According to Aristotle, ‘The activity of craftsmanship is a union of theory and making because neither of these aspects can be separated from the activity of craftsmanship.’ Art and craft practices since ancient times have been an integral part of any civilization. These were not just a means of livelihood for the craftsmen, but also symbols of the cultural development of their society. Passed on from one generation to the next, these practices are in today’s date important traditional knowledge systems, some of which are at the brink of extinction. Throughout the timeline of the history of architecture, art and craft have contributed significantly in characterizing each architectural style from the times of the Egyptians to the Contemporary era.
Our ancient ancestors, the early men, drew on the walls of their caves to proclaim their cultural and religious beliefs, thus giving birth to the first known artforms and relics. Following their footsteps, the curve of human creativity in the graph of art and craft practices has risen plentiful since then.
In the predynastic period in Egypt, the images of animals, human beings and supernatural figures inscribed on rock walls gained much popularity, thus resulting in the art of stone engravings. These stone engravings narrated sacred and religious stories and were often engraved on the walls of the temples and tombs. All Egyptian art was based on the principles of balance and symmetry as it reflected the ideal world of the Gods (Mark). The art of statute making was developed by the Pharos to assert their dominance over their kingdom. As the sculptors polished their skills working in stone, they soon started reproducing life-sized sculptures, of which the Statue of Djoser is a fine example. Architects such as Imhotep used these artforms and crafts while designing the pyramid complex of King Djoser. Inside the Pyramid images of lotus flowers, papyrus plants and djed symbols were carved intricate both on the high and low relief. The tomb of Mentuhotep II is another excellent specimen of Egyptian art and architecture. Sculpted from the cliffs, this excellent structure merges seamlessly with its natural surroundings, creating the effect of a wholly organic work (Mark).
The temple art and architecture developed by the Greeks stand unparalleled throughout history. The art and architecture of the temple were mutually symbiotic and gave way to each other. The Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns inspired by the sculpting crafts were developed to provide structural support to the temples, in addition to ornamenting them. Another outstanding feature of these temples was the presence of a free-standing structure ‘Cella’ inside these temples. This ‘Cella’ was home to the statue of the God or the Goddess to whom the temple was dedicated. The sculptures were influenced by the Egyptians and were usually idealized to portray the beauty of the human body (Ancient Greek Art and Architecture). The Temple of Athena Nike, located in Acropolis of Athens is of the Ionic order and is beautifully adorned with friezes illustrating Greek tales on all the four sides. The ‘Cella’ contains the statue of Athena Nike and the parapet of the temple is adorned by relief sculptures that depict Nike in a variety of activities in precision.
The Gothic architecture which was characterized by pointed arches and its massive verticality was typically influenced by Gothic Art. But the most intruding artistic feature of this style was the giant vertical glass paintings that adorned the facades. As the walls were no longer the supporting element of the structures because of the ribs, vaults, pinnacles, and buttresses, more ornamentation was done on these walls. Stained glass added a dimension of color to the light that entered the building. Therefore, the stained glass windows were used in architecture for divinity, as the Goths believed light to be a metaphor for the presence of God. A variety of figurative and narrative art was intricately painted on these windows. The monumental rose windows were also inspired by the same concept and had a highly complex design which was similar to a multi- petalled rose.
As industrialization took over the world in the 20th Century, mass production took over traditional craftsmanship. This alienated the craftsmen from their tools and imposed mechanization on them. This led to great discontent in the art, crafts, and architecture community paving way for movements such as the Arts and Craft Movement that flourished in Europe and North America. It rebelled against Industrialisation and urged for the return of craftsmanship. Traditional building crafts and the use of local materials was encouraged along with an appreciation for the individuality offered by craftsmanship. A variety of buildings were constructed to revive the characteristics of traditional craftsmanship in a building. The Art Nouveau was another movement that was closely associated with the Arts and Craft Movement. The Casa Mila, built by Antonia Gaudi under this movement gives a notation of something organic built straight out of the ground in the streets of Barcelona. The outer sculptural stone façade of the building acts as a curtain wall to the inner wrought-iron façade.
In the present scenario, we have come a long way from these art and crafts revival movements. With the onset of industrialization, craftsmanship has lost much of its former essence. Yet a large number of Contemporary architects reinterpret conventional crafts such as paintings, ironwork, woodwork, stonework, lacework, and papercraft in their building designs (Deniz Balik, 2017). While some modern architects use art and craft to create lavish and luxurious interiors, some architects use digital methods of design to experiment with the effect of certain crafts in their buildings. The use of traditional craftwork on facades has become a popular trend in contemporary architecture. The Polish Pavilion which was displayed in the Shanghai Expo has a façade inspired by papercraft. This was particularly done to render a delicate look to the façade and give the notation of the building being wrapped in a ‘paper veil’ (Deniz Balik, 2017).
Ancient Greek Art and Architecture. (n.d.). The New Book of Knowledge.
Deniz Balik, A. A. (2017). Simulating Craftwork in Contemporary Architecture. The Journal of Modern Craft, Volume 10, Issue 1, 37-57.
Mark, J. J. (n.d.). A Brief History of Egyptian Art. Ancient History Encyclopedia.