Jason Morejon S Chapter

Jason's Newer Draft


Jason's Old Draft

Part One: The Stone the Builder Didn’t Refuse

The Gothic Period was part of the 14th and 15th century Renaissance that took place in Europe. It began and flourished in Western and Southern continental Europe - or, more specifically, Catholic Europe. At this time in history, much of Europe was united under the Holy Roman Empire, which at this point in time encompassed Italy, Germany, Holland, Poland, parts of Bohemia, and more. At the height of its power, it also included Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, France, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic. Rivers running through the empire connected the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, providing for very efficient trade routes. Due to its expansive borders and very central location, the Empire amassed a lot of wealth over the years. This, in turn, was returned to the people in the form of architecture. Gothic Architecture is far from cheap. The tremendous prosperity was necessary for such ornate buildings to be built in such volumes.
Gothic architects were usually commissioned by ecclesiastical powers. As such, a very important item on their agendas was to humble humans in the face of divine power. Gothic buildings were built incredibly large on purpose, they wanted people entering the buildings to feel small and insignificant. Through architectural developments, they were able to include elements such a large, colorful windows very high up.
Some characteristic aspects of Gothic Architecture include the flying buttress, the pointed arch, and the ribbed vault. Pointed arches are precisely what they sound like: arches that are taller then the radius of the circle they are drawn from. As a result of this, the two sides come up rather steeply, then intersect at a point. Thought a feature in many Romanesque buildings, it was widely proliferated during the Gothic era.
Ribbed vaults are a modification of the Romanesque barrel vaults. Barrel vaults could be likened to arches that are stretched horizontally, not making the arches wider, but deeper. However, these barrel vaults created huge amounts of force pushing outwards on the walls that supported them. The ribbed vault is what happens when two or three barrel vaults converge on a single point. This causes the outward forces to negate each other, and allowed architects to place large windows much higher up in the buildings then they otherwise could have. Two famous examples of ribbed vault usages include the Cathedral of Reims in France, and the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and Saint Cuthbert of Durham, in England.
The flying buttress is one of the more important developments to the movement. They are arches that transfer the force of the ceiling horizontally out of the building. Although they were employed much earlier in Byzantine architecture, they were usually interior to the buildings. The exterior supports allowed Gothic buildings to extend much further up into the sky. However, in addition to the architectural significance of this, a religious importance was assigned to the flying buttresses as well. Despite the structural integrity the flying buttresses bestowed upon the buildings to which they were attached, they masked the solidity of the buildings by appearing to be a web of stonework rather than a concrete building. This made it appear almost as it the buildings were being hung from the heavens, not built up from the earth.
And, as a personal favorite of mine, let’s look at gargoyles. I think they are wonderful, fascinating pieces of art. If it wouldn’t look terribly silly on my Victorian house, situated in the center of a middle class suburb, I would have gargoyles on my roof. In that sense, they are very much out of style. But, and as I’ll address a little later, when you are on campus, it doesn’t seem to matter what the fashionable styles are, the style of the campus is the only important thing. As long as there is continuity in style among the University buildings, the style of the campus will exist. Gargoyles fit well within the bounds of Lehigh’s style, and as such seem completely [ordinary is the wrong word] and, in fact, in style.
Gargoyles are not purely ornamental, though. Those that are for decoration are more properly termed grotesques, but gargoyles serve a very specific purpose in the world of stone and mortar. With grooves cut along the back of the figure, and usually channeling out through the mouth, gargoyles are a drainage system. Running water will erode just about anything, which is clearly illustrated if you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon. When it rains, it is very important to keep the running water off the sides of the masonry, as it can strip away the mortar and seriously damage the structural integrity of the building. In a similar fashion, flying buttresses were sometimes constructed with a groove along the top. Like an aqueduct, they too were capable of diverting the flow of rainwater.
Part of the allure of Gothic Architecture is the melding of fashion and functionality. As you can see, while beautiful, almost all of the characteristic aspects of Gothic buildings are practical first and aesthetic second. Architects needed a way to distribute the weight of heavy roofs laterally, so they turned big, ungainly supports into sweeping, beautiful flying buttresses. They needed a way to control water so that it wouldn’t destroy the artwork and strength of the walls. They turned each individual drainage pipe into a unique piece of artwork.

