Artibus et Historiae no. 19 (X)

1989, ISSN 0391-9064

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ADAM MIŁOBĘDZKI - Architecture in Wood: Technology, Symbolic Content, Art

(1) The myth of the origin of architecture from primitive wooden structures inspired architectural theory and practise for over 2,000 years. Since the end of the eighteen century, architecture, which had been a natural organic system deeply rooted in the homogenous culture of ancient times, has given way to history, so that structures in wood have been studied according to current perspectives on archaeology, art history, ethnology and, later, architectural history.

2) The interdependence between the kinds of timber and the construction and form used, can be seen not so much from the vocabulary of motifs, which have constantly changed according to current styles, as in the overall architectural syntax. The particular homogeneity of this syntax lasted well into the twentieth century in buildings derived from preindustrial vernacular architecture. In "high-style" architecture, this homogeneity already began to break down once wood came to be used to produce illusionistic effects in Baroque art, and later, in purely functional structures in modern engineering.

(3)Although in architecture the use of wood has always been in opposition to stone, and this opposition has been of both a pragmatic and a metaphysical nature, at certain times and in certain areas one can see stylistic similarities and/or a mutual interplay of formal influences between wooden and masonry architecture. Modern wooden structures have also striven to find a decorum of their own, as for example in the "rustic style" which derived from architectural mythology, and which, especially in the eastern parts of Latinized Europe, has often been symbolic of a noble, Neo-Stoic, rural lifestyle.

This semiotics of construction in wood acquired a more systematic character within the philosophical framework of the Enlightenment. Wooden structures also found a place in later concepts associating various historical, geographical, and even technical classes of form with social, religious ethical and aesthetic ideas. From about 1850, in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, architecture in wood, because of mistaken historical conception, began to serve as a symbol of nationalistic ideals, and even of populist manias. This political symbolism became so strong that forms peculiar to wooden structures were sometimes applied to the language of masonry architecture as well.

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