This seminar by guest speaker Marrikka Trotter of Harvard University continues our Architectural History and Theory seminar series for 2016-2017.
'Floodmarks, Casts, and Fragments: Soane and Gandy's Proleptic Extinction'
In 1824, the Knight’s Quarterly magazine published an article that lampooned Sir John Soane’s idiosyncratic approach to architectural ornament. For the authors, Soane's “Boeotian order” was a disorder that, rather than upholding the purity of architectural language, infected it with absurd references to foreign sciences. “Is he a geologist?” they asked. He “uses an interminable joint, which copies successfully the grand appearances of nature in the stratification of rocks.”
This chapter explores the relationship between John Soane and Joseph Gandy’s novel approach to architecture - and particularly architectural ornament - and the catastrophist theory of the celebrated French paleontologist, Georges Cuvier. In the new context of an old earth, the real extent of geological time suddenly eclipsed the importance of Greco-Roman antiquity, and along with it, the cultural authority it had bestowed on architecture. As even the most ancient aspects of human culture were revealed to be chronologically recent compared to the vast duration of the planet, architecture seemed poised to become an exercise in proleptic ruination due to inevitable natural disasters. At the same time, it became a privileged model for geology - particularly for Cuvier and his rival, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.
This paper considers the cultural reciprocity between these two discourses and begins to document the extensive connections between Georgian architects and the founders of the earth sciences in Britain.