Investigation Of Work Of Victor Horta Cultural Studies Essay

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Art Nouveau was a dramatic style that flourished through Europe in the 1890's. It was unlike anything seen before as history was replaced by nature. Art Nouveau designs derived from organic forms, and used the theoretical background of plants and sinuous natural objects to create buildings. Honesty in the use of materials was an important factor of the style as materials were exposed in their natural forms. This solved many previous construction constraints and allowed the openness of internal spaces enabling rooms to merge, whilst also allowing glass to develop as a separate architectural medium as exposed steel was able to span and support walls; this created a new lightness to spaces [2] . Asymmetry was another essential feature, whether in regard to the buildings overall mass or purely the detailing of walls and doors. [3] The facade of a building revealed a markedly plastic form and was treated much more as a decorative entity, resulting in it being more vivid from the surrounding street fronts. Ornament?

Victor Horta was a leading Belgium Art Nouveau architect that created buildings which rejected previous historical styles. From 1892 he designed many public and private buildings across Brussels in the art Nouveau style, however unfortunately many have been destroyed. Horta's design style appears to be consistent throughout his buildings with clear exterior facades except for minor detailing, which contrasts to the dramatic interiors that are powerful flamboyant ornamental spaces. The use of soft lines and curved form within emits a harmonious ambience. His works integrated the Neo-gothic and Neo- rococo stylistic elements.

Victor Horta was inspired by French architectural theorist Viollet-le-Duc, whom believed and encouraged the visible use of iron in construction and skeletal forms in order to create arches and cantilevers. Viollet agreed with the abandonment of tradition for the development of new forms of artistic expression [4] . Horta chose to expose the metal framework in his structures rather than conceal it [5] , introducing iron as a structural, visual as well as decorative addition to a façade. Consequently it allowed natural light to be a much more dramatic feature, as walls were able to be supported by the steel resulting in the use of larger glass windows.

Due to the ability to expose materials it created the opportunity to open up spaces internally, this is demonstrated beautifully in the Maison Du Peuple(1897-99). This was a masterpiece by Horta for the Head quarters of Belgium Socialist Party, consisting of offices, meeting rooms, cafes and a concert hall capable of seating 1500 people. It had an overly successful art nouveau interior with a much less harsh exterior. The auditorium boasts an innovative use of skeletal iron and steel framework; it is structural carrying the side galleries, whilst also being decoratively expressive as it curves to form balustrades and intricate patterns. The Maison du Peuple had the first façade in Belgium to be constructed entirely out of iron and glass [6] . Victor Horta aspired to, "construct a place that would not be a palace but rather a 'house' in which air and light would be the luxury so long excluded from workers' hovels" [7] 

The building achieves these aims with ease, as it makes excellent use of natural light and displays airiness as well as spaciousness. The asymmetric form of the building divided the public spaces of the concert hall and cafe from that of the more private spaces of conference rooms.

xThe Tassel House (1892-93) is one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture and the first house in which Horta applied his theories. The interiors are pliant to that of the decorative art nouveau style whilst the exterior is more conventional. [8] The facade, dominated by bay windows, emphasizes the iron structure rather than conceal it and internally it is just as exuberant. The complex columns are decorative slender cast iron vertical supports which resemble the form of a plant as they sprout from the floor and intertwine with the ceiling decoration [9] , they are very much similar to those of Mackmurdo's [10] . Horta supported Mackmurdo's Art Nouveau visions as he used some of his wallpaper designs in a few of his other buildings [11] .

The painted decoration complies with the curvature organic form and is repeated in elaborate mosaic patterns on the floor. There is liberal combination of materials used throughout the building including stone, steel, glass, marble and wood. Each principle material employed was creatively integrated into the building to be displayed in its finest quality.

Horta's organization of interior space was innovative. He deviated away from the traditional endless corridors and alternatively created asymmetric free flowing internal spaces [12] with rooms that varied in shapes and sizes. The rooms were flooded with natural light which was unlike anything seen before.

Horta's stairwells were always something out of the ordinary. The wrought iron work reflected the curved form of the surrounding internal features. The generous proportion of space allocated enabled them to be made a much more dominant feature than anything previously seen.

Horta successfully illustrates many of the art nouveau elements in his buildings. Rue Americaine, otherwise known as the Horta House(1898) and Hotel Solvay (1895-1900)are two creations by Horta that have complete asymmetry of facades, as they were some of his later designs Horta had become more confident in his design strategy as they proudly expose the iron construction as a decorative element. There is a constant creative impulse even in the smallest detail.

