Architectural Blatherations

The Rhythms of Architectural History

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The Good Oil

One of our more interesting discoveries is the discovery of definite rhythms in the history of architecture. Or, to be more precise, in the history of architects.

Architects in the long run

Dr Garry took a look at the numbers of eminent architects living in the West. By eminent we mean the ones who got themselves into the history books. Dr Garry only looked at the West because Europe and the Americas form a coherent economic and cultural unit, and data for architects elsewhere is virtually absent until the 19th century.

Dr Garry's study looked at patterns spanning centuries and vast areas, much in the Annales tradition of history. The chart below is a plot of the numbers of eminent architects per million of the general population.

Growth of architects through history
No. of eminent architects per million population.

You can see that architectural history falls into three main phases, separated by two sudden transitions. Before 1400 we have a small number of eminent architects. During the Renaissance there is a massive jump. Everyone knows about this, of course: it is the emergence of the architect-artist from the medieaval guild organisation, and coincides with the arrival of proto-capitalism in Italy. From the late 1400s to the late 1600s the numbers per million oscillates around the 30 per million mark.

The Baroque transition

It is the next sudden jump that has so far been undetected by architectural historians. I call it the Baroque Transition. In a period of just two decades or so centered around 1700, the numbers of architects again surges, stabilising at around the 70 per million mark thereafter.

We see here a second reorganisation of the architectural occupation, one that has been little remarked on. As Dr Garry showed in The Favored Circle, the Early Modern phase was dominated by Italian architects. This dense network of relationships declined through the 1600s, paralleling Italy's economic decline. The Baroque Transition marks the rise of Northern European architects. The Italian architects have in fact very few connections to their northern successors. In effect, the profession was completely reconstructed during the Transition.