Posted on: 15 March 2013

James Fergusson and Indian Architecture
By Takeo Kamiya

"...The revivalists such as Pugin and George Gilbert Scott (who would design the Library and Convocation Hall of Bombay University in India afterward) spread the trend of 'praise to the Middle ages' among British architects, in designing new churches in the Gothic style.

However, in spite of his appreciation of the Gothic style Fergusson did not consider that it is the absolute style and one should design contemporary buildings in that style. Some of the mediaevalists objected to this attitude of his, so he later wrote in the preface of the "History of Architecture" as follows, ( [ - ] shows supplementation by the author)

"My faith in the exclusive pre-eminence of [European] mediaeval art was first shaken when I became familiar with the splendid remains of the Mogul and Pathan emperors of Agra and Delhi [in India], and saw how many beauties of even the pointed style had been missed in Europe in the Middle Ages. My confidence [of the pre-eminence of European mediaeval art] was still further weakened when I saw what richness and variety the Hindoo [Indians] had elaborated not only without pointed arches, but indeed without any arches at all. And I was cured when, after a personal inspection of the ruins of Thebes and Athens, I perceived that at least equal beauty [as in Europe and India] could be obtained by processes diametrically opposed to those employed by the [European] mediaeval architects.
After so extended a survey, it was easy to perceive that beauty in architecture did not reside in pointed or in round arches, in bracket capitals or horizontal architraves, but in thoughtful appropriateness of design and intellectual elegance of detail. I became convinced that no form is in itself better than any other, and that in all instances those are best which are most appropriate to the purposes to which they are applied."

Fergusson thought as highly of the Gothic architecture as Pugin, but he judged it inappropriate to apply a past style to a new building in the present day (Fergusson's 19th century) since the social system and people's mentality are completely different from the Middle Ages. He considered many other styles all over the world as well as Gothic and concluded that they were beautiful and worthy because they were the best-adapted styles with the demand and need of the age and society that they belonged to. He just referred to that legitimacy as the 'True Principles.'

Since having started from Indian architecture he studied architecture throughout the world and pursued the style-classification and those respective characteristics, while he developed such a view of the architecture and decided to systematize it to publish as a theoretical writing. That is the aforementioned "Historical Inquiry."

However, there were no commercial publishers who would agree to publish a book, which declared original architectural thought opposing the general tendency. So he eventually financed the publication with Longmans Publisher. Although that was the 'part the first' of three planned volumes, only four copies were sold, as had been feared. He abandoned his plan to continue publication and left it as an unfinished writing. Fergusson was fourty-one years old."...

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