architect's lineage, part 2

a look at some of the more interesting aspects of the connections between architects as outlined in last week’s post.

architect’s lineage, part 1

I am certainly no scholar, so please take this as a more distanced view than any rigorous academic pursuit would reveal.

Although not strictly associated with Penn, there is a kind of Philadelphia School of architecture that moves from Furness through George Howe and Louis Kahn to Robert Venturi.  This is one of the most important confluences of the two major education traditions of the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the European modernist polytechnical schools.  In the end, despite the ostentatiously high-tech and even futuristic forms,  the structural expression seen in the work of Foster and Piano and Rogers owes as much or more to the more plastic and sculptural training of the Ecole as filtered down through Howe and Kahn rather than the materialistic and technical influences of the polytech schools.

On another note, a look at the New York Five – Eisenman, Graves, Meier, Hejduk and Gwarthmey – shows the influence of Gropius and Breuer at Harvard  (Meier did not attend Harvard but worked for Breuer) more than anything else.  Their Modern revisionism came more from outside of the paths of Mies and LeCorbusier than their forms might suggest.

And a final note on this kind of lineage is the fascinating case of California Modernism.  Rudolf Schindler, educated by both Loos and Wright, blends the tradition of European Modernism with the Chicago School via Wright.  Schindler and Neutra, both working, and at a time living together, generated an amazing body of work, reconciling the abstractions of Modernism with the California climate and landscape.  Their legacy, in the Case Study Houses and through Harwell Hamilton Harris in the gathering of the Texas Rangers, echoes through every school of architecture in the States for the next 50 years.  And in the photos of Julius Shulman, their work influences every architect in their generation and next.

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architect’s lineage, part 2

a look at some of the more interesting aspects of the connections between architects as outlined in last week’s post.

architect’s lineage, part 1

I am certainly no scholar, so please take this as a more distanced view than any rigorous academic pursuit would reveal.

Although not strictly associated with Penn, there is a kind of Philadelphia School of architecture that moves from Furness through George Howe and Louis Kahn to Robert Venturi.  This is one of the most important confluences of the two major education traditions of the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the European modernist polytechnical schools.  In the end, despite the ostentatiously high-tech and even futuristic forms,  the structural expression seen in the work of Foster and Piano and Rogers owes as much or more to the more plastic and sculptural training of the Ecole as filtered down through Howe and Kahn rather than the materialistic and technical influences of the polytech schools.

On another note, a look at the New York Five – Eisenman, Graves, Meier, Hejduk and Gwarthmey – shows the influence of Gropius and Breuer at Harvard  (Meier did not attend Harvard but worked for Breuer) more than anything else.  Their Modern revisionism came more from outside of the paths of Mies and LeCorbusier than their forms might suggest.

And a final note on this kind of lineage is the fascinating case of California Modernism.  Rudolf Schindler, educated by both Loos and Wright, blends the tradition of European Modernism with the Chicago School via Wright.  Schindler and Neutra, both working, and at a time living together, generated an amazing body of work, reconciling the abstractions of Modernism with the California climate and landscape.  Their legacy, in the Case Study Houses and through Harwell Hamilton Harris in the gathering of the Texas Rangers, echoes through every school of architecture in the States for the next 50 years.  And in the photos of Julius Shulman, their work influences every architect in their generation and next.

an architect's lineage

For a while now I have been interested in how architectural ideas and attitudes are formed and passed down from one generation of architect to another.  So I have put together a very rough chart that shows how the two major institutions of Western architectural education, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and mostly European polytechnical architectural schools, have combined and filtered down through many of the twentieth centuries most well-known and accomplished architects.

As you can see this is pretty rough and if anyone has more connections or people to include, let me know and I will see if I can work it in.  The idea here is not to show links of ideas or influences, but actual physical connections – attended, worked for, colleagues in the same office, etc.  The chart runs vaguely chronological, left to right, starting with the first generation of Modernists and proceeding to about 1980 or so on the far right with still much more to add.

