The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art has just announced this year’s Arthur Ross Award laureates. Unlike the Bulfinch Awards of the New England chapter (also just announced) and other regional ICAA awards programs, which honor specific works, the ICAA’s Ross awards honor the career “achievements and contributions of architects, painters, sculptors, artisans, interior designers, landscape designers, educators, publishers, patrons, and others dedicated to preserving and advancing the classical tradition.” This year’s honorees are excellent. Go to the announcement to see multiple examples of the life work of each laureate.
By way of introducing this year’s Ross winners, allow me to focus on one building by Craig Hamilton, this year’s choice in the category of architecture. The building is a new bath house on a wealthy estate in Gloucestershire whose manor house, restored in the 1790s by Sir John Soane, had just been renovated by Hamilton. The bath house combines a number of strains that, it seems to me, characterize much of his work since he emigrated to Britain from South Africa.
The Williamstrip Bath House combines a temple front with colonnades (one of four columns and another of six columns) that reach back on either side to a hemispherical bow at the rear of the building. Its classical styling is very restrained, except for the twin columns flanking the temple front. Their capitals are described by Katie Gerfen for Architect: “[O]n the entrance façade [Hamilton] reinterprets Ionic columns at the Temple of Apollo Epicurius in Bassae, Greece, exaggerating the volutes to the point of creating his own chambered-nautilus-like nonce order.”
The capitals surely will strike some as disproportionally rendered. Is this a sin against ye olde classical canon? Is it experimental? Is it creativity? Is it “bad trad”? Sometimes it can be hard to say, but bad trad it is not. Like the rest of the building, the temple front is certainly spare, but it would probably strike Nikolaus Pevsner, say, as criminally profuse in its embellishment.
Never mind. Advancing the classical tradition, the chief purpose of the ICAA, means preserving the canon and promoting its glory through diversification. Craig Hamilton has performed both roles, and his Ross makes perfect sense.