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.

aesthetic totalitarianism

A  house is not a “machine for living”, it is not a high-performance apparatus, nor a domestic praxis.  This may seem obvious to most people for whom primarily a house is a home.  However, for architects educated in the later half of the twentieth century, trained in deconstructing the social, gender, political and mechanistic strata of a house, seeing a house as simply a home is quite foreign at best, and quite possibly a betrayal of their education and higher architectural principles.

In all professions there must be a significant gulf between the theory learned and the art practiced.  Certainly an attorney, schooled in the finer aspects of constitutional law, must find some dissatisfaction in the messy and mundane practice of real estate contracts.  However, in architecture, that difference between the learned and the practiced can often be more like a yawning chasm and it is most acutely felt in the design of houses for individual clients.  There are so many stories of architects telling clients that they are not living properly, not in accord with the design of the house. It is one thing to tell a museum trustee that their institution needs to look or act a certain way, quite another to tell a homeowner that their desire for a television does not fit with the intentions of the building’s design theory.

eisenman houses - house VI (with slot window dividing owner's bed) and House X

This controlling desire by architects used to be primarily aesthetic.  A “good” architect would elevate the moral life of the client with the creation of a building of a higher artistic and spiritual making.  This kind of blatant snobbery could be a genuine belief on the part of the architect in the progressive and edifying power of art.  More often I think it was a not-too-secret desire of the architect to design a great, avant garde building at the expense of the client’s lifestyle.  Rarely mentioned was the notion of “taste”, most architects believing that their work so far transcended any notion of mere “style”.  (Of course, post-modern, post-structuralist architects might revel in the ironic use of elements of “good taste”, but still with the same sense of moral superiority over their clients and popular culture and an earlier generation of architects)

In the very real concerns over climate change, there has been a rush by many architects to force their clients to adopt energy savings and green construction as a moral imperative.  So now in a post-structuralist world, we can no longer maintain the aesthetic higher ground, many have substituted the moral imperative of  sustainability and green construction as the latest elevated spriritual plane from which to dispense wisdom down on unsuspecting and unenlighted clients.  Believe me I am not belittling the very real benefits of sustainability and I strive to incorporate the principles, technologies and methodologies on every project I undertake.  Rather it is the attitude of architects that disturbs me.  We are experienced, we are experts, but we have no claim on any higher moral ground, be it aesthetic, moral, spiritual, sustainable or anything else.  The greatest abuses of the built enviroment, the worse false promises of architecture have been executed with attitude of superiority.  You need only look at Pruitt Igoe or dozens, nay hundreds of projects across the world where lofty architects, often aligned with government and corporate interests, under the guize of helping and “improving” the lot of the poor, heaped crappy, misguided and cruel architecture on our cities and citizens.  It is the need and desire to control, it is the disease of expertise, that makes for truly horrible architecture.

Pruitt Igoe housing