Looking at Buildings

Styles & Traditions


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Rome, archway of rusticated travertine, A.D. 46

RusticationGlossary Term is a form of exterior ornamentation particular to buildings in the classicalGlossary Term style. It is defined by projecting stones with sunken joints or grooves conveying an air of deliberate roughness and strength. The effect is usually produced by chamfering or rebating each block of stone at an angle of 45 degrees so as to produce a right angle joint (or V-joint). Other types of grooves include the channelled groove (or U-joint) and the curved groove. The faces of the raised blocks are often carved.

RusticationGlossary Term made its way into the classicalGlossary Term repertory of English architects through Italian RenaissanceGlossary Term architects and in imitation of the effect of Antique ruins. The roughness of the ruined stone captured the imagination of RenaissanceGlossary Term and later architects. There were also numerous examples of the self-conscious use of rusticationGlossary Term by the Ancients on city walls, bridges, amphitheatres and even on temple cellas. RusticationGlossary Term therefore had authority as a classicalGlossary Term motif.

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London, Atlas Insurance, Cheapside
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Rustication, Tuscan Order

RusticationGlossary Term is generally associated with the lowest storey of a classicalGlossary Term building, the rough stones being expressive of strength and therefore, logically, required at the baseGlossary Term of the building. The standard formula of 17th and 18th-century classicalGlossary Term country houses was to have two or three storeys of smooth stone over a rusticated ground floor. This also reflected the social functioning of the houses: the servants' quarters were behind the rusticated level while the owners' rooms were above. The same formula was used for commercial buildings, even though the division of functions was necessarily different.

RusticationGlossary Term was associated by RenaissanceGlossary Term architects with the simplest of classicalGlossary Term OrdersGlossary Term, the TuscanGlossary Term OrderGlossary Term. In his PiazzaGlossary Term at Covent Garden, Inigo Jones has shown how rusticationGlossary Term made possible and also considerably enriched the use of the TuscanGlossary Term OrderGlossary Term on a grand scale. Inigo Jones's source was the Antique RomanGlossary Term amphitheatre at Verona.

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Rustication, St Paul's
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Banded rustication

But for all its general associations with the lowest level of a classicalGlossary Term building, there are many examples of major buildings where rusticationGlossary Term is used to ornament the whole facade. In buildings such as St Paul's Cathedral, rusticationGlossary Term is conceived of as a sober ornament capable of dressing a facade with monumentality and of expressing the 'mass' of the building.

John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) is famous for expressing the mass of masonry even more forcibly by using banded rusticationGlossary Term, in which only the horizontal grooves are emphasized. At Belnheim Palace, he juxtaposes blocks of banded rusticationGlossary Term with strong vertical elements such as giant columns.

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Rustication, York Water Gate

Individual architectural motifs are also frequently rusticated. BlockedGlossary Term or banded columns are often used to emphasise entrances. They are also characteristic of rusticated garden gateways. BlockedGlossary Term architraveGlossary Term surrounds were made popular in England by James Gibbs (1682-1754) and are often referred to as Gibbs surrounds. Again, these were used to ornament the most important windows on the first floor of a house for example.

Three of the major types of carving are:

  • Picked-work or a simple chiselling or chipping of the stone surface to produce a general rough effect
  • VermiculationGlossary Term or the carving of stones with sinuous lines in imitation of the tracks left by worms (there are many variants of this type)
  • Frost-workGlossary Term (glaciation) where the faces of the stones are sculpted with imitations of icicles and stalactites. This is the particular ornament of classicalGlossary Term grottos, cascade houses and some garden gateways.
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Rustication, vermiculation
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Frost-work (glaciation)
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Rustication, picked work


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