You can build it. We can help. Lets build something together.So the slogans go. The eighteenth-century quest for the shudders went well beyond the craving for ”horrid” novels and took the form of horrid architecture that seemed to be permeated with the heavy odor of death. The Gothic revival style was, of course, a serious approach to building, but close on its heels followed a flock of bogus follies in stone, that sometimes seemed to appear like mausoleums or the large pre-historic tombs found in Brittany for giants.
Every fashionable gentleman wanted one for his estate: A grotto encrusted with shells, a made-to-measure ruin, a haunted castle, a keep. A hermit’s abode, with hermit, behind the manor house could be as impressive a selling point as a flagstone patio is today. Few men had the resources and tastes of a Horace Walpole, who bought the villa called Strawberry Hill and spent years and a fortune transforming it to suit his Gothic taste.
At the other extreme was the work of Japanese architect Shusaku Arakawa who built on the premise that it was immoral for people to have to die. He designed houses that were supposed to help stop people from aging. The gothic destiny of death was seen as a reversible destiny. For Arakawa the ideal form of house was one that kept its inhabitant in a ”perpetual tentative relationship with their surrounding.” Meaning, the owner had to be challenged by oddity and a perversity equal to the Goths.
…Almost no one was lucky enough to have a real medieval ruin on the family property, so a number of entrepreneurs set about building their own. Some illustrated books of instruction for the Gothicizer even found their way into print. Batty Langley’s ”Gothic Architecture Improved by Rules” was one ( 1747 ); a reissue of ”Ancient Architecture Restored” ” I therefore give this public notice that it will take to erect all sorts of buildings in the Saxon mode… no greater experience than a plain building…”
”Of this, and others, Horace Walpole later wrote: “All that his books achieved, has been to teach carpenters to massacre that venerable species, and to give occasion to those who know nothing of the matter, and who mistake his clumsy efforts for real imitations, to censure the productions of our ancestors, whose bold and beautiful fabrics Sir Christopher Wren viewed and reviewed with astonishment, and never mentioned without esteem.”
…Arakawa and partner Madeline Gins most extreme design was the ”Bioscleave House” on Long Island. It boasts three dozen shades of paint and sloping floors in the guise of cartoon like sand dunes; level changes aimed at conveying a feeling of being in two places at once as well as no doors, odd shaped rooms and other surrealist tricks. These devices were intended to stimulate the occupant in ways conventional homes do not. States of comfort, according to Arakawa create anxiety, because although cosseting, it can only ever be finite; thus shortening rather than prolonging life.
Probably educated beyond his natural talents, but an engaging self publicist, Batty Langley promoted himself energetically throughout his life. He remains something of an enigma although the term “Batty Langley Gothic” often used to day has ensured a continuing reputation.”
”Pretentious as he was, Walpole did not claim to have revived the medieval single-handed. He wrote to Mann in Italy for “any fragments of old painted glass, arms or anything”, reassuring him of “the liberty of taste into which we are all struck”. With papier-mâché friezes, Gothic-themed wallpaper, fireplaces copied from medieval tombs, a Holbein chamber evoking the court of Henry VIII, Dutch blue and white tiles on the floor, and modern oil paintings, china and carpets throughout, Strawberry Hill was hardly a faithful recreation of a medieval manor. Walpole wanted theatrical effect, atmosphere and “gloomth”, not a time capsule. “Visions you know have always been my pasture . . . Old castles, old pictures, old histories and the babble of old people make one live back into centuries that cannot disappoint one.”