the effects of time and place, emphasising symbiotic relations with its ever-changing immediate and wider contexts and celebrating the creative influence of natural as well cultural forces. In a significant design innovation, the picturesque instigated a more intense, profound and temporal dialogue with nature. Adopting the ruin as its emblem, the picturesque stimulated a burgeoning environmentalism with a subtle debt to earlier centuries and a profound influence on subsequent ones.