Architectural Ornament in Plant Forms

By and by, the rules were set aside in favor of the excitement of ornamentation itself as is illustrated below by the surface treatment of the columns imbedded in a wall to which they have no structural relation.

The last image, below, shows a frieze and a lighting fixture adorned with fruits and foliage, which embellish the City Hall of Oakland. The image recalls the  primeval temple draped with the bounty of the harvest which we conjured at the beginning of this article. Thus, Oakland’s City Hall testifies to the vitality of ancient customs by being adorned with vines laden with grapes and other fruits that symbolize California’s agriculture.

The text is divided into the following chapters:

  1. HUMAN FORMS,
  2. ANIMAL and BIRD FORMS,
  3. HERALDRY and EMBLEMS,
  4. PLANT FORMS, and the most decorated features of buildings:
  5. ROOFS, COLUMNS, WINDOWS and DOORS.

5 Responses

  1. I appreciate your comments and look forward to more o future posts,
    Sally

  2. Tom Lease says:

    Sally,
    Incredibly well researched, well written, and very interesting article. Great job! I learned a lot of new words and new things today. Thank you!

  3. Sally,
    This latest piece is very insightful as to what has been lost by an architectural tradition that devalues ornamentation in favor of abstraction and and purity of form. Architectural critics who speak disdainfully of decoration as a distraction from the power of clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic forget, as you have so precisely demonstrated, the narrative power of ornamentation. If great buildings are those that make us pause and reflect, ornamentation such as you cite in your examples is proof that less is not always more. Architects’ continued aversion to the use of ornament on new buildings is an unfortunate legacy of modernism that seems to persist. These postings help us understand what we are missing when ornamentation is not a taboo aesthetic.

    Thanks again,
    Jay Claiborne

  4. Jay Turnbull says:

    Sally,
    I have enjoyed each part of your text on ornament. What interests me is the care and deliberation that underlie the inclusion of ornament for all but the most recent buildings – there is an interest in composition, in interplay of light and shadow, and in moving from drawing, to sculpture, to final realization. All this points to a system of belief that, sadly, now seems lost. Thank you for reminding us!
    Jay

  5. Robin Chiang says:

    Hi Sally:

    Thank you for this splendid synopsis on the historic influence of plants in architectural ornament. Now that green architecture is popular wouldn’t it be charming if designers looked once again to plants for inspiration?

    Robin

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