However, the entire basis for gothic architecture is a somewhat backwards practice. The ancient Greek civilizations were wizards with cement. In fact, they had even developed a type of cement that could be poured underwater and would still harden into a solid, dependable foundation. In the face of such technology, going back from cement to stone and mortar seems archaic and silly.
Moreover, the heavy ornamentation seems backwards as well. Humans generally work towards cleaner, straighter, more precise lines. Think about in movies, the classic futuristic house is an unadorned dome, the walls are solid colors, even the clothing is generally depicted as free of any sort of brand name or pictorial decoration. In 1906, Adolf Loos, an Austrian modernist architect, wrote an essay called Ornament and Crime. In this essay, he explains that ornamentation, like a tattoo on the body, will cause that which is ornamented to go out of style. For this, the energy and effort in creating the adornment was utterly wasted. Ornament IS crime, he says. Looking at the decorations all over campus, I feel differently.
Having said that, Gothic architecture is, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful architecture around. Although the Renaissance Era ended, and new styles of art and architecture came into fashion, the aesthetic appeal of the towering, gothic bell towers and pointed arches left a lasting impression of Gothic beauty. It is for this reason that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Gothic Architecture made its triumphant return to the lime light.
The Gothic Resurgence, as it is called, was a movement in which many universities, libraries, civic centers, and more were designed and built in the Gothic style. It was supported by medievalist literature and artwork as well. Lehigh University is wonderful example of this, as many of its older buildings are wrought not of bricks and steel and cement, but of stone and mortar.
Humans tend automatically to believe that things used to be better; that in the past, we did things right, and now that we are in the present, we often just mess things up. I don’t agree with that statement, I feel that innovation is not only necessary, but also a wonderful testament to man’s creativity. When you consider that we humans essentially have the technology to make anything happen, the possibilities are endless, and we should utilize that potential.
However, and despite encouraging evolution and imaginative developments, I am still quite fond of our past. I guess that’s called retro, but I enjoy building things the way they used to be built. Lyricist Rody Walker sang “There’s merit in construction when it’s done with your own hands.” I have a reputation among my friends and family for fixing broken objects and making things – of all shapes, sizes, and with varying degrees of practicality – out of parts, or from scratch. It is fun, and I find great beauty in the finished products. I believe The Gothic Resurgence is this very same phenomenon, but on a much grander scale.
Why would somebody want to build an entire building out of individual stones instead of pouring cement slabs? For the novelty, perhaps for the challenge; so that when the builder finished, he could go to his friends and say ‘Look what I can do!’ Is the old way better than the new? I don’t think that’s the point.

Part Two: “Why yes, I DO go to school at Hogwarts!”

So why do we like Gothic architecture? Why is it that when prospective students and their parents walk the campus, they are often slack-jawed at the beauty of the buildings? Why are students and alumni alike struck dumb with how pretty the campus seems (particularly after a snow fall)? There are several reasons.
Even if you don’t find each individual building to be appealing in its own right, the continuity of architecture across the campus makes it feel almost as if you have stepped out of the time period. If you stand on the front lawn of the University Center, there are 5 big buildings – in addition to the University Center itself – that will surround you: The Alumni Memorial Building, Lindermann Library, the Chandler-Ullman Building, Packard Lab, and Packer Chapel. All of them towering and Gothic, all of them wrought of stone, it seems pleasantly incongruous with the busy, concrete jungles and aluminum siding we are used to. If for no other reason, it is a change of scenery, a change of pace.
Furthermore, Lehigh University is proud of its legacy of traditions. The campus is steeped in them, and the faculty and staff stand beside the students and alumni to keep the traditions alive. The buildings lend themselves to the ambiance of the campus; the traditions themselves seem strengthened in the presence of the bas-reliefs and sculptures that pepper the walls.

The Quad, which consists of Richards House, Dravo House, and Drinker House, was built in the 1940’s and was also built in the gothic style. However, by this point in time, Lehigh had already begun to abandon the Gothic theme that permeated the earlier campus. Many of the buildings that were built more recently
Hey Jason,
I see a lot of potential for good things to happen between yours and Rob's chapter. You guys should think of collaborating on some of what you are doing. I see a good chapter progression here and you guys may want to consider putting your chapters, if that's what we decide to do, right after eachother as the book goes on.

Are you planning to look at both the Southside and Lehigh? I think that, for the most part, they are different animals. Lehigh's growth is directed by a single planning board whereas the Southside's development is driven by the sometimes disparate interests of individuals.

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