Some thoughts:

It is the combination of the two education models that really established Modernism.  The work of Le Corbusier and Louis Sullivan, representing the European Modernism and Chicago School is a comingling of influences.  In the case of Le Corbusier, he worked for architects who come from both traditions, Josef Hoffmann and Auguste Perret.  For Sullivan, he worked for Furness who was educated in the studio of Richard Morris Hunt of Ecole des Beaux Arts lineage.  Sullivan also worked for and with Dankmar Adler and William LeBaron Jenney, both more engineers than architects.

For as much as a champion of small state university architecture schools as I am, I must admit to the central position of Harvard and Yale and the other East Coast architecture schools as focal points in this chart.  Harvard brought in first generation Modernists, Gropius and Breuer and extended the Bauhaus tradition.  Much of Yale’s campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers and Albers and Rudolph’s influence there is unmistakable and profound through students like Foster and Rogers and buildings by Kahn, Rudolph, Saarinen.

Imagine the heady times at the office of Peter Behrens with LeCorbusier, Mies and Gropius all working away.

Or the camaraderie and competition in William LeBaron Jenney’s office between John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and William Holabird and Martin Roche.

More in a later post including the strange lineage of California Modernism (Otto Wagner via Adolf Loos meets Louis Sullivan via Frank Lloyd Wright) and the confluence of Kahn, Piano, Rudolph, Foster and Rogers.

If you have more connections please drop me a note.  I have not yet included the AA in London or the importance and influence of the Texas Rangers (Rowe, Harris, Hoesli, etc. ) and the Institute for Architecture and Urbanism in NYC in the ’60s and ’70s (Eisenman, Frampton, Tafuri, Koolhaas, Vidler, Gandelsonas) and ETH Zurich (Berlage, Calatrava, Herzon & de Meuron, Rossi, Semper, Tschumi).

Part 2  in an upcoming post in about a week.

an architect’s lineage

For a while now I have been interested in how architectural ideas and attitudes are formed and passed down from one generation of architect to another.  So I have put together a very rough chart that shows how the two major institutions of Western architectural education, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and mostly European polytechnical architectural schools, have combined and filtered down through many of the twentieth centuries most well-known and accomplished architects.

As you can see this is pretty rough and if anyone has more connections or people to include, let me know and I will see if I can work it in.  The idea here is not to show links of ideas or influences, but actual physical connections – attended, worked for, colleagues in the same office, etc.  The chart runs vaguely chronological, left to right, starting with the first generation of Modernists and proceeding to about 1980 or so on the far right with still much more to add.

Some thoughts:

It is the combination of the two education models that really established Modernism.  The work of Le Corbusier and Louis Sullivan, representing the European Modernism and Chicago School is a comingling of influences.  In the case of Le Corbusier, he worked for architects who come from both traditions, Josef Hoffmann and Auguste Perret.  For Sullivan, he worked for Furness who was educated in the studio of Richard Morris Hunt of Ecole des Beaux Arts lineage.  Sullivan also worked for and with Dankmar Adler and William LeBaron Jenney, both more engineers than architects.

For as much as a champion of small state university architecture schools as I am, I must admit to the central position of Harvard and Yale and the other East Coast architecture schools as focal points in this chart.  Harvard brought in first generation Modernists, Gropius and Breuer and extended the Bauhaus tradition.  Much of Yale’s campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers and Albers and Rudolph’s influence there is unmistakable and profound through students like Foster and Rogers and buildings by Kahn, Rudolph, Saarinen.

Imagine the heady times at the office of Peter Behrens with LeCorbusier, Mies and Gropius all working away.

Or the camaraderie and competition in William LeBaron Jenney’s office between John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and William Holabird and Martin Roche.

More in a later post including the strange lineage of California Modernism (Otto Wagner via Adolf Loos meets Louis Sullivan via Frank Lloyd Wright) and the confluence of Kahn, Piano, Rudolph, Foster and Rogers.

If you have more connections please drop me a note.  I have not yet included the AA in London or the importance and influence of the Texas Rangers (Rowe, Harris, Hoesli, etc. ) and the Institute for Architecture and Urbanism in NYC in the ’60s and ’70s (Eisenman, Frampton, Tafuri, Koolhaas, Vidler, Gandelsonas) and ETH Zurich (Berlage, Calatrava, Herzon & de Meuron, Rossi, Semper, Tschumi).

Part 2  in an upcoming post in about a week.

why I write this blog

So, despite my best efforts to write about topics that might interest my fellow geeky architects, the most common question that I get is not about a specific post but rather, “why do you do this?”  Or, maybe “when do you have time to do this?”

The second question is easy to answer:  I write these posts mostly in the evenings after my kids and wife have gone to bed.  Having worked until past midnight in endless numbers of architecture studios and later offices, staying up doing something has become a habit.

The answer to the first question is a bit more complex and certainly more difficult to articulate.  In the simplest sense, this is a kind of dialogue that I would have with colleagues if I wasn’t so happy as a sole practioner.  So while I might hire someone to do some drafting, for the most part I work alone and these posts are substitutes for some kind of inter-office dialogue.  I relish the freedom and focus that practicing alone allows, and if this blog helps me maintain that in a sense then more power to it.  To be honest however, the blog is something more than that as well.  Over my career I have seen architects, everyday working architects, retreat from the public sphere.  Not that we were ever that immersed in it, only a small handful of stararchitects have ever been even at the perifery of popular culture.  But there was a time when architects felt confident in who they were and what they did that expressing that publicly was not fraught with misgivings and hesitations. The rise of a professional architectural press, more press than architects, and the increasing dominance of architecture academics in the realm of research and writing, has driven the working architect from the field.  The tools of deconstruction can too easily be used to undermine the experience and knowledge of an architect by one more deft in the execution of analysis but maybe not making buildings.  I know this makes me sound a bit like the old curmudgeon architect, without patience for critics and iconoclasts, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Maybe not all architects, but I as one, feel the need and responsibility to help explain and articulate what we do and how we do it to the larger public.  Our opacity has long ago been stripped of any claims to authority and reads simply as either hopelessly alienated or paranoid.

Lastly, and I think for me most importantly, talking about architecture helps me to step outside of the world of drawing and models and sketches and attempt to dwell more in the world of my clients.  For while reading a drawing and its implications is second nature to me, for many of my clients a drawing can be a mute string of runes.  By writing these posts, I  am forced to put into words my thoughts and impressions, give shape and form in an accessible dialogue to the  forces and forms that seem so obvious to me, but not at all to “normal” people beyond the enclosed, self-referential world of architects and architecture.  So while much of this blog is serious Inside Baseball architecture stuff, it is a step into the realm of words and writing, an alien, and often unwelcoming place for us architects.  If that sounds a bit falsely heroic I don’t mean it to be.  For while I know that what I write probably only appeals to geeky architects, my attempt here is to try, as small as that might be, to step outside it all, in form if not in content.  Oh yeah, and chicks dig it.

movie architects

After posting last week about the dissatisfaction so many architects have with the profession, I couldn’t help but look up some of the ridiculously romanticized images of architects crafted by Hollywood. Some of these movies actually had something to do with architecture, but most often the architect is a title used as a character prop for a sensitive, but not totally starving artist kind of guy. (There is at least a couple of movies with female architects, but I couldn’t remember them and a search did not easily turn them up. I am not really sure what the female architect role is supposed to represent to the movie world.)

left to right, top to bottom:

an unlikely architect: Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal

an architect that actually works a bit in the movie: the great Brian Dennehy as Storly Kracklite in The Belly of an Architect, cuckold architect. Surely an architect never had a better name.

architect as kick-ass vigilante: Charles Bronson in Death Wish. Probably the most unrealistic portrait I can imagine, although his “cleaning of the city” could be a aesthetic statement, a kind of one man urban planning.

architect as the rational, reasonable, humane guy: Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. A courtroom drama, but they needed one guy that isn’t too prejudiced or too emotional, so, enter the architect.

architect as superhero: Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead. If anyone goes to architecture school because of this book or movie, God help us all.

really?: Adam Sandler in Click. I never saw this movie, turns out no one else did either. Evidently, this architect keeps trying to make field changes, at a great cost.

Oh come on now!?: Keanu Reeves in The Lake House as a frustrated architect.

and just a typical day in the office: Kirk Douglas with Kim Novak in Strangers When We Met

Some more:

Liam Neeson in Love Actually, a widowed architect

Luke Wilson in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, I think this casting an architect as a “regular guy” maybe the only instance.

Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy, dumped-by-girlfriend architect.

Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle, another widowed architect. Unlucky in love, clearly he needs better communication skills and refresher in coordination.

Steve Martin in Housesitter, another dumped-by-girlfriend architect – architect builds dream home for dream girl and gets dumped, another good architect name, Newton Davis.

Paul Newman in Towering Inferno. Still the hero, but the tower deserved the inferno. Go on vacation, and they finish the building without you causing the death of hundreds. And, you end up doing a field inspection in the middle of a party.

Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby, yet another dumped architect.

Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever. Ah, remember when we used to draw by hand and the office was full of drafting tables…

What do we make of it that Hollywood likes to use “architect” as a shortcut for “sensitive guy” ? It’s easy to have a character be an emotive artist type or a cold, calculating business type, but when you need something a bit in the middle, “architect” kind of works. Spouses of architects be warned, there is a pretty good likelihood of you kicking the bucket before the movie even starts. And, I can’t not find a single movie where the architect is the bad guy. Overly sensitive and obsessed maybe, but that is forgivable in cinema eyes. What is most certain is that all of these architects seem to have plenty of time for lovers and intrigue, not so much time spent down at the building department or actually drawing.

Do these portrayals make young folks want to become architects? Maybe so, but compared to doctors and lawyers, there are very few movie architects. Maybe if we convicted some felons or saved a few lives on the operating table – that is the tale of the movie architect – when the story doesn’t really call for too much high drama, cast an architect as the male lead. He’ll be sensitive and most likely lonely and ready for his leading role in a romantic comedy or a mild drama. Then again, Newman saved a bunch a people and Bronson kicked ass. Of course, those guys always do, “architect” or not.

“trained as an architect”

No photos in the post, just a bit of a rant.

Recently my wife and I had another couple over to our house for dinner.  Like us, they were both architects, but, like my wife, who now practices as a land use attorney, neither of them was currently working in an architecture/design office.  This is frighteningly common.  Maybe other professions have an equal or greater attrition rate, but certainly architecture suffers greatly from a brain drain of talent and ability.

In poll after poll, architects testify to being one of the most unhappy of all professions, with very high rates of divorce, alcoholism and suicide. And, compared to other professionals with equal years of post-secondary school education, they are most consistently underpaid.  My carpenter friends may laugh at this, but none of them are willing to trade paychecks if that includes the monthly student loan payments.

Maybe the fact the vast majority of tasks that go in to making a building have precious little to do with design contributes to the disillusionment experienced by architects.  We can say that all of the associated tasks contribute to the “design”, but I doubt any of us went to architecture school and sweated through the countless hours of studios and humiliations of jury reviews because municipal code review or zoning analysis was just so exciting.

A tough economy makes this brain drain even worse.  So many architects, young and old, are not working in the field, not of their choice. Architecture unemployment is around 20% nationwide.  Underemployment, at least anecdotally, is 100%.  There are no clear statistics that I know of for this attrition, but for 2006, there were 7500 students graduating from accredited architecture schools, but only about 3000 gaining licenses.  More than half either never become registered or drop out.  Many others, like my wife, become licensed but no longer work as architects.

Do architecture schools fail to spell out the truth of the profession to prospective and current students?  Considering that less than 25% of architecture school faculty are licensed architects, you can hardly blame them for not knowing.  (That this low rate of licensed architects teaching architecture exists is another problematic topic)  Does popular media and myth over-hype the perceived romance of being an architect?  Probably so.

I love what I do, even if so much of my time is spent on technical and bureaucratic tasks.  That so many of my colleagues are leaving the profession, or never fully entered it, is profoundly depressing.  The extremely poor quality, both technical and aesthetic, of the built environment, the ugliness of our cities, the wastefulness of our construction industries, is directly related to the deplorable depletion of the ranks of rigorously trained, hard-working architects.  In the United States, the vast majority of buildings are put together by developers.  It is no coincidence that in a landscape where aesthetics are considered so much window-dressing, and a public would rather save a few bucks than have buildings to be proud of, architects find few handholds.

If anyone knows of any reliable statistics on the number of people “trained as architects” that are no longer working in the profession, I would love to see them.  That the AIA, NCARB and schools of architecture have no idea what this number is, well…