Architecture, labor and the human body: Fergusson, Cockerell and Ruskin

Peter Maxwell Kohane, University of Pennsylvania


While historians of nineteenth-century architecture have devoted attention to prevailing styles and their social meanings, no study has considered architectural design and production in terms of differing definitions of the body and of labor. This dissertation suggests that the formal qualities of nineteenth-century buildings cannot be divorced from contemporary insights into the nature of the human body, its form or capacities. The thesis focuses upon the contrasting positions outlined during the 1840s and 50s in Britain by James Fergusson, C. R. Cockerell and John Ruskin, and briefly investigates the contributions of Edward Lacy Garbett and William Whewell. Cockerell invoked the authority of Vitruvius to argue that architectural design involved the representation of the body, defined as an ideal type of beauty. This theory was irrelevant to Fergusson and Ruskin, who both focused on the body as a living being, capable of performing labors that were expressed in architecture. For Fergusson,the body comprised distinct faculties to be isolated from one another and engaged in the performance of divided labors. Ruskin vehemently disagreed, arguing that all faculties must be interrelated in creative work. Through an analysis of Fergusson's ideas, the thesis traces the impact of nineteenth-century notions of social productivity and progress on architectural theory. Fergusson hailed the division of labor as an indication of progress, and sought to apply this understanding to architecture, by conceiving of a building as the product of three distinct types of work--muscular, aesthetic and intellectual--performed by three separate classes of workers. Both Cockerell and Ruskin criticized this position. Architectural form, for Cockerell, could not be divided to express different labor skills, as it must exhibit the proportions and sensuous qualities of the ideal human body. Ruskin attacked Fergusson's theory for promoting degraded work: the result would be the impoverishment of architecture and, ultimately, social disintegration. Despite their differences, Cockerell and Ruskin both sought to impress an ideal of bodily well-being upon architectural form. Their significance to us lies in the opposition to the productivist notion, clearly stated by Fergusson, that only a divided body can be expressed in architecture.

Subject Area

Architecture|European history

Recommended Citation

Kohane, Peter Maxwell, "Architecture, labor and the human body: Fergusson, Cockerell and Ruskin" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9331805.