Bygone architecture criticism

A pair of pages from the 1931 criticism of Lutyens. (Architectural Review)

A pair of pages from a 1931 critique of Edwin Lutyens. (Architectural Review)

Here, reprinted in Architectural Review, is a long essay of architecture criticism of a sort that we never see anymore – detailed critique of a set of buildings by a famous architect, in this case Edwin Lutyens. The essay, “New Dehli: The individual buildings,” is by Robert Byron and was originally published in January 1931. Click the link to the piece then click on one of the solitary illustrations below (not the one on top or its set of slides) to enlarge the pages. Bump it up to about 300 percent. Most of the piece demonstrates the old adage that “Dry need not be dull.” (Is it an old adage? It may be a brand new one.) I am posting a brief excerpt, indeed an exception to that adage – a flash of well-modulated anger that I stumbled upon – even before I read the entire piece:

The detail of the dome has already been examined. The hemisphere (without its base mould), and the patterned white drum beneath, derive their shape from the Buddhist stupas of Sanchi. The turrets, in essence, derive from the European Middle Ages. Their caps derive from the Moguls; and likewise the form, though not the course, of the all-round chitjja. The remaining elements seem to lack historic precedent. But in reality, as they stand here, none of them has any precedent whatever. Amidst all the cacophony of standardized allusion and whining reminiscence which the present age calls art, Lutyens’s dome strikes a clear note of true aesthetic invention. To have seen it is to carry for ever a new enjoyment, and to add one more to those little separate flames of pleasure whose treasured aggregate alone gives purpose to existence.

A major tip of the hat to Richard Cameron, who placed this excellent material before my eyes.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to Bygone architecture criticism

  1. Elegant, romantic language. Alas we have become such clumsy shy wordsmiths.

    Roman and Williams


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