"Art Nouveau architects had to design each element from a stanchion to a door-frame ―not to speak of all the furniture and accessories" [13] . Horta's buildings can be identifiable to that of the arts and crafts movement, as he designs every element down to the last detail in his unique style including furniture and fittings. He also has an understanding for good craftsmanship. He would model all of the architectural detail in clay in order to visualize the outcome. [14] The arts and crafts movement was also about truth to materials, Horta appeared to agree with this theory; on top of using an array of materials, he chose to expose these materials and show them in their natural form.

The lighting fixtures in the design for the Hotel Solvay, demonstrate Horta's ability to make individual elements in a room a more striking feature. They are designed to give the appearance of flowing plants as they climb and wind across walls, ceilings and staircases. They rise and droop where necessary to pour light over the key areas in the rooms, and illuminate pieces of furniture or fireplaces [15] .

After the war, Victor Horta began to distance himself from the Art Nouveau style as it was no longer affordable or desirable. As a result Horta had started designing more neo-classical buildings. He achieved this by simplify his style, reducing the amount of detailing and no longer using his renowned organic forms, even eliminating the use of exposed iron. Instead he began basing his designs on the geometrical. Whilst still continuing to use his rational floor plans and applying the latest forms of building technology and engineering.

The Palais des Beaux- Arts (1928) in Brussels was the most identifiable of Horta's latest design strategy. It demonstrates how he exchanged his usual forms of sinuous lines of art nouveau for the geometric.

As we look at the works of early modernist architects it becomes apparent the influence that the art nouveau style and the work of Victor Horta had upon them. Hector Guimard designed the Paris Metro Station entrances in 1905. A clear progression can be seen from that of the art nouveau period; the ornamental structures demonstrate an organic force in sinuous green cast iron [16] . Each entrance is distinctive and dissimilar to the next.

The Secession Hall (1897) in Vienna by architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, uses ornament and floral forms on the facade. However it also employs rigid geometry. Has a purist metal work dome.

Otto Wagner was an early modernist architect that did not try to conceal the structural elements in his works. He designed the Post Office Savings Bank (1904 to 1912) in Vienna, in which the main hall uses steel columns to support the frosted glass skylight, the floor is constructed from glass bricks, creating a light and airy interior. This is comparable to Van Eetvelde House (1895 - 1898) in Brussels. Horta's ability to make the best use of natural light reached another level in this design in which he used iron columns to support a low glass dome.

Whilst much had changed since the Art Nouveau period, some of the characteristics were still identifiable in modern structures. One primary similarity was the ability to open up spaces internally. Adolf Loos designed the interior spaces of a building according to "Raumplan". It was about spatial planning, he designed the height and size of a room in response to its functioning.

"My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I do not design floor plans, facades, sections. I design spaces. For me, there is no ground floor, first floor etc.... For me, there are only contiguous, continual spaces, rooms, anterooms, terraces etc. Storeys merge and spaces relate to each other. Every space requires a different height"

-Adolf Loos, Shorthand record of a conversation in Plzeň (Pilsen), 1930.

Adolf Loos however had a dynamic approach in 'ornament and crime', he didn't agree with decoration and believed that a building should be free from ornament therefore he designed simple plain buildings with bare exteriors, with rich use of materials internally; this is identifiable in his design for the Goldmann and Salatsch Store in Vienna (1910). This corresponds to Horta's basic exterior facades yet dramatic interiors.

Victor Horta overloaded his buildings with materials, ornament, patterns. Louis Sullivan however felt that due to the high focus of ornament in architecture there was not enough attention being payed to the actual building.

"I shall say that it would be greatly for our aesthetical good if we refrain entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thoughts might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude"

-Louis Sullivan, "ornament in architecture"

It appeared clear that modern architects had begun to move away from the overly decorative elements that the Art Nouveau style had proudly boasted, and begun taking a more practical approach [17] . Art Nouveau was dependant on ornament. By 1910, Art Nouveau was generally abandoned, as it was unable to fulfil the demand for simple designs suitable for mass production [18] , it was about the unique one off building in order to satisfy an individual, aimed at the rich upper classes. Modern architecture however maintained some of the same characteristics; such as the ability to create asymmetric floor plans, open up interior spaces and by developing metal framework, enabling glass facades for dynamic use of natural lighting. Iron and glass were materials developed in the Art Nouveau period and are the commonly used materials of modernism. Horta's Art Nouveau ideas were being used as precedence by many modernists.

Horta's work does not meet the standard ideas of modern architecture however it is needless to say that Victor Horta's bold innovations had a lasting impact on the future of modern architecture. Art Nouveau prepared everyone for the modern developments in architecture and led the way to the twentieth century.

Radical space: building the house of the people, By Margaret Kohn.

A history of interior design By John F. Pile