Grace Under Pressure: Classical Architecture and the Aesthetics of Kindness
with Nathaniel Walker
This course, originally presented as part of the 2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective, discusses architecture as a language of kindness. Many of the core elements of classical design—including, for example, column capitals, keystones, pedestals, and acroteria—are designed to articulate the key points in a building where the opposing forces of weight and structure begin, meet each other, and terminate, in the delicate frozen dance which is architecture. These forces might be seen as enemies locked in a perpetual conflict that threatens to eventually end in ruin, but classicism works tirelessly to visibly reconcile them with poetic, ornamental expressions of structural diplomacy. Columns do not merely impose themselves upon lintels, but soften their engagement with pillows, or else compromise their verticality with horizontal gestures such as scrolls and brackets, and even present bouquets to their structural partners. This is the language of kindness—of politeness and consideration—that is also required for humans to maintain their social and political structures.
By considering the thoughts of a number of past architects such as Alexander “Greek” Thomson and Louis Sullivan, this course traces the interpretation of classical architecture as an artistic building system dedicated to the aesthetics of affection and respect; this idea is also superimposed over the forms of several different buildings that were designed and built in different places, at different times and for different functions, in search of one of classicism’s greatest virtues: the expression and celebration of grace under pressure.
About the Instructor
Dr. Nathaniel R. Walker is Assistant Professor of Architectural History at the College of Charleston. He earned his Ph.D. at Brown University in the History of Art and Architecture, an MA in Architectural History from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and a BA in History (with a minor in German) at Belmont University.
Nathaniel specializes in the history of public space such as squares and streets, particularly in the United States and Europe, but he has also worked with the urban forms of the Classic Maya and with Chinese Daoist architectural representations. He has focused many of his studies on the relationships between architecture, urban planning, and utopian dreams of progress and futurity that proliferated in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, film, advertising, and other media.
Nathaniel’s upcoming book Victorian Visions of Suburban Utopia has entered the production phase for publication later this year with Oxford University Press. In addition his co-edited book with Elizabeth Darling, Suffragette City: Women, Politics, and the Built Environment, has just been nominated for the Colvin Medal, one of Britain’s highest honors for architectural history books.
2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective
This course is presented as part of the 2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective, a four-week series of daily online content inspired by the ICAA's Summer Studio in Classical Architecture program and the many students who have been impacted through its unique course of study. You can find additional programs in this series here.
The ICAA expresses gratitude to The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust for its sponsorship of these programs.