For where the mid-nineteenth century reaction against the Picturesque had attempted to achieve some kind of synthesis between the laws of structure, the nature of materials, and the intimate and objective qualities of style, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century reaction was led almost exclusively to emphasize phenomena of vision; and, by using history as a kind of dictionary, to deduce from it certain formal schemes apparently quite extrinsic to any particular style or culture.
In any final analysis of its theory, modern architecture seems to rest upon a conviction that authentic architectural form can only be engendered by recognizing the disciplines which function and structure impose. However, the authors of the composition books find that this thesis cannot engage their convictions, but a truly significant building is pre-eminently a structure, organized according to the principles of architectural composition and infused with a symbolic content which is usually described as character.
By this shifting of emphasis from the work of architecture in itself to the effect of the work upon the spectator, the late eighteenth century was able to accommodate a conspicuously dominant academic theory [composition] and a powerfully subversive undercurrent [picturesque, scenery, like a painting.]
‘Character’s’ presence was envisaged as determined by some evident particularity. Character in architecture, as in physiognomy, is produced by the prevalence of certain distinctive features, by which a countenance or a building is at once distinguished from others of the same kind.
In the strictest sense of the word, any organization is a composition, but within architectural discourse correct composition is a formal common denominator extracted from historical and current precedents envisaged as an ideal by academia.