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Aesthetics of architecture and geology in Britain during the first half of the nineteenth century

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At a time when geology was developing as a scientific pursuit, debates about the origins of architecture were hotly contested. The cave was increasingly becoming a site for geological research, as seen in work by geologists such as William Buckland. The prehistoric remains of animals remained undisturbed in these natural shelters, which for Buckland, offered a ‘window into the past’. In architectural treatises of the period, however, caves were described as ‘Nature’s first architecture’. Some architectural critics of the period argued that all human architecture is derived from the cave’s natural form. Joseph Gandy’s watercolour entitled “Architecture: It’s Natural Model” (1838), combines these two perspectives. The image depicts two ape-like humanoids building a primitive hut at the entrance of Fingal’s Cave, and important geological site of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Using the cave and primitive hut as its example, this paper will explore aesthetic and political connections between geology, architecture, and the antiquity of the Earth and its denizens for the nineteenth century geologist